Mpls settles another police misconduct suit

Police Chief Tim Dolan
Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

The Minneapolis City Council Friday approved another six-figure payout to settle a police misconduct lawsuit. The settlement calls for a payment of $75,000 plus attorney fees, which are expected to cost another $50,000.

The settlement has fueled criticism of Police Chief Tim Dolan's performance, just as the chief's reappointment is up for review.

The suit was brought by Nicholas Kastner after an incident in 2008, when officers Sherry Appeldorn and Joseph Will stomped, tasered and punched Kastner while he was lying still on his stomach.

Kastner had just gotten out of a car that had smashed into the officers' squad. Kastner's accomplice drove away as Kastner apparently gave himself up. The incident was captured by a security camera.

Police Chief Tim Dolan said he disciplined officer Appeldorn for a grade 'B' violation for using excessive force. A grade 'A' violation is the lightest offense, 'D' the most severe.

"It was excessive, but in this case, probably slightly excessive," said Dolan. "The degree of the injuries was very minor to the complaintant."

Chief Dolan did not discipline officer Appeldorn for statements she made about the incident, which significantly differed from the action captured on tape.

In her statement, Appeldorn said Kastner was standing up as she approached with her gun pointed at him. And she said she had to grab Kastner and throw him to the ground. None of those actions appear on the videotape.

But Dolan said given the dramatic events that accompanied the arrest, the discrepancies are normal. Appeldorn was nearly run over by one of the suspects and had to fire her weapon.

"As a matter of fact, one of the officers said, to this day -- she's seen the video many, many times -- still feels that she did something that you don't see on the video," said Dolan. "That's a natural reaction when you're involved in a situation like that."

Officer Appledorn's statement disturbs Fred Goetz, who is Kastner's attorney. He believes the officer lied about what happened during the arrest.

"Officers have to be truthful in their reports. Everybody relies on them -- prosecutors, defense attorneys," said Goetz. "And here, this wasn't just an innocent discrepancy. This was things that were clearly black, being called white."

Goetz said his client eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft. Kastner's accomplice pleaded guilty to felony charges.

The incident is one of several where Minneapolis police officers are captured on video as they use force to subdue suspects. Just last week another lawsuit was filed in federal court, by a man named Derryl Jenkins. Jenkins was tackled and punched by several officers after a 2009 traffic stop.

Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality says the incidents show Chief Dolan isn't tough enough on officers who break the rules. She says that's reflected in officer behavior.

"Under Chief Dolan, our organization has experienced and documented just mushrooming levels of police brutality," said Gross. "We see it skyrocketing. It's really turned from a problem to an epidemic."

City officials say Chief Dolan has been tough on officer misconduct. According to department data, in his first three-year term, 10 officers were terminated and seven resigned. Former Chief Robert Olson, who was in office for nine years, oversaw 16 firings and 15 resignations.

Police officials add that most of Dolan's disciplinary actions are challenged by the police union. And some -- they don't know exactly how many -- get overturned.

The debate over Dolan's record on discipline, and the amount of money the city has paid to settle misconduct lawsuits, will likely be raised again in the next few weeks. A public hearing on Dolan's reappointment is scheduled for next month.

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