Former student accuses U Police of misconduct

Robert Koch

The University responded Tuesday to a civil complaint filed March 31 by a former student alleging police misconduct in the basement of Coffman Union in 1998.
John Jerome Frederick Jr., now an Illinois resident, seeks more than $50,000 in damages in a lawsuit naming University Police officers Kurtis Hallstrom and David Wilske, the University Police and the University Board of Regents as defendants.
Frederick was playing a video game in the basement of Coffman on April 1, 1998, when the plain-clothed officers approached him from behind, throwing him to the ground and handcuffing him, according to the complaint.
Frederick received medical attention afterward and told The Minnesota Daily two days later that he sustained back injuries. He also vowed to take legal action.
The complaint alleges that the officers, motivated by racial bias, wrongfully detained Frederick — an African-American — by using unnecessary force and that the University was negligent in training and supervising the officers.
The University denies the allegations. Both officers acted properly without discriminatory intent or unjustified force, according to the response prepared by University-appointed attorney Donald Lewis.
According to the police report, the incident resulted from mistaken identity. Hallstrom said Frederick resembled a known criminal and that he actively resisted. Hallstrom added that he apologized to Frederick upon verifying his identity.
“The UMPD officers were acting reasonably here,” said Mark Rotenberg, University general counsel. “Occasionally mistakes are made in identifying suspects.”
But Jodean Thronson, the St. Paul attorney speaking for Frederick, dismissed the argument, saying it does not excuse the officers for their behavior.
“Mr. Frederick was a black U of M student who was merely playing a video game in the basement at the union,” Thronson said. “He was forcefully grabbed, thrown against a wall, threatened, thrown to the floor and detained by undercover U of M police officers.”
The incident occurred when Joy Rikala served as University chief of police. Commenting to the Daily at the time, she said she would send a letter of apology to Frederick and offer to pay for his hospital bills and ripped jacket.
George Aylward, who became police chief last August, said he knew nothing about the incident. But he added, “A University Police officer is a certified police officer in the state of Minnesota.”
Officer Wilske is still with University Police. Hallstrom now works for the St. Paul Police Department.
Failing resolution, a trial could be a year off, said Jill Nelson, judicial clerk to Judge Cara Lee Neville, who is reviewing the case.
Rotenberg said, “We’re confident we will prevail if we cannot resolve by settlement.”

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected]