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Assaults on Minn. officers up 160% from decade ago as attacks against LEOs rise

“I know we are not alone...” said Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara. “It’s become too easy to attack our police, and it needs to stop”

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“We’ve gone down a path of, ‘We don’t need cops. Let’s let our criminals out of jail early,’” he said. “It’s created this sense of lawlessness.”

Stephen Maturen/AFP/TNS

By Andy Mannix and Jeff Hargarten
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — The fatal shooting of Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell on Thursday adds to a grim tally.

Since 2021, the Minneapolis Police Department has counted about 200 assaults on its police force, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension — part of a rising trend in attacks in Minnesota and across the country that law enforcement leaders say is cause for alarm.

“It’s beyond a level of violence I’ve ever seen in my entire career,” said Jim Mortenson, a retired St. Cloud police lieutenant who is now executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, a statewide union for emergency responders.

Mitchell, 36, is the third law enforcement agent to be slain in Minnesota since Jan. 1. His killing follows that of two other officers — plus a firefighter-paramedic who tried to help render aid — in February during an hourslong standoff with a gunman in Burnsville.

Minnesota has not seen three slayings of law enforcement officers in a single calendar year since the 1970s, a more violent era for police.

And the year is not yet half over.

Fatal attacks make up a small fraction of the overall violence against law enforcement, and Mitchell is only the third officer to be killed in an ambush in Minneapolis in more than 30 years.

But across the state, reported assaults against officers are up 160% from a decade ago — a metric entailing everything from intimidation, kicking and punching to an assault with a deadly weapon — according to BCA data. This statistic includes two Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies who were injured during a shootout as they attempted to execute an arrest warrant related to a probation violation in April. Deputy Keith McNamara was hit with shrapnel, and multiple bullets struck deputy Christopher Heihn, who was treated and released from the hospital.

“I know we are not alone,” said Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara in a statement Thursday night. “We know that attacks on police officers are on the rise across our country, and Jamal just happened to be the latest victim of this senseless and troubling trend. It’s become too easy to attack our police, and it needs to stop.”

Details are still emerging in what led to the fatal shooting of Mitchell and the injury of another Minneapolis officer. According to police, officers responded to a report of two people shot around 5:15 p.m. Thursday in an apartment in the 2200 block of Blaisdell Avenue S.

Mitchell was among the first officers to arrive on the scene. He was attempting to give medical assistance outside the building to two people he believed had been wounded when one of them “ambushed” him, according to BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. Mitchell was “assassinated” by the suspect, who “continued to shoot him after he fell to the ground,” O’Hara said. Mitchell died a short time later at HCMC.

The suspect, identified Saturday as 35-year-old Mustafa Ahmed Mohamed, died at the scene.

At a nearby apartment building related to the scene, police found Osman Said Jimale, 32, dead and another man suffering from life-threatening injuries. That victim was being treated at HCMC.

Outside the apartment building, a man was found shot while in his vehicle. He also was taken to HCMC with life-threatening injuries.

One officer survived his injuries and was treated and released. His identity has yet to be released. A Minneapolis firefighter was also hurt and treated for injuries without being hospitalized.

Statewide, most attacks — about two-thirds — on law enforcement since 2021 are classified as simple assaults, such as punches and kicks.

In Minneapolis, a greater share are more serious. About half are labeled aggravated assaults, most involving a moving vehicle or gun.

Prior to Mitchell, a police officer in Minneapolis had not been slain for more than 20 years.

In August 2002, officer Melissa Jayne Schmidt responded to a report of an armed woman outside a public housing complex in south Minneapolis. Schmidt, 35, and another officer searched the 60-year-old suspect, Martha Donald, and found bullets in her purse but no gun.

At Donald’s urging, Schmidt brought her to the restroom. Donald produced a hidden gun and burst out of a stall shooting. Schmidt returned fire, and both she and Donald died.

A decade earlier, the assassination of Officer Jerry Haaf rocked Minneapolis and its police department. Haaf, 60, was at Pizza Shack on Lake Street when he was shot in the back. Four men were convicted in connection with his killing. The cold-blooded slaying of a police officer during an especially violent period in the city dominated headlines for months.

Several of the men involved later said they were enraged over an incident of police officers manhandling a blind and disabled Black man on a Metro Transit bus and went to the restaurant, a well-known hangout for officers, looking for revenge.

Mitchell’s killing and the current wave of attacks come at a complicated moment for Minneapolis, as city leaders seek to move forward from the murder of George Floyd and into a new era for policing.

Mortenson blamed journalists and politicians for spreading an “anti-cop” mentality, starting with the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which he said has diminished the public’s perception of law enforcement. After Floyd, he said, “it got doubled down on.”

“We’ve gone down a path of, ‘We don’t need cops. Let’s let our criminals out of jail early,’” he said. “It’s created this sense of lawlessness.”

Criminologist Michelle Phelps disagreed, calling the post-Floyd moment a “very real reckoning” triggered by the actions of a police officer convicted of serious crimes.

Phelps cautioned that much about the killing of Mitchell is unknown, including whether the shooter was motivated by anti-police bias.

She compared this time in Minneapolis to Haaf’s murder in the 1990s, which came on the heels of the police beating of Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots, all of which generated intense discourse over police reform similar to the past few years. Haaf’s killing drastically changed the “political winds” and opened the door to more tough-on-crime policies and aggressive policing, said Phelps, who wrote about the moment in her book, “The Minneapolis Reckoning: Race, Violence, and the Politics of Policing in America.”

“My worry is we will see a switching of the political winds here, but in the context of a force that is much smaller than it used to be, that is in the middle of multiple consent decrees, that has failed to overhaul misconduct review and civilian oversight,” Phelps said.

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