U students to join police-brutality lawsuit

Britt Johnsen

Two University students who claim they were victims of police brutality said they will join a class action lawsuit against the Minneapolis Police Department.

In August, attorney Jill Clark filed the suit against Minneapolis police on behalf of a group of residents because she said the individuals were not impacting police behavior.

University graduate student Colleen Hobert and senior William Pedersen said after unsuccessfully filing a complaint with the Civilian Review Authority – a board of seven civilians appointed by the City Council and mayor to investigate claims against police – they want to take serious action.

Their case began one night last fall when a group of 25 friends – all over 21 – were drinking alcohol and listening to music in a house at Sixth Street Southeast and University Avenue.

Pedersen said Minneapolis police arrived at approximately 1 a.m. and told everyone to leave. He said they threatened the hosts with a $700 noise violation ticket but refused to explain the charges.

Hobert said police told them they were not obligated to explain anything and were also demeaning, telling her, “You’re a girl. What do you know about rights?”

Pedersen said when he asked police more questions, they asked for identification, and when he reached into his pocket to get it, an officer grabbed his arm, knocked him to the ground, handcuffed him and slapped his face with the back of his knuckle.

“We did nothing wrong; and all of a sudden we saw (Pedersen) on the ground, handcuffed,” Hobert said.

Pedersen said he had bruises and red marks on his wrists and face from the force, and shortly after, Pedersen and Hobert filed a complaint with the Civilian Review Authority but never heard back.

After waiting a year for the Civilian Review Authority, Pedersen said, he will get involved with the suit to speak out against excessive police force.

University graduate student Bill Cooley is helping Clark gather plaintiffs for the suit and said he expects a couple hundred people to get involved before he is finished.

Clark said the goal of the suit is to get an injunction against Minneapolis police, which would force the federal government to monitor the police for 10 years.

Despite the group’s claims, Minneapolis police spokesman Ron Reier said statistics show Minneapolis police are doing a better job now than five years ago.

Reier said from 1998-2002 the number of claims against police filed with the department’s internal affairs unit decreased from 143 to 59. Additionally, in 1998, 11 people filed civil lawsuits, and in 2002, two were filed.

“I feel Minneapolis is doing a fairly good job, and the numbers speak for themselves,” Reier said.

But Cooley is not convinced and is also involved with a group called Communities United Against Police Brutality that is dedicated to combating police brutality.

Cooley said his group, United Communities Against Police Brutality, hears at least one new complaint against police each day and wants to bring the issues to light.

“What we want is to solve the problem (of police brutality),” Cooley said.

Reier said better education and training is improving the force, although it still deals with excessive force issues.

“Are we perfect? No,” Reier said. “Are we becoming better? Yes.”

St Paul police

The suit focuses on Minneapolis police, but several University students said that they also experienced excessive police force in St. Paul this year.

University junior Paul Kellum said that on Sept. 12, he and three of his friends – all over 21 – were playing music and drinking alcohol on their porch at 129 N. Wilder St. in St. Paul when a neighbor called police to get the music turned down.

Kellum said four police cars arrived to handle the case and officers excessively forceful with him and his friends. He said although breathalyzers showed his friend blew a .07 – below the legal limit for intoxication – he was taken to a detoxification center and was forced to pay $144 for the service.

Kellum said he was legally intoxicated and taken to the center, but he said police were excessively forceful.

He said police tore him from the house, smashed his head against the trunk of the police car, handcuffed him and called him a “loser.”

Kellum filed a complaint with the St. Paul police internal affairs unit and said he hopes its investigation solves the problem.

“I’m not trying to bash the St. Paul police,” Kellum said. “I simply want to help weed out the officers who give police a bad name.”

The case is currently under investigation, so police officials could not comment on it directly; however, Paul Schnell, St. Paul police spokesman, said St. Paul police do not have a problem with police brutality.

“(Our) officers are trained to only take necessary action,” Schnell said.

Tina Baribeau, St. Paul police internal affairs coordinator, handles allegations against the police and said they are all taken seriously.

If someone has a complaint – anything ranging from harassment to excessive force – they can file a complaint with the police department’s internal affairs unit and sign a statement detailing the complaint.

Baribeau said the case is then investigated – a process that takes eight to 10 weeks.

“It’s a slow process,” Baribeau said. “There are a lot of officers and witnesses to talk to.”

Baribeau said the department’s internal affairs unit meets monthly to handle cases, typically dealing with 10 to 12 per meeting.

On campus, assistant vice president for public safety Greg Hestness said the University rarely deals with complaints of excessive police force, but he said the problem in Minneapolis should be addressed.

“I don’t think excessive force is a problem on campus,” Hestness said. “I think there needs to be an aggressive and unbiased investigation (in Minneapolis).”