Minn. top cop defends officers' conduct during protests
Chief said she had 'never seen more professionalism' from officers
By Libor Jany
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis’ top cop strongly defended the conduct of her officers during the weeklong protests over the police killing of Jamar Clark, after Gov. Mark Dayton on Saturday said he would urge federal prosecutors to investigate "any matters...that may have violated the civil rights of any Minnesota citizens.”
In a statement released about an hour after Dayton made his remarks, Chief Janeé Harteau claimed that she had “never seen more professionalism from police officers” and said that she “fully” supported her officers’ actions.
"I've been in law enforcement for 29 years, and I've never seen more professionalism from police officers than has been displayed in Minneapolis at the 4th Precinct this week," said Harteau. "I fully support the actions of my officers. Any investigation, federal, state, or county into my officers' conduct at the 4th Precinct during this time will only confirm the strength of the work my officers did protecting both public safety and the freedom of speech."
Harteau was criticized for not being more supportive of officers by police union president Lt. Bob Kroll, during a radio interview earlier this week.
Clark, who was unarmed, was shot and killed last weekend by an officer after an apparent confrontation with paramedics who were treating his girlfriend outside a North Side apartment building. His death set off demonstrations in the mostly-black community and prompted a federal investigation. The two officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid leave.
In his strongest comments yet on the case, Dayton said Saturday that he plans to ask for a federal investigation of any civil rights violations in the police's response to the protests. The governor had previously said that a demonstration in which hundreds of angered protesters marched onto Interstate-94, blocking traffic, made him "very uncomfortable."
“I will also urge the Department of Justice lawyers and the U.S. Attorney to investigate any matters, which occurred in Minneapolis during the past week that may have violated the civil rights of any Minnesota citizens," Dayton said, adding that he will meet with representatives of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.
Critics have accused police of heavy-handed tactics, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the mostly peaceful protests that sprung up outside the department's Fourth Precinct house just hours after the shooting death of the 24-year-old Clark early Sunday. Police officials defended their response, saying that officers were attacked with stones and bottles.
A shaky video that surfaced online earlier this week appears to show an officer bending down to check on Clark, who is lying motionless on his stomach, reigniting the debate over whether the 24-year-old was handcuffed at the time he was shot.
State and federal investigators said they will not release surveillance footage from the scene until the investigation is concluded, over protesters' objections.
Dayton, who met with Clark's family and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, said that he would “urge that the tapes be provided to the family and released to the public, as soon as doing so will not jeopardize the Department of Justice’s investigation." He said that Justice Department lawyers would meet with Clark's family on Sunday to "discuss the disposition of the tapes."
Earlier this week, the department of several crude Molotov cocktails that it said had been found at the police station. Protesters denied causing any damage.
Police recovered these items near the 4th Precinct tonight. Bottles are filled with gasoline for 'Molotov Cocktails' pic.twitter.com/zqlv3v8nkh— Minneapolis Police (@MinneapolisPD) November 21, 2015
After officers used pepper spray to drive back protesters, Council member Alondra Cano wrote the department, for a "'cease-mace' policy." Cano and several other council members have at times joined in the protests, earning them condemnation from some of their colleagues.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who police union officials accused of not publicly backing officers, said on Saturday that the force would continue to do its best to "to protect neighbors and protesters from violent elements who are out only to do harm."
"During this time, police officers have shown restraint and professionalism under very challenging conditions, and most protesters have gathered peacefully," Hodges said. "I have asked officers and protesters to continue to exercise restraint and respect as we continue to balance the need to grieve and protest peacefully with the need to ensure everyone’s safety."
Copyright 2015 the Star Tribune