The number of people who are trying to get money back from the defunct Metro Gang Strike Force has tripled in the last 10 days.
A special hotline created to wind down the financial affairs of the embattled gang unit has received a total of 44 calls and one letter since it was established about two weeks ago.
Calls to the hotline are being fielded by an insurance trust run by the League of Minnesota Cities. The trust is a joint insurer that often handles legal claims against Minnesota municipalities. It was designated to handle the disbursement, because of its experience in handling other claims against public agencies.
Trust spokeswoman Stephanie Weiss said the hotline is a key part of an effort to return about a million dollars in combined cash and property that the gang strike force seized.
"It's really recognizing that some people may rightly feel victimized, and we wanted to make it as simple and straightforward and as open as possible for those groups," Weiss said.
The gang unit was shut down this summer, amid allegations of police misconduct and improper seizures of cash and property.
Weiss said people who call the hotline are sent forms asking for their name and address, a description of their interaction with the Metro Gang Strike Force and what was taken from them, as well as contact information for any witnesses who might corroborate their claim.
"We're going to be bringing that back in house, comparing it against any files from Metro Gang to try and determine if we can offer a settlement on the claim," Weiss said. "If we don't have all the information in hand that we need, we may conduct an investigation to try and make reasonably sure that we're offering a fair and legitimate settlement."
Weiss said the investigation won't refer claims to law enforcement for criminal prosecution. But the process will offer people with claims against the gang unit a chance to make their case to a state administrative law judge for a non-binding decision on any settlements.
Anyone who calls the hotline will be also given information about a federal class action law suit against the Strike Force.
Under an agreement reached with U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, the insurance trust is referring claimants to Minneapolis attorney Randy Hopper. People are being told they retain their right to sue the strike force, even after they take a settlement.
Hopper represents a half-dozen people who have already sued the Gang Strike Force, claiming that officers improperly took cash, a computer, a camera and other items during investigative searches and stops.
Hopper said in some cases, they weren't given any proof that the items were taken, and in others, no documented criminal activity was associated with the seizure.
Hopper said the hotline has prompted more inquiries about the lawsuit.
"I guess I've probably received maybe 15, 20 different calls onto my voice mail," he said.
He expects there will eventually be many more.
"The size of the class could be on the low end 200, and potentially higher, based on the numbers related to evidence, and arrests and reports filed and things of that nature," Hopper said.
In the meantime, officials running the hotline say they're still accepting calls, and haven't yet put an end date on the effort. Recorded instructions are available in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali.
Anyone with a claim against the Metro Gang Strike Force can call the hotline at 651-209-2673.