Mpls. parks: Possibly bogus 911 call led cops to confront black teens

Park supt. Mary Merrill, commissioners and park police chief Jason Ohotto
Minneapolis Park superintendent Mary Merrill, left, and park board commissioners AK Hassan and Brad Bourn, and park police chief Jason Ohotto, right, speak with reporters at a press conference in Minneapolis, Minn., on July 11, 2018.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News

Updated: 8:10 p.m. | Posted: 3:26 p.m.

Minneapolis parks officials are asking for help piecing together what happened Tuesday when a 911 caller's unfounded claims of violence at Minnehaha Regional Park led to four black teens being handcuffed, with one officer pointing a gun at them.

The teens — two 13-year-olds, a 14-year-old and 16-year-old — were detained but were found to have no weapons and released. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said an investigation is underway about the 911 call and caller, suggesting that a false report led to what could have been a tragic incident.

Park Superintendent Mary Merrill speaks with reporters.
Park Superintendent Mary Merrill speaks with reporters.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News

"We intend to make sure our young people are safe in our parks," Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Mary Merrill told reporters Wednesday.

Officers activated their body cameras during the confrontation. Part of the police response was also caught on video by a citizen and posted on Facebook.

The park board in a statement said that at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, a 911 caller reported four males in the park holding knives and sticks and that one stated he had a gun in his backpack; the report was later updated when the 911 caller said the "suspects" were assaulting the caller's boyfriend.

Park officers arrived minutes later and quickly encountered the four boys. "One of the park police officers did unholster his firearm and point it in the general direction of the four suspects," the park board said.

Officers then began to investigate more, but they were "unable to contact on scene or by phone the 911 caller or the 911 caller's boyfriend," the board added. "Witness accounts on the scene were inconsistent with the 911 caller's account."

The Council on American Islamic Relations Minnesota hopes Minneapolis parks leaders will use independent investigators to look into the incident.

"Due to the nature what we have seen with police-involved incidents, we are confident when the independent, outside investigator is involved in gathering information," Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR-MN, said during a press conference Wednesday evening. "Just the nature of the response and what has been captured so far does not put the park police in a good light."

Hussein said he was pleased with the decision to investigate whether the 911 caller made a false report. He also said the incident took a toll on the four teens involved.

Hussein said he spoke to the mother of one of the teens, who said her son is still shaken by what happened.

"They were terrified," he said. "They didn't know if their life was ending because the questions they were being asked was about the fact that did they have guns? And they know with the current climate around police accountability and people of color in the United States that, you could have a wallet and be shot in the back."

Hussein still wants to talk with the parks department and the teens involved in the incident.

Park police will continue to investigate the origins and validity of the initial emergency call. Anyone with information is asked to call park police at 612-230-6550.

MPR News reporter Peter Cox contributed to this report.

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