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Panel clears cops in St. Paul skyway stun gun arrest; lawsuit expected

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Security video of police arresting Chris Lollie
A screen shot from security video from the Securian Financial building of police arresting Chris Lollie.
Courtesy St. Paul Police

Updated: 6:01 p.m. | Posted: 12:20 p.m.

A man who St. Paul police stunned with a Taser in the St. Paul skyway last winter plans to file suit against the city, alleging excessive force by police officers.

Christopher Lollie
Christohper Lollie, who was arrested in the St. Paul skyway in January 2014.
Courtesy of Christopher Lollie

  In documents served to the city late last month, Christopher Lollie alleges police also violated his constitutional rights by arresting him without reasonable suspicion.

But on Friday, St. Paul Police announced that the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission had "exonerated" the three officers who arrested Lollie on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing legal process, charges that officials dropped after Lollie's arrest.

  On Jan. 31, officers had responded to a call from a security guard complaining about Lollie, who is black, sitting in a public seating area of the First National Bank Building in the skyway. The private security guards told him to leave the area.

Video: Security camera view of Chris Lollie sitting in First National Bank skyway area

  After a cellphone video Lollie took of his arrest and posted on YouTube went viral, many questioned whether the officers had engaged in racial profiling.

St. Paul city attorney Sara Grewing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

  Lollie declined to identify himself to officers, saying he had done nothing wrong. His attorney, Andrew Irlbeck, said the video shows his client did not physically resist arrest.

• Related: Police release video of skyway arrest
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  In August, Police Chief Tom Smith said officers "used the force necessary" to safely take Lollie into custody. But Mayor Chris Coleman asked the Police Civilian Internal Review Commission to review Lollie's arrest.  

The review commission, composed of five community members and two police officers appointed by the mayor, "asked a lot of hard questions," Chair Gilbert de la O said in a statement distributed by police. The group also reviewed the Internal Affairs findings on the arrest and de la O visited the place where it occurred.

"They watched the entire video of the arrest several times," he said in the statement.

Video: Side-by-side videos of arrest of Chris Lollie in skyway

However, the statement also notes that Tyrone Terrill, president of the St. Paul-based African American Leadership Council, a partner of the NAACP and the Black Ministerial Alliance, said "we have concerns about this process and the findings."

Smith said in a statement that Internal Affairs investigators worked slowly and deliberately before submitting their findings to the review commission.

"We wanted this process to be transparent to everyone — to Mr. Lollie, to the police officers involved and to the citizens of St. Paul whom we serve," Smith said.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman responded to Friday's announcement in a statement, asking critics to consider what he called "the incredible record of police-community relations" in the city.   

"Chief Smith, like his predecessors, has worked tirelessly to build trust throughout all communities in St. Paul," the statement said. "He has worked alongside the NAACP, the African-American Leadership Council and the Black Ministerial Alliance to forge relationships and respond to concerns raised within the community. The Saint Paul Police Department has also built unprecedented relationships with Somali elders and works closely with the leaders in the Hmong, Latino and Native American communities. These relationships will continue — and it is one of the reasons our police officers are so respected." 

St. Paul NAACP president Jeffry Martin says the decision by the civilian panel comes as no surprise. He says the board is biased in favor of clearing officers of any wrongdoing.

"The citizen review board is just another arm of the police department," Martin said. "I'd really like to say they're an independent body looking at the facts as they see them, but to exonerate officers and say you've done absolutely nothing wrong is way far-fetched." 

Martin is calling on Mayor Chris Coleman to conduct his own investigation. 

He fears the outcome of the civilian review could alienate young people of color if they feel they're not welcome downtown.

  "What I want the mayor to say is, 'That's not going to happen in my city,'" Martin said. "We need to be an inclusive city, he needs to show that's the city he's going to continue to lead, and not allow some other type of mindset to set in — especially not in our police department."

The St. Paul Police Federation, the union that represents police officers, accused the mayor of using "inflammatory language, drawing comparison to other incidents that were prejudicial and potentially very dangerous," to police.

"The Federation never hesitated in its support of Officers Michael Johnson, Bruce Schmidt and Lori Hayne. Although Mr. Lollie has filed a lawsuit against the city and the police officers involved, the Federation continues to support these officers and believes his lawsuit to be without merit."

Irlbeck, however, said the incident represents just one small piece of a national debate on race.  

"The current climate is one of discussing whether this country is in fact in some state of post-racial utopia, or whether there still exists some racism in various parts of the country or government," Irlbeck said. "It's a good conversation for people to be having."