3 Minneapolis officers investigated for bar fight

Rodney Spann
Rodney Spann says he was defending his brother after a group of about eight white men started punching and kicking Michael Spann outside a bar in Apple Valley in an incident November 2012. Three of those men are believed to be Minneapolis police officers.
Apple Valley Police Dept

Days after responding to allegations that two off-duty white Minneapolis police officers used profanity and racial slurs, the Minneapolis Police Department is investigating another possible case of alleged police misconduct.

The department is investigating a bar fight involving three other off-duty white Minneapolis officers in Apple Valley last November. Two of the officers, Christopher John Bennett and William C. Woodis, pleaded guilty in June to charges of disorderly conduct in Dakota County.

Apple Valley police initially cited Bennett, Woodis and another Minneapolis officer, Andrew R. Allen, for assault, damage to property and disorderly conduct following the fight at Bogart's Place on Nov. 19, 2012. After the plea agreement by Bennett and Woodis, the other charges were dismissed.

Tyrone Franson, Rodney Spann, Michael Spann and Lovell Gamer, who are black, told Apple Valley police that a group of white men glared at them when they entered the bar that evening. Franson said when he and a friend went out to the patio to smoke, at least four men followed them and told them they shouldn't be at the bar, according to the incident report.

"My little brother was left inside with the gentlemen," Franson said. "And they started hard mugging him. I told him to come outside with us. I came outside [and] as he came outside the four gentlemen followed him outside. The next thing I know all hell broke loose."

Franson said the Minneapolis officers told him and the other black men "You ain't supposed to be here. Your kind ain't welcome. Get out of here, you don't belong here."

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The four men told police that when they tried to leave, Woodis grabbed Michael Spann and started hitting him. They told police that a group of about eight white men started punching and kicking Michael Spann. Franson said his group didn't fight back and that Woodis also punched Rodney Spann when he tried to break up the fight.

Apple Valley police did not cite any of the other men.

A witness at the scene, Jon Bjork, told police he didn't see what happened inside the bar but from what he saw when the men left the bar, "the white guys were on the attack." Bjork, 70, later told police a man tried to stop him from calling 911.

"Well, he says, cancel the call; they're done," Bjork told police. "Well, it didn't look like they were done to me, so I think he was a friend."

The three off-duty officers gave a different account. Bennet and Allen told police that the four black men were causing problems at the bar and "pushing on" people near them. They said they acted in self-defense after being confronted. An Apple Valley officer wrote in the incident report that he put Woodis in the back of his squad car after he "squared off" with the officer during an interview.

Apple Valley police said in their report that all three off-duty Minneapolis officers acted disrespectfully when they were ticketed.

According to the police report, video surveillance shows the four black men leaving the bar with several white men running out into the parking lot after them. The rest of the fight isn't visible on the video.

Kevin Beck, an attorney who represented the three off-duty officers in the criminal case, said the Apple Valley police response to the fight was one-sided.

"The police report does not accurately reflect what happened," Beck said. "First and foremost, my clients deny any and all allegations that they used any racial slurs or anything of that nature."

Minneapolis Police Department Chief Janee Harteau declined to speak about the incident. But she released a statement acknowledging that police misconduct damages the public's trust in her department.

"The bottom line is that there is no place for racism or discrimination of any kind within the MPD. It will not be tolerated, period," Harteau wrote. " You can trust that I will ensure all incidents are investigated completely and when misconduct is found my response will be decisive."

Harteau said that in coming weeks she'll work with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights and cultural and faith leaders to start a discussion on how to rebuild trust with Minneapolis communities.