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North Mpls. residents demand 4th Precinct inspector's return to duty

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Mike Friestleben
Inspector Mike Friestleben is on paid leave pending an investigation by the city's civilian Police Conduct Oversight Board.
Brandt Williams | MPR News 2015

Some north Minneapolis community leaders are demanding a popular police commander be returned to his job, saying he's needed to mend relations and help investigate after a fatal shooting that left one dead and seven injured.

The Minneapolis Police Department said early this week that Inspector Mike Friestleben was put on paid leave pending an investigation by the city's civilian Police Conduct Oversight Board. The chief wouldn't provide any details. 

"Every time we get close to an officer who makes a step to work with the community, this city gets rid of him," said community activist Spike Moss. "With crime the way it is, and homicide the way it is on the north side, we need an officer we can work with that understands the community and understands the critical things that are going on in our community."

Spike Moss
Activist Spike Moss speaks in defense of 4th Precinct Inspector Mike Friestleben at a news conference on Thursday in north Minneapolis.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Moss was referring specifically to a fatal shooting Wednesday evening several blocks from the 4th Precinct headquarters. A 20-year-old man was found dead at the scene and seven others were wounded after police say a gang rivalry erupted into an exchange of gunfire.

Five months ago, protests over the fatal police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark were at their height. Demonstrators set up camp on the front lawn of the 4th Precinct station on Plymouth Avenue to demand the prosecution of the officers involved. 

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced in March that he would not charge the two policemen. But on Thursday, a group of African-American leaders stood on that same lawn — its grass sprouting again — to praise a white police commander for his deep devotion to north Minneapolis. 

Alisa Clemons, a former Minneapolis police sergeant, said Friestleben is a constant presence at community meetings, especially schools.

"We have an inspector who serves in north Minneapolis schools, tutoring our children, reading books to our children, playing basketball with them, going on field trips, sledding, and roller skating with our kids, much of which is done off duty."

Clemons also singled out Friestleben's "inspector for a day" program, where schoolchildren can get an up-close look at life as a police officer. 

Friestleben grew up on the north side and has been with the MPD for 28 years. Chief Janee Harteau put him in charge of the 4th Precinct early last year. 

After Thursday's news conference, about a dozen north side residents went into the police station to meet with Inspector Mike Kjos — Friestleben's predecessor, and for now, replacement. Kjos told the group he's happy to be back at the 4th Precinct and promised to keep Friestleben's outreach efforts going.

 Inspector Mike Kjos
Inspector Mike Kjos meets with community members at the 4th Precinct station on Thursday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

"When the chief asked me to come back, she did say continue on with the initiatives that Mike has going. So I'll do whatever I have to do to continue on with the initiatives that are already in place," Kjos told them.

Spike Moss, Pastor Harding Smith and other community leaders say they want a meeting with Mayor Betsy Hodges to discuss Friestleben's situation. Hodges spokesperson David Prestwood would not say if the mayor would meet with the group, saying "as of now it's a personnel matter."

Harteau said in a statement Thursday that creating a "culture of accountability" is a pillar of her administration. The chief acknowledged the concern surrounding the paid leave of Friestleben and said "it is critical for me to take all complaints seriously and look into each of them thoroughly and objectively."    

She said the department "will remain diligent" on focusing resources on areas where violent crime has been occurring.