U student files civil complaint against local business

by Robert Koch

A University student filed a complaint with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, alleging a Stadium Village photo-finishing shop intentionally placed a racist photograph in her returned work order.
Melissa Sweeney, who is of European decent, has an African-American boyfriend.
The family social science senior claims Photo Dock 1 Hour Photo at 822 Washington Ave. S.E. knowingly inserted a photograph of a white supremacist rally into 15 reprints returned to her Jan. 15.
Sweeney’s reprints were of her and her boyfriend, University computer science senior Frederic Golen, at a residence hall-sponsored dance. The extra photograph showed a white supremacist speaking on a podium draped with Confederate, Ku Klux Klan blood-drop and swastika-type flags.
Sweeney and Golen have only recently spoken publicly about the incident and resulting complaint, now two months underway.
“To show that this does happen not only in Minneapolis but so close to the University will help open (students’) eyes and help them understand this is really real,” Golen said.
But for Photo Dock co-owner Jeff Rasmusson, the incident was an accident at most and not an act of racism.
“I can say with certainty that this did not occur intentionally,” Rasmusson said. “This is practically a minority-owned business.”
Rasmusson and Vietnamese-born co-owner Lan Le serve a clientele that resembles a “mini-United Nations,” said Photo Dock’s attorney William Seeley.
Seeley said mechanical error is the only plausible explanation.
“Occasionally, a print will catch on the rollers. It will either fall on the floor, or rarely, it will slip into the tray below,” he said, speculating on how the racist photograph might have been mixed in with Sweeney’s reprints.
Photo Dock processes between 20 and 100 rolls of film daily, Rasmusson said.
Sweeney said she had patronized Photo Dock at least 10 times previously, but until Jan. 6 had never brought in a picture showing her and Golen together.
“In our hearts, Frederic and I know this was done intentionally with probable cause,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney’s attorney, Patricia Crumley, could not be reached for comment.
Because the incident involved a private business, Sweeney went beyond the University Police, the Diversity Institute and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office to the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights for help.
Currently, the matter is a civil rights complaint and not a lawsuit. A department investigator is mediating between Sweeney and Photo Dock.
Sweeney said she filed the complaint on Feb. 3 and recently received a response from Photo Dock. Following Sweeney’s response, due April 19, the department’s executive director will review the evidence and decide whether there is probable cause that discrimination occurred.
If probable cause exists, an attempt to bring both parties to an agreement will begin. Otherwise, the next step would be a review hearing by the Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights, according to information posted on the department Web site.
Sweeney said she and Golen hope the department considers the evidence and judges fairly.
But she added, “We are exploring our legal remedies to the problem.”

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