Falcon Heights pursues police contract with Ramsey County

Police wrap up the shooting scene.
Police wrapped up the shooting scene on Larpenteur Avenue on July 7, 2016. Philando Castile was shot the night before by a St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News 2016

Falcon Heights officials are ready to replace the police that patrol their city with officers from another jurisdiction.

Officials will meet Wednesday night to talk about plans to oust St. Anthony police, the force from a nearby suburb that serves Falcon Heights. The fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last July and charges against a St. Anthony police officer involved in that stop have stirred controversy and prompted the city to re-examine its police force.

The two cities have a contract that runs through 2019, according to Sack Thongvanh, the Falcon Heights city administrator. But he said the city's relationship with St. Anthony has changed since the Castile shooting.

"St. Anthony passed a resolution wanting to negotiate the contract with us," Thongvanh said. "And they wanted to get rid of the indemnification clause in our contract. So basically, they wanted to us to be financially responsible for any actions taken within Falcon Heights." He said that's unusual, and a deal breaker for his city.

Philando Castile
Philando Castile in an undated photo.

The liability issue has come to a head as Officer Jeronimo Yanez is on trial for killing Castile. He faces manslaughter and felony firearms charges in Ramsey County District Court. An attorney representing the Castile family, Atlanta-based Glenda Hatchett, has been watching the proceedings in court and has previously said she may pursue a federal lawsuit in the case.

Falcon Heights has until July 15 to decide whether to keep its contract with St. Anthony police, or start over. The city recently asked if any other neighboring cities were interested in a fee-for-service deal, but got no takers. So now, Falcon Heights officials are talking to Ramsey County. Sheriff Jack Serier will discuss a possible policing arrangement with the City Council at a workshop meeting starting at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Serier says state law makes a sheriff responsible for any parts of a county that don't have a police force of their own, and that may soon be the case in Falcon Heights.

"So we have to go in there and do at least a minimum level of emergency service response," Serier said. "So, at that point, when they asked, 'hey, we don't have a law enforcement agency and we need to ask others if they're interested,' it's incumbent on me to go in and become part of that conversation."

Serier's department already provides police services to seven other cities in the county at cost. The arrangements date back to 1960.

But those seven cities, Arden Hills, Gem Lake, Little Canada, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township are contiguous to one another, all along the Interstate 694 corridor on the county's northern edge. Falcon Heights is separate — it's on the other side of Roseville and farther away from the other cities patrolled by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.

Police officer Jeronimo Yanez stands outside the Ramsey County Courthouse.
St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez stands outside the Ramsey County Courthouse while waiting for a ride May 30, 2017, in St. Paul.
David Joles | Star Tribune via AP file

Serier said that could pose some additional problems for moving deputies around — particularly in an emergency.

"You know, I need to think hard about that, and so does my whole staff, to figure out what does that look like, as far as the number of people we have down there at different times of day, And also, again, what kind of services are they looking for," Serier said.

The sheriff said he does not have a cost estimate or a tentative agreement to offer the city yet, and noted that Wednesday's meeting is only an initial step.

Falcon Heights officials have been working on a policing transition plan. A community task force on inclusion and policing has been meeting since February. The group submitted a seven-page wish list adopted by the City Council last month.

City officials say they hope to settle the question of who will police the city soon and make any changes in January.

Correction (June 7, 2017): Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the date of the Falcon Heights meeting. It is scheduled for Wednesday, June 7, 2017. The story has been updated.

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