Minneapolis settles bias lawsuit by black officers

Chief Tim Dolan
Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan.
MPR Photo/Greta Cunningham

The five men, Sgt. Charlie Adams, Lt. Lee Edwards, Sgt. Dennis Hamilton, Lt. Don Harris and Lt. Medaria Arradondo each have more than 18 years experience on the force.

Their lawyers, John Klassen and Andrew Mueller, say settlement negotiations wrapped up late last night. Klassen says the officers will release a statement later, but he expressed their collective relief for them.

"This has been a very difficult journey, but an important one for them," said Klassen. "They are proud to have fought this fight, and they firmly believe that this resolution is in the best interests of the city, the department and Minneapolis citizens."

Commander in his car
Minneapolis police Lt. Lee Edwards was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming the department discriminated against him and other black officers.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

The complaint alleged that for years, black Minneapolis police officers have suffered in a racially hostile environment. And they say in some cases it got worse when Tim Dolan took over as chief.

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The complaint alleged that when Dolan came in, he demoted high-ranking black officers and replaced them with white cronies.

Under Dolan, plaintiffs Don Harris and Charlie Adams were moved out of high-ranking positions. Last year Adams sued Dolan for defamation, after the chief told the media that Adams' transfer out of the homicide unit was a disciplinary action. The city recently settled with Adams for $85,000.

Klassen says conditions for black officers have slowly started to improve.

"As a direct result of the plaintiffs bringing this lawsuit in December of '07, the department has, since that time ... affected plans and taken steps to correct many of the problems the plaintiffs pointed out and complained about in their lawsuit."

Under this settlement Lt. Adams will get more than $187,000, as will Harris and Arradondo. Lt. Lee Edwards will receive $137,000 and Sgt. Lee Hamilton will get $40,000.

Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Moore says there is no non-monetary compensation, such as promotions, involved with the settlement.

"We're pleased that this case is settled. Litigation, especially litigation with current employees, can be hard on everyone," said Moore. "We want to put this case behind us, and move forward with the important business of the Minneapolis Police Department."

Moore and the police department have more pending legal matters ahead, related to external police conduct.

They are facing a lawsuit brought the family of Fong Lee, who was shot and killed by an officer in 2006. A settlement conference in that case is scheduled for the middle of next month.

Moore says the settlement conference is not a sign that the city is in a settlement mood right now. He says the conference is a court-ordered procedure that routinely precedes a trial.