Mpls. police head to trial for alleged excessive force in 2004

In federal district court Friday morning, attorneys argued their cases in a pretrial hearing over an excessive force lawsuit against Minneapolis police officers.

Plaintiff Jackson Mahaffy says in May of 2004, he was assaulted without provocation by two off-duty officers who weren't in uniform. He found out later that the two men were Robert Kroll and Wally Krueger, two veteran Minneapolis police officers.

According to his complaint, Mahaffy was crossing Marshall Avenue Northeast near Dusty's Bar around 10 p.m. when his shoulder bag hit an SUV in the street. The two men came out of the truck and knocked Mahaffy down. Mahaffy says his sister Flora tried to pull one of the officers off her brother when the officer turned and struck her in the face.

The alleged assault touched off a street brawl between the officers and bystanders who were in the area attending the annual Arts Crawl.

Mahaffy's attorney Jim Delaplain argued in front of Judge James Rosenbaum that Kroll and Krueger acted in their capacity as police officers.

Judge Rosenbaum pointed out that every citizen has the right to make a citizen's arrest, and asked Delaplain exactly when the two men crossed that line. "Were they acting under the color of law when they were riding in the SUV?" asked Rosenbaum.

Delaplain said no.

"How about when they opened the door to exit the SUV?" asked Rosenbaum.

Delaplain said the officers acted under color of law when they called for back-up, which came after they initially assaulted Mahaffy and his sister. He said Kroll identified himself as a Minneapolis police officer when he made the call. Delaplain says Kroll and Krueger knew the responding officers would recognize them as fellow police officers and wouldn't arrest them.

But Kroll and Krueger's attorney, Karin Peterson, said that argument is 'bogus.' She said although assisting officers knew they were responding to an incident where officers were involved in a fight, they didn't recognize Kroll and Krueger on sight. And Peterson quoted one officer's deposition who said he didn't recognize Krueger because he'd lost a lot of weight.

Assistant City Attorney Lynne Fundingsland is representing two uniformed officers named in the suit. She denied the plaintiffs' claims that the officers conspired with officers Kroll and Krueger to deprive Mahaffy and other plaintiffs of their civil rights. And she criticized the plaintiffs for trying to include nearly all the officers at the scene that night in the conspiracy.

"The plaintiffs want to treat the defendants as an amorphous blob," she said. "But I can't treat them all that way and neither can the court."

The case is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in May. Judge Rosenbaum is expected to make a ruling on the pretrial motions sometime before then.

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