Heffelfinger: We will not be reviewing claims of police misconduct

Protester Detained
An anti-war protester is detained by police during a rally near the Capitol building Thursday during the final day of the Republican National Convention.
MPR photo/Caroline Yang

Heffelfinger will join former assistant U-S Attorney Andy Luger in leading the review. However, the team will not investigate allegations claims of excessive force by the police.

On the minds of many people who observed the police response to protesters last week, the big question was: Did officers act too aggressively?

While that may be a valid question, Tom Heffelfinger said that's for someone else to address.

Heffelfinger speaks
Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger has been appointed to review the actions of St. Paul police officers during the Republican National Convention.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

"We will not be reviewing whether or not there are any sustainable claims of police misconduct or anything like that," Heffelfinger said. "That is outside the scope of what we've been asked to do. It's quite simply, 'Was there was a plan of procedure in place? Were people properly trained to comply with it? Did they comply with it?' And that is about it."

Heffelfinger said his team will sift through allegations against police, but only to gather information about police compliance with procedures and best practices in law-enforcement.

He said individuals who question the use of police force can still raise those concerns in the court room or through a civilian police review.

But an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild said the scope of the independent review seems too limited. Jordan Kushner said there needs to be accountability for what he calls the large amounts of pepper spray and unnecessary police force used to subdue demonstrators.

"I think it would be important to examine exactly where the police responded appropriately and inappropriately, or unnecessarily," Kushner said. "Obviously, there needs to be an analysis of how much was this the result of individual police officers, and how much of this was a result of a poorly conceived plan that didn't adequately protect the rights of people who were protesting in the streets."

Heffelfinger said he and Luger still need to refine the scope of the review and assemble their team. The timeline still is to be determined. Heffelfinger said he will be compensated, but the terms of the contract are not yet finalized.

While many observers have praised the police for maintaining order and preventing further property damage from rogue protesters, others have criticized the police as overzealous. More than 800 people were arrested in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the convention.

Police Chief John Harrington said in a statement that he has confidence in his officers and supports the independent review. His department is conducting its own report evaluating RNC security planning and tactics.

Bob Hume, spokesman for Mayor Chris Coleman, said the city sought the outside review to provide an another assessment of the security surrounding the RNC.

"From our perspective, this fits the tone and tenor of the review process we were looking to set forth on from the beginning," Hume said. "This is going to give us a good opportunity to look at ... lessons that were learned through hosting such a large event in our community."

City Council member Dave Thune will hold a community hearing on the RNC security efforts on Sept. 24. The council has also asked for the police department to provide an assessment of how things went during the convention. The discussion is tentatively scheduled for the same day at City Hall.

In addition, about 10 to 20 people have attempted to file complaints with the internal affairs unit of the St. Paul Police Department about police procedures related to the Republican National Convention.

St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh said none of the would-be complainants signed the forms. It's not clear whether that was intentional, but Walsh said their complaints will not be investigated at this point.

"We assisted them in filling out paperwork and they didn't sign the complaints," Walsh said. "Until we have something definitive, it's pretty tough to move forward."

Walsh said at least in some cases, the individuals were identifying themselves as Jane or John Doe. He said they need to provide their real names to allow the investigations to begin.