Jury clears Minneapolis cop of excessive force, perjury

Michael Griffin at police academy graduation, 2007
Minneapolis police officer Michael Griffin at police academy graduation.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune file 2007 via AP

Updated 5 p.m. | Posted 4:24 p.m.

A federal jury Tuesday cleared a Minneapolis police officer on nearly all charges that he used excessive force on several bar patrons and then tried to cover it up.

Prosecutors had portrayed Officer Michael Griffin, a 10-year veteran of the force, as a "bully with a badge" in the late night fights that occurred outside downtown Minneapolis bars in 2010 and 2011. In each case, Griffin was off duty and in plain clothes.

Each incident ended with at least one combatant taken to the hospital. Griffin was also accused of lying about the incidents on police reports and under oath during court proceedings.

Of the nine counts against him, however, the jury Tuesday cleared Griffin on six counts and deadlocked on the remaining three.

The trial, which finished last week, included testimony from the men who claimed Griffin attacked them, experts on police use of force and witnesses, who at times struggled to recall events that occurred five and six years ago.

Defense attorney Robert Richman said the real bullies in these incidents were the men who fought with Griffin. He strongly challenged allegations that Griffin had lied on his police reports, calling it "the height of unfairness" to accuse Griffin of lying because witnesses — some of whom were intoxicated at the time of the incidents — couldn't remember details Griffin put in his police reports.

Both the prosecution and defense presented their own "use-of-force" experts on the witness stand. The experts based much of their testimony on what they call the continuum of force — a list of available options for police officers during confrontations.

Richman originally planned to put Griffin on the stand to testify, but did not. Griffin wouldn't have much more to say than what was already in his police reports and court statements, Richman said.

Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Lt. Bob Kroll said last week that Griffin is still on the force and has been on administrative home assignment. The police union president also said internal affairs had already investigated the incidents in 2010 and 2011. Those probes resulted in a letter in Griffin's file for one incident and no discipline for the other.

"It is unfortunate that this case has been a distraction from the excellent public safety service our officers deliver on a daily basis," Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said in a statement.

While the federal jury cleared Griffin, an internal police investigation is ongoing, she added.

Federal authorities are reviewing their options on the three counts where the jury deadlocked, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger said in a statement.

Richman, Griffin's defense attorney, acknowledged that technically the government could pursue those three charges again, but added, "I would expect that in the course of sound prosecutorial discretion, the government would call it a day."

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.