Chief defends police action

Attorneys questioned the conduct of University police at the May 4 sit-in.

by Aidan M. Anderson

With charges of obstructing the legal process thrown out against a University student and staff member surrounding the May 4 sit-in events, the pair’s attorneys have questioned the practices of the University Police Department.

Union president Phyllis Walker was found innocent of the obstruction charges when a Hennepin County judge granted a motion for acquittal brought by Walker’s attorney, Doug Olson.

“I believe that the officer overreacted; he lost his patience with the two students he was dealing with, and he Maced them,” Olson said. “There was a decision by somebody to bring charges against Phyllis Walker, which was unfounded.”

The same charges against University student Mike Wilklow were dismissed by a Hennepin County judge on Nov. 21. Wilklow’s attorney, Bruce Nestor, said the dismissal of charges indicate no charges should’ve been brought in the first place because nobody did anything illegal.

“This represents, in my view, that there was no basis to charge Ms. Walker or Mr. Wilklow; if there was no basis to charge them, there was no basis to spray (Wilklow) with Mace,” Nestor said.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said his officers merely submit the reports and the state makes the decision to charge based on probable cause.

In both cases, the city attorney stated insufficient evidence as the reason for the outcomes.

According to Minnesota Statute 609.50, obstructing legal process applies if an individual tries to obstruct or interfere with a police officer while he or she is performing official

duties.

The officer was performing his duty and acted as any reasonable officer would, Hestness said.

“I know this officer, and he’s not given to excitability; he’s a professional,” he said.

The courts recognize no two situations are the same and that the officer sometimes has to make decisions very quickly, Hestness said.

Walker said there was more to the incident than just the obstruction charges.

“What this was all about was the University of Minnesota trying to silence the Union because AFSCME 3800 took a position against the proposed closure of the General College,” she said.

“The University isn’t happy with the strike of (October 2003) and not happy with the opposition that Local 3800 had to the proposed closing of General College.”

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the University had no role in the charging decision, and it respects the decisions of the county courts.

Rotenberg added the recent news of the Union’s contract agreement represents a positive step forward.

“We’re all pleased with the conclusion of the collective bargaining sessions and we need to focus on the future,” he said.