Developments in Criminal Cases Over Death of George Floyd

The four defendants in the criminal cases over the death of George Floyd last week made an unusual request for pretrial and trial audiovisual coverage which the court denied, in part. The issues in the cases were analyzed by criminal law experts. And some personal background information of the four defendants have been publicly discussed. After examining these developments, we will  await the results of the pretrial hearing in the four cases on June 29th.[1]

 Motion for Pretrial and Trial Audiovisual Recording [2]

On June 25 the attorneys for the four criminal defendants made a motion for audiovisual recording of pretrial and trial proceedings in the cases. Thomas Plunkett, the attorney for J. Alexander Kueng, on behalf of all defendants, asserted that such relief was “necessary to provide the Defendants with a fair trial in light of the State’s and other governmental actors multiple inappropriate comments and to assure an open hearing in light of the ongoing pandemic.” Those officials, said Plunkett, included “Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.”

More specifically, Plunkett said, “this relief is necessary to blunt the effects of the increasing and repeated media attacks from the various officials who have breached their duty to the community. These State comments have crescendoed to an extraordinary volume this week with the Chief pronouncing that ‘[w]hat happened to Mr. Floyd was murder.’ The State’s conduct has made a fair and unbiased trial extremely unlikely and the Defendants seek video and audio coverage to let a cleansing light shine on these proceedings. Doing otherwise allows these public officials to geld the Constitution.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison responded by saying that although he supports a public trial, “Cameras could alter the way the lawyers present evidence. Cameras in the courtroom could subject the participants in the trial to heightened media scrutiny and thereby be distracting to conducting the trial.” The chances of  “creating more sensation than understanding” was “very high,” Ellison said.

The Hennepin County District Judge, Peter Cahill, immediately denied the motion for such pretrial coverage while reserving decision on the motion for such coverage of the trial. The Judge stated that Minnesota court rules require both the defense and prosecution to agree for such coverage for pretrial proceedings and that the prosecution did not so agree. In addition, said the Judge, such coverage “would risk tainting a potential Hennepin County jury pool.”

Analysis of Issues in These Criminal Cases[3]

A journalist reports, “Veteran defense attorneys say the prosecution’s case against Chauvin is strong, while a series of unique circumstances pose challenges to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.”

Several facets of these cases seem to favor the prosecution. These cases do not involve “split-second” decisions on use of force which often lead a jury to avoid second guessing such decisions. Moreover, “Floyd warned the officers of his own impending death after repeatedly telling them he couldn’t breathe,” and bystanders were making the same warning. Finally the three officers charged with “aiding and abetting” could cause a crack in the alleged “blue wall of silence” protecting officers.

Indeed, at their initial appearances, the attorneys for Lane and Kueng argued that their clients were rookies who relied on Chauvin, a 19-year veteran and their training officer, for guidance at the scene.

A prominent local criminal defense attorney, Joe Friedberg, thought that Lane’s twice suggesting turning Floyd over and later performing CPR on him was strong evidence he had no intent for Floyd to die.

Another local criminal defense attorney, Robert Richman, had a different reaction. He thought that Chauvin “could direct the blame at Lane, who was holding down Floyd’s leg as Floyd lay stomach-down in the street, and Kueng, who was holding onto Floyd’s back. It seems that keeping someone … in a prone position on your stomach and having pressure placed on your back causes respiratory difficulties.” Perhaps “it was the other two officers holding him down that caused the breathing difficulties,” rather than Chauvin kneeling on the side of Floyd’s neck.

Another complication was the existence of two different autopsy reports. “The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office found that Floyd died when his heart stopped  while he was being restrained, noting that the presence of fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine were “other significant conditions” while the autopsy commissioned by the attorneys for Floyd’s family said he died of asphyxia. These provide bases for defense arguments that Floy had started to die before Chauvin put his knee on the neck.

New Rule for Use of Bodycam Footage[4]

On June 27 Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced a new rule for officers’ review of their body camera footage. Now the officer “as soon as practical” must write and submit his or her written report of the incident before looking at that footage and before talking with anyone other than the incident commander and the lead investigator. This new rule purportedly will provide a more accurate account of the officer’s recollection of the incident.

The Police Officers’ Backgrounds[5]

The police personnel files for the four officers and published articles reveal the following  details:

  • Derek Chauvin. He attended Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, but did not graduate. After getting his GED he attended Dakota County Technical College, Inver Hills Community College and Metropolitan State University, all in Minnesota. Previous jobs include working security, and food service including at a McDonald’s. Chauvin also had two periods of active service in the U.S. Army. From September 1996 to February 1997 he was stationed in Rochester, Minnesota with a job in military police. He served again from September 1999 to May 2000 in military police, at Hohenfels, Germany where his job duties as including criminal investigations, traffic enforcement and proactive patrol.

During his 19-year career with the Minneapolis Police Department, Chauvin was involved with several police shootings, includes both commendations and more than 15 conduct complaints. Almost all the complaints were closed without discipline, records show, suggesting the allegations weren’t sustained. The nature of the complaints wasn’t made public. The file includes a 2008 letter of reprimand Chauvin received for the two violations involving “discretion” and a squad car camera. “This case will remain a B violation and can be used as progressive discipline for three years,” the letter notes. Chauvin received a Medal of Commendation in 2008 for disarming a man outside the El Nuevo Rodeo club on E. Lake Street while working security off-duty in his uniform. He was also recommended for a Medal of Valor in 2006 related to the shooting death of Wayne Reyes, a stabbing suspect who fled in his truck with officers in pursuit. When Reyes stopped and climbed out of the truck, police said he swung his sawed-off shotgun toward the six officers, all of whom fired their weapons.

Chauvin his married , but immediately after his arrest for the Floyd death, she filed for divorce with her attorney saying, “She is devastated by Mr. Floyd’s death and her utmost sympathy lies with his family, with his loved ones and with everyone who is grieving this tragedy.”

  • Tou Thao. The 11-year veteran and native Hmong speaker from Coon Rapids, Minnesota first applied to the department as a community service officer following stints in food service and as a security guard. He was among those laid off three days before Christmas in 2009 as the police department faced a $13 million budget shortfall. In a termination letter, a supervisor assured him the action was not related to his job performance. Officials called him back to work almost exactly two years later.

Thao and another officer were the subjects of a 2017 police brutality lawsuit. Lamar Ferguson, a black man, alleged that in 2014 the two officers told him they were serving a warrant for his arrest, then beat him, breaking his teeth, while he was handcuffed. The city of Minneapolis paid $25,000 to settle the civil rights case.

  • Thomas Lane. A University of Minnesota graduate in sociology of law, criminology and deviance. He worked with at-risk youth as a juvenile detention guard and probation officer in the Twin Cities before applying as a police recruit at age 35. He also had volunteer work mentoring Somali youth and school kids.
  • Alexander Koenig. At age 26, he is the youngest of the four officers and is of mixed-race and identifies as African-American. In 2010 he and two siblings made several trips to Haiti to help at an orphanage, once after its 2010 earthquake.He was captain of the varsity soccer team at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, where he graduated in 2012. He also played for the Cruz Azul Minnesota soccer club. He attended Monroe College, Minneapolis Community & Technical College and the University of Minnesota, graduating from the last in 2018 with a major in sociology of law, criminology and deviance and becoming conversational in the Russian language. His work history includes a job as security monitor at the University of Minnesota and working in loss prevention at Macy’s. He also worked at Target, and he coached youth baseball and soccer at the Brooklyn Center Community Center.

Kueng had seen a sibling arrested and treated poorly by sheriff’s deputies and had told friends he was joining the police to help protect people close to him from police aggression as the best way to fix a broken system.

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[1] This blog has published posts about the Floyd death and related issues of police reform. See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Police Reform.

[2]  Xiong & Montemayor, Judge denies audiovisual coverage of hearings for former officers charged in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 26, 2020).

[3] Xiong, In trial over George Floyd’s killing, both defense, prosecution face unique challenges, StarTribune (June 27, 2020).

[4]] Klecker, Minneapolis mayor, police chief announce tighter body-camera rules, StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Bjorhus & Sawyer, Personnel records shed light on four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 4, 2020); Bjorhus, A deeper look at the four officers fired after George Floyd death, StarTribune (June 1, 2020); Barker, Eligon & Furber, Officers Charged in George Floyd’s Death Not Likely to Present United Front, N.Y.Times (June 4, 2020); Barker, The Black Officer Who Detained George Floyd Had Pledged to Fix the Police, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2020); Wernau, The Other Police Officers Charged in George Floyd Killing, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020).

 

Initial Hearings in Criminal Cases for Killing George Floyd

There are now four criminal cases against former Minneapolis police officers for the killing of George Floyd, all pending in the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, and all four have had their brief initial hearings.

Derek Chauvin [1]

On June 8 Chauvin made his initial appearance by a video feed from a room at the Minnesota State Prison in Oak Heights, Minnesota. The only issue was the amount of his bail,  and the hearing lasted only 15 minutes without any comments by Chauvin or his attorney, Eric Nelson.

The prosecutor, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, said that the “severity of the charges” and the strong public opinion against Chauvin made him a more likely flight risk if he were released and, therefore, requested the bail be increased from $1 million to $1.25 million. The attorney for Chauvin, Eric Nelson, did not object, and Hennepin County District Judge Jeannice Reding, increased the bail to $1.25 million without conditions and to $1.0 million with conditions.

Chauvin’s next hearing, when he is expected to enter a plea to the charges, will be on June 29.

Judge Reding was appointed to the bench in January 2006, by Governor Tim Pawlenty (Rep.) and was elected to continue in that position in 2008 and 2014. After graduating cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990, she was an attorney in a private Minneapolis law firm for seven years, a Minnesota Administrative Law Judge for two years and a Hennepin County District Magistrate and Referee for eight years. She is a founding member and past treasurer of the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association and served as a guardian ad Litem for children of tribal members in the tribal court of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane & Tou Thao

Each of these three officers has been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. At their initial hearing on June 4, Hennepin County District Court Judge Paul Scoggin set bail for each at $1 million without conditions or $750,000 with conditions. [3]

The prosecutor, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General, Matthew Frank, argued for high bail amounts because the charges were “very serious” and due to intense public interest each of these defendants was a flight risk. Each of the attorneys for the defendants objected to such amounts and instead argued for bail between $50,000 and $250,000.

Lane’s attorney, Earl Grey, disputing the complaint’s allegation that Chauvin had pulled Floyd out of one of the squad cars, claimed instead that Floyd had reisited arrest, “asserted himself” and  “flew out” of the squad car. Gray also emphasized that on the day of the Floyd death Lane was only on his fourth day as a full-time officer. Therefore, Gray argued, ““What is my client supposed to do but follow what the [senior] officer says? What was [Lane] supposed to do … go up to Mr. Chauvin and grab him and throw him off?” Instead, Lane thought he was doing what was right because he twice asked Chauvin whether they should roll Floyd over. “The strength of this case,” said Gray, “is extremely weak.” As a result, Gray said he would move to dismiss the complaint for lack of evidence.

More generally, Grey said Lane previously had worked as a juvenile counselor at a few “juvenile places” in the Twin Cities and once received a community service award from Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo for volunteering with children.

Keung’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, made a similar argument. He said, “At all times Mr. Keung and Mr. Lane turned their attention to that 19-year veteran. [They] were trying to communicate that this situation needs to change direction.” In addition, Plunkett said that  Keung is a black man who grew up in north Minneapolis with a single mom who adopted four at-risk children from the community and that Keung has always lived within 10 miles of his childhood home, was captain of the soccer team at Patrick Henry High School, where he graduated, coached youth soccer and baseball, and volunteered to build a school in Haiti. “He turned to law enforcement because he wanted to make that community a better place,” his lawyer said.

Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, had a different tack. He said Thao had given a statement to investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and that he is not a flight risk because he has deep roots in the community. He  is a lifelong resident of the metro area, is married and has children.

Judge Scoggin was appointed to the bench in 2015 by Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) and elected to continue in that office in 2016. His J.D. was awarded cum laude in 1984 by the University of Minnesota Law School, after which he was an Assistant Hennepin County Attorney through 2014 with a stint in 2009-10 as an International Prosecutor with the European Union External Action.

Conclusion

Subsequent posts will examine the  criminal complaints against the four officers and their second hearing scheduled for June 29.

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[1] Stanley & Xiong, $1.25M bail set for Derek Chauvin at his initial appearance Monday in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 8, 2020); Karnowski, Officer charged in Floyd’s death held on $1 million bail, StarTribune (June 8, 2020); Bail Set for Up to $1.25 Million for Officer Charged With Murder in George Floyd Case, N.Y. Times (June 8, 2020).

[2] Xiong, Two ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death cast blame on more senior colleague, StarTribune (June 5, 2020); Gordon & Richmond, Duty to intervene: Floyd cops spoke but didn’t step in, StarTribune (June 7, 2020); Karnowski, Officer charged in Floyd death held on $1 million bail, StarTribune (June 8, 2020); Condon & Richmond, Duty to intervene: Floyd cops spoke up but didn’t step in, StarTribune (June 7, 2020).

[3] On June 10, Lane posted cash bail of $750,000 with conditions (surrendering firearms, remaining law-abiding and making all future court appearances) and was released from jail. (Walsh, Fired Minneapolis police officer, Thomas Lane, one of 4 charged in George Floyd’s death, posts bail and leaves jail, StarTribune (June 10, 2020).)

 

 

Ban on  Police Choke Holds and Neck Restraints in Agreement Between City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Human Rights Department

On June 5, the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced an agreement to ban Minneapolis police from using choke holds and neck restraints and to require officers to intervene when inappropriate force is used. The agreement was approved that same day by the Minneapolis City Council and signed by Mayor Jacob Frey, who said, “George Floyd’s service yesterday underscored that justice for George requires more than accountability for the man who killed him – it requires accountability from elected leadership to deep, structural reforms. Today’s agreement with the state will help bring those layers of accountability. This unprecedented energy and momentum for police reform has left Minneapolis poised not just to address our shortcomings, but to become a model for shifting police culture and uprooting systemic racism.” [1]

The agreement is in the form of a Stipulation and Order to be signed by a Hennepin County District Judge after the Department files a lawsuit against the City, which a StarTribune article says happened in the afternoon of June 5, but which was not yet publicly available..[2] This is a result of the Department’s  June 2nd filing a civil rights charge against the City related to the George Floyd death and launching a general investigation of whether and how the Minneapolis Police Department has for the past 10 years engaged in discretionary practices toward people of color.[3]

This Stipulation, if and when it is approved by a district judge, would order the City of Minneapolis as follows:

  1. BAN CHOKEHOLDS: “Within 10 days of the Effective Date, the City will amend Police Department Policy and Procedure Manual §§ 5-100 (Code of Conduct), 5-300 (Use of Force), and 5-311 (Use of Neck Restraints and Choke Holds) to prohibit the use of all neck restraints or choke holds for any reason.”
  2. DUTY TO REPORT: Regardless of tenure or rank, any member of the City’s Police Department who observes another member of the City’s Police Department use any unauthorized use of force, including any choke hold or neck restraint, in violation of this Stipulation and Order, has an affirmative duty to immediately report the incident while still on scene by phone or radio to their Commander or their Commander’s superiors.”
  3. DUTY TO INTERVENE: Regardless of tenure or rank, any member of the City’s Police Department who observes another member of the City’s Police Department use any unauthorized use of force, including any choke hold or neck restraint in violation of this Stipulation and Order, must attempt to safely intervene by verbal and physical means, and if they do not do so shall be subject to discipline to the same severity as if they themselves engaged in the prohibited use of force.”
  4. CROWD CONTROL AUTHORIZATION: During protests and demonstrations, use of all crowd control weapons must be authorized only by the Chief of Police, or if the Chief is unavailable, the Chief’s designee at the rank of Deputy Chief or above. Crowd control weapons include, but are not limited to, chemical agents, rubber bullets, flash-bangs, batons, and marking rounds. The Police Department shall contemporaneously document the person who authorized the use of crowd control weapons and retain such documentation for a period of not less than seven years. Accordingly, within 10 days of the Effective Date, the City will amend Police Department Policy and Procedure Manual § 5-313 to reflect that chemical agents, regardless of canister size, may be used during crowd control situations if authorized only by the Chief of Police, or if the Chief is unavailable, the Chief’s designee at the rank of Deputy Chief or above. Any other provisions of the Police Department Policy and Procedure Manual that identify the authorized use of other crowd control weapons must also be amended within 10 days of the Effective Date to reflect that use of such weapons must be authorized only by the Chief of Police.”
  5. TIMELY DISCIPLINE DECISIONS: For all recommendations that are pending as of the Effective Date of this Stipulation and Order, the Police Chief must issue a decision on any recommendation from the City’s Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) within 45 calendar days of the Effective Date. For all recommendations of merit provided by the OPCR after the Effective Date of this Stipulation and Order, and for the duration of this Stipulation and Order, the Police Chief must issue a written memorandum explaining the basis their decision, including the relevant facts, policies and law supporting the decision, within 30 calendar days. If and when permitted by Minn. Stat. § 13.43, the decision and written memorandum will be immediately made available to the public via the City’s website and must also be available for physical inspection. Within 90 calendar days of the Effective Date of this Stipulation and Order, the City shall amend any city ordinances to conform to the requirements of this paragraph. The City shall also amend any city ordinances to fashion an appropriate remedy for the person filing the complaint if a determination on the OPCR’s recommendation of merit is not made within the 30 calendar day time period.”
  6. BODY WORN CAMERA FOOTAGE REVIEW: Civilian body worn camera footage analysts and investigators in the OPCR will have the authority to proactively and strategically audit body worn camera (BWC) footage and file or amend complaints on behalf of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department. Within 90 calendar days of the Effective Date, the City of Minneapolis will submit to the Department of Human Rights a plan for detailing how it intends to strategically utilize this audit function to identify discriminatory practices in policing, including officer misconduct.”

In addition, the Stipulation, if and when it is approved by a district judge, would order the City of Minneapolis to do certain things to aid the Department’s current investigation as well as the following for “Building Toward Systemic Change:”

  1. “On or before July 30, 2020, the City Attorney shall prepare a report listing the State of Minnesota Laws that impede public transparency of police data and/or prevent the Mayor and Chief of Police and/or impede civilian oversight from disciplining and terminating police officers who do not adhere to Minneapolis Police Department policies and standards. “
  2. “The City shall prohibit all forms of retaliation, intimidation, coercion, or adverse action against any person, including any City employee, who reports misconduct or cooperates with MDHR’s Commissioner’s charge investigation. Any violation of this provision shall be considered a material breach of the Order and may result in further enforcement action by MDHR.“

12.“All forms of retaliation, interference, intimidation, and coercion against a City employee or any member of the public who reports misconduct or cooperates with MDHR’s Commissioner’s charge investigation, are strictly prohibited. This prohibited conduct includes anyone employed by the City’s Police Department, or a representative of such employee, who intentionally aids, abets, incites, compels, or coerces a person to engage in any of the practices forbidden by this Stipulation and Order.”

  1. “The City shall notify all employees that it is unlawful to intentionally obstruct or prevent any person from complying with the MHRA, MDHR’s Commissioner’s Charge investigation, or any order issued thereunder, or to resist, prevent, impede, or interfere with the Commissioner or any of the Commissioner’s employees or representatives in the performance of their duties.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said, ““George Floyd’s service yesterday underscored that justice for George requires more than accountability for the man who killed him — it requires accountability from elected leadership to deep, structural reforms.”

Presumably the Minneapolis Police Union has a right to intervene in this lawsuit and to oppose the proposed Stipulation and Order that would have to be ruled on by the district court.

We will wait to see whether they do so and what happens.

Reactions

These proposed revisions of the MPD Manual, in this blogger’s opinion, should be approved by the court after a hearing.

If and when approved by the court, however, they would only go into effect for subsequent actions by the police. Therefore, they are not relevant to the pending criminal cases about the killing of George Floyd. However, provisions of the existing MPD Manual will be relevant to these cases as discussed below.

Case Against Derek Chauvin[4]

That  Manual states that a “Choke Hold’s is a “deadly force option” by “applying direct pressure on a person’s trachea or airway (front of the neck), blocking or obstructing the airway.” (Manual sec. 5-311(I).)

“Deadly force” is defined in the Manual, quoting Minn. Stat. sec. 609.066, subd. 2 as ““Force which the actor uses with the purpose of causing, or which the actor should reasonably know creates a substantial risk of causing death or great bodily harm.”(Manual sec. 5-302.).

“Neck restraint,” on the other hand, is stated in the Manual as a “non-deadly force option” and is defined as “compressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway (front of the neck). Only sworn employees who have received training from the MPD Training Unit are authorized to use neck restraints.” In addition, the Manual  “authorizes two types of neck restraints: Conscious Neck Restraint and Unconscious Neck Restraint.” (Manual sec. 5-311.)

  • Conscious Neck Restraint:The subject is placed in a neck restraint with intent to control, and not to render the subject unconscious, by only applying light to moderate pressure.” It “may be used against a subject who is actively resisting.”
  • Unconscious Neck Restraint:The subject is placed in a neck restraint with the intention of rendering the person unconscious by applying adequate pressure.” It “shall only be applied in the following circumstances:
  1. On a subject who is exhibiting active aggression, or;
  2. For life saving purposes, or;
  3. On a subject who is exhibiting active resistance in order to gain control of the subject; and if lesser attempts at control have been or would likely be ineffective.”

Criminologists who have seen the videotape of Chauvin’s treatment of Floyd say that Chauvin’s  “knee restraint not only puts dangerous pressure on the back of the neck, but that Mr. Floyd was kept lying on his stomach for too long. Both positions. . .run the risk of cutting off someone’s oxygen supply.”

These criminologist also said that the fact that Mr. Chauvin kept applying pressure when Mr. Floyd was no longer struggling made it appear to be a case of an officer trying to punish a suspect for doing something the police did not like. Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer and now a criminal justice professor at Bowling State University, said it was “a form of ‘street justice,’ . . . bullying [to teach] someone a lesson—next time you will think twice about what you do.”

Case Against Other Officers

The existing MPD Manual, under the heading “Duty To Intervene” states: “ Sworn employees have an obligation to protect the public and other employees.” (Manual sec. 5-303.01(A).) And “It shall be the duty of every sworn employee present at any scene where physical force is being applied to either stop or attempt to stop another sworn employee when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.” (Manual sec. 5-303.01(B).)

Conclusion

 Subsequent posts will cover the future court hearing and decision on the proposed changes to the MPD Manual while other posts will analyze the pending criminal cases and developments.

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[1] Navratil,Tentative agreement would ban chokeholds, neck restraints by Minneapolis police, StarTribune (June 5, 2020); Minneapolis to ban the use of chokeholds in response to George Floyd’s death, N.Y. Times (June 5, 2020); Governor Walz, Walz-Flanagan Administration, City of Minneapolis Agree on Immediate Changes to Minneapolis Police Department Policies (June 5, 2020); Chavez, Sanchez & Alonso, Minneapolis City council votes to ban chokeholds one day after George Floyd memorial, cnn.com (June 5, 2020); Collins, Chapman, Martinez & Li, Weekend George Floyd Protests Planned, Seeking Reforms, W.S.J. (June 5, 2020); ‘Layers of accountability’: Mayor Jacob Frey Signs Restraining Order Forcing Immediate Reforms in Mpls. Police Dept., CBS Minnesota (June 5, 2020).

[2] Stipulation and Order [unsigned], State of Minnesota v. City of Minneapolis Police Department, City of Minneapolis (undated2020) (unsigned).

[3] Berkl & Navratil, Minnesota Human Rights Department launches probe into Minneapolis police, StarTribune (June 3, 2020);

Minn. Dep’t Human Rts., Civil Rights Investigation into Minneapolis Police Department (June 3, 3030); Governor Walz, Walz Administration’s Department of Human Rights Files Civil Rights Charge Against Minneapolis Police Department (June 2, 2020).

[4] MacFarquar, In George Floyd’s Death, a Police Technique Results in a Too-Familiar Tragedy, N.Y.Times (May 29, 2020).

 

Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees   

As noted in a prior post, President Trump on September 28 issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consents to refugee resettlements for Fiscal 2020 and the States of Utah and North Dakota thereafter provided such  consents with three of the latter’s counties doing the same. We now await until the January 31, 2020 deadline to see what other states and localities do in response to this challenge.

Now the State of Minnesota and its City of Minneapolis have joined the affirmative choir.[1]

State of Minnesota

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s December 13 letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stated, “Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. In keeping with this proud history, I offer my consent to continue refugee resettlement in the State of Minnesota.”

“Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.” (Emphasis in original.)

The letter concluded, “I reject the intent of the President’s Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement, and we reserve our right to challenge the Executive Order’s requirements. As the Holiday Season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota.” (Emphasis added,)

The concluding sentence—“the Inn is not full in Minneapolis”—invoked the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s discovering that the inns in Bethlehem were full and having to stay in a manger. The sentence also is seen as a retort to Prsdient Trump’s declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border last April that the U.S. immigration system is overburdened and that “our country is full” and to Trump’s October campaign rally in Minneapolis when he criticized Minnesota’s acceptance of Somali refugees.

City of Minneapolis

Also on December 13, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously adopted a resolution noting that “the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis are home to some of the largest and most diverse populations of refugees and immigrants in the United States, adding to the economic strength and cultural richness of our community.” This document then resolved that “the Mayor and City Council do hereby reaffirm the City’s status as a Welcoming City, and a city that strongly supports resettling refugees without regard to race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or country of origin.” In addition, the “City of Minneapolis hereby pledges to continue to work diligently with resettlement organizations to accept refugees into the City and to improve refugee integration.” The final paragraph of the resolution directed “the City Clerk to send certified copies of this resolution to the President of the United States and the members of the federal delegation representing the State of Minnesota to the United States Congress to express the City’s strong support for the ongoing resettlement of refugees.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is expected to approve this resolution.

Other Minnesota Commentary

The State’s largest counties—Hennepin (Minneapolis) and Ramsey (St. Paul)—are expected to issue similar consents.

Also on December 13, the State’s Attorney General—Keith Ellison– joined a 12-state court amicus brief backing three refugee resettlement organizations that have sued the Trump administration over the president’s executive order requiring state and local consent to such resettlements. The states argue that the order violates federal law, interferes with state sovereignty, “undermines family reunification efforts, and disrupts the states’ abilities to deliver essential resources that help refugees contribute to the communities that welcome them.” According to Ellison, “Minnesotans want everyone to live with the same dignity and respect that they want for themselves. This includes the many refugees we have resettled here, who have given back many times over to the state, communities, and neighbors that have welcomed them. I’m challenging the President’s order on behalf of the people of Minnesota because it is illegal and immoral.”

A newspaper from western Minnesota— Alexandria Echo Press,  added, “The Minnesota Department of Human Services reports that 775 refugees have been placed in Minnesota in 2019, down significantly compared to previous years. And of those placed, the bulk of the refugees came from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo” plus 69 from Ukraine and 67 from Somalia.

A longer-term perspective was provided by the Pioneer Press from St. Paul. It said, “Minnesota has the country’s largest Somali and Karen populations, the second-largest Hmong population and one of the largest Liberian populations — all made up of people who fled their war-torn homelands as well as their descendants. According to State Department data, Minnesota ranks sixth in the country for refugee arrivals since 2001, accepting over 43,000 individuals.”

Conclusion

Congratulations to the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis for standing up for resettlement of refugees, each of whom already has established overseas to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees that he or she, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[2]

On December 17, this Minnesota action was endorsed in an editorial in the state’s leading newspaper, the StarTribune. It applauded “Gov. Tim Walz . . . for his forceful declaration of Minnesota values in his letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”  The editorial also noted, “Minnesota has a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants — particularly refugees,” who “have proved, overall, a bountiful investment.”[3]

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[1] Office of MN Governor, Governor Walz to Trump Administration: ‘The Inn is Not Full in Minnesota,’ (Dec. 13, 2019); Assoc. Press, Governor on Refugees: ‘The Inn Is Not Full in Minnesota,’ N.Y. Times (Dec. 13, 2019); Montemayor, Gov. Tim Walz to Trump on refugees: ‘The inn is not full in Minnesota,’ StarTribune (Dec. 13, 2019);

Minneapolis City Council, Resolution Supporting the resettlement of refugees in the City of Minneapolis (Dec. 13, 2019); Minnesota Attorney General, Attorney General Ellison defends refugees against President Trump’s unlawful executive order (Dec. 13, 2019); Ferguson, ‘The inn is not full’: Walz approves additional refugee placements in Minnesota, Alexandria Echo Press (Dec. 13, 2019); Magan, ‘The inn is not full’—Walz pledges support for refugees as MN joins lawsuit, Pioneer Press (Dec. 13, 2019).

[2] UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (entered into force April 22, 1954  (Art. 1(A)(2).

[3] Editorial, Minnesota’s doors, hearts remain open to refugees, StarTribune (Dec. 17, 2019)

Minneapolis Interfaith Gathering To End Homelessness 

On January 28 nearly 1,000 people gathered at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis to support the Emergency Rental Assistance Program of Downtown Congregations To End Homelessness (DCEH).[1]

The gathering was  emceed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey  and  joined by senior clergy from the downtown congregations (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) and two former NFL Vikings stars: punter Greg Coleman and defensive end Mark Mullaney. Testimony was offered by two individuals who had been helped by the DCEH.

Music was provided by local artists J.D. and Fred Steele, who are members of the popular singing group The Steele Family; Amwaaj Middle Eastern Ensemble; MacPhail Community Youth Choir; Mill City Singers; Street Song MN; and Klezmer Cabaret Orchestra. Teen artist Kaaha Kaahiye shared her spoken words. Below is a photograph of J.D. Steele and Becky Bratton with the Mill City Singers:

Attendees enjoyed delicious food from Holy Land Market and assembled dignity bags for people who are homeless (consisting of hygiene products, socks, hand warmers, food, etc.).

The event showcased Minnesota interfaith cooperation one week before the Super Bowl football game just several miles from this church and was co-sponsored by the Super Bowl Host Committee. An amusing promotional video for the event had Greg Coleman coaching clergy getting ready for a fictitious football game with the cheer “One Hope, One Mind, One Spirit.”

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[1]  Hopfensperger, Faith and football combine at unusual Super Bowl event, StarTribune (Jan. 28, 2018).