This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing authentic news reporting about Minnesota's new immigrants and refugees. MPR News is a partner with Sahan Journal and will be sharing stories between SahanJournal.com and MPRNews.org.
The cellphone recording went viral around the world: a 24-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department threatening to break the leg of a teenager if he didn’t cooperate when stopped by police in March 2015.
“If you fuck with me, I’m gonna break your leg before you even get a chance to run,” officer Roderic Weber told one of the four Somali American teens in the car. “I don’t screw around.”
“Can you tell me why I’m being arrested?” one of the teens asked.
“Because I feel like arresting you,” Weber replied.
The video clip drew widespread outrage, and a demand for a federal investigation from the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations—but it wasn’t the whole story.
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For more than five years, the city of Minneapolis didn’t publicly disclose the full events of that day. Now, Sahan Journal has obtained documents and recordings through a public records lawsuit against the city, which reveal for the first time that the Minneapolis officer subjected the teens to a litany of racist comments, within earshot of other officers and a police supervisor. No record has emerged to suggest any of these other officers intervened or reported their colleague to department leadership.
The officer’s newly discovered words—described as volatile, prejudiced, and horrific by police accountability advocates—highlight the Minneapolis Police Department’s often tenuous relationship with people of color, and especially the Somali community.
After an internal disciplinary investigation, the police department fired the officer. But the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis union fought to keep the officer’s badge at an employment arbitration hearing over a year after the incident. This process led to a scathing ruling which upheld the firing, calling the officer’s language “about as bad as it gets.”
The community moved on to experience waves of new Minneapolis Police crises: Jamar Clark, Justine Damond, Thurman Blevins, and George Floyd. Often, these incidents have highlighted failures in police discipline and accountability.
This incident, seen clearly through these uncovered documents and video, shows how the department attempted to address a flagrant breach of standards. The officer was ultimately held accountable and fired, but only after a slow-moving and secretive process that failed to address community concerns.
And the lessons that could have come from the incident never became public: that an officer’s racist words during a police stop could lead to greater disciplinary consequences than in the past.
Now years later, one of the teens recalls the incident as traumatizing and said nobody ever followed up to tell him the officer had been fired.
A ‘troubling’ police stop
On March 18, 2015, officer Rod Weber and his partner, Dan Diedrich, were dispatched to Pillsbury Avenue and West 33rd Street in south Minneapolis. A 911 caller had reported three people dropping off a red Dodge Charger with a bullet hole at the Zion Lutheran Church parking lot. They had driven away in a blue Toyota.
As the officers arranged a tow, Diedrich saw a blue Toyota Camry enter the church parking lot and park. Almost immediately, the car pulled out of its parking space and exited the lot, Diedrich’s report says.
As Weber and Dietrich stopped the blue Toyota Camry, investigative reports say neither officer was wearing a lapel microphone. Department policy at the time required one of the officers to wear a microphone and ensure it was working properly.
Weber had his gun drawn as he approached the group of four African American teens of Somali descent, and he pointed the weapon in the car. That’s when he made the threat to break the leg of Hamza Jeylani, who was 17 years old and in high school at the time.
Jeylani recorded the beginning of the encounter with his cellphone. The newly obtained labor arbitrator’s ruling describes that when Weber saw he was being filmed, he “swatt[ed] the phone from the young man’s hand and confiscati[ed] it.”
“Give me your phone,” Weber said. “Don’t you fuckin’ try to hide it from me.”
Police removed the four teens out of their car, handcuffed them, and placed them in the back of two different squad cars.
As two of the teens sat in the back of Weber’s squad car, a police microphone captured their conversation with officers.
“You’re racist, bro,” said one of the teens.
“Yep, and I’m proud of it,” Weber replied.
A moment later, the dashcam recording stops. But two Minneapolis Park Police officers, responding to a backup call, had their cameras and microphones running to capture what Weber said just seconds later.
“Do you remember what happened in Black Hawk Down when we killed a bunch of you folk? I’m proud of that,” Weber said.
“We didn’t finish the job over there, ‘cause if we had finished the job, you guys wouldn’t be over here right now,” Weber added.
Black Hawk Down refers to the U.S. military action in Somalia in 1993 to capture warlords during the country’s civil war. Two U.S. helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu during the fight and the bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Eighteen American soldiers and hundreds of Somalis were killed.
Weber is later recorded calling one of the boys an “ugly kid,” and “2Pac”—an apparent reference to Tupac Shakur, a rapper who was killed in a 1996 drive-by shooting.
The blue Toyota Camry the teenagers were in had not been stolen, and after about 45 minutes all four teens were released.
In a recent interview with Sahan Journal, the 911 caller said police did, in fact, pull over the correct car. One of the teens — Liban Yusuf, who was 18 at the time — was later charged and convicted in connection with the theft of a Dodge Challenger, which was a rental car taken from the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, court records say.
Jeylani shared the video he recorded of the first moments of the police stop, which captured the officer’s threat to break his leg. A Fox 9 reporter who found it on Twitter reached out to the police department for comment about two weeks after the incident.
That reporter’s questioning — according to discipline files — is what prompted the Internal Affairs Unit to investigate Weber.
Police Department records do not indicate that any of the other four officers or the supervisor at the scene reported the incident themselves.
Faysal Mohamed, who was also 17 at the time, was also in the car.
A few weeks after the incident, he filed a complaint against Weber through the Office of Police Conduct Review, part of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. Faysal stated that he felt the group was racially profiled and harassed.
“He is suppose to be a officer of the law but making threats to teenagers,” Faysal’s complaint says. “I would appreciate that officer Weber receives a strong consequence that will make officer Weber rethink what he is saying to people.”
Jeylani’s cellphone video garnered attention from the international press and appeared in an American Civil Liberties Union video titled “Being Black in America”—in which Jeylani expressed hope Weber would face justice.
The Minneapolis Police Department suspended Weber with pay by early May 2015 as the investigation went forth. Throughout that summer, Office of Police Conduct Review investigator Liisa Hill gathered evidence and took testimony. Hill interviewed Diedrich in June 2015, and Weber that July.
The investigation was completed in September 2015. That November, a disciplinary panel made up of two civilians and two sworn police officers advanced the case to a different police administration panel. Nearly ten months after the incident, they recommended Weber be fired from the department.
In January 2016, it was widely reported that Weber had been fired. But the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis—the union that represents Minneapolis police officers—issued a statement saying the firing was unwarranted. Then the union began a monthslong fight to keep Weber’s badge.
The union would highlight Weber’s record of achievement in the department: a medal of valor, three medals of commendation, three department awards of merit, and two lifesaving awards.
After the union filed a grievance, a labor arbitrator held a hearing in June of 2016, and in that July—16 months after the incident—the arbitrator upheld the firing.
‘It was the wrong thing for me to say’
Sahan Journal obtained the ruling of a labor arbitrator whom both sides selected to decide Weber’s fate. The arbitrator could have sided with the city in upholding Weber’s firing, or with the union in reversing it.
Sahan Journal also reviewed a transcript of Weber’s July 2015 interview with an investigator from the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review and a sergeant from the Internal Affairs Unit. Lieutenant Bob Kroll, who heads the police union, also attended the interview. Both the arbitrator’s ruling and the investigation transcript are being reported on for the first time.
The transcript includes Weber admitting to his statements, apologizing to investigators, and offering explanations—many of which the arbitrator treats skeptically.
Labor arbitrator Jeffrey Jacobs characterized Weber’s threats as troubling—and questioned Weber swatting the teenager’s phone away. “There was no adequate explanation for why [Weber] took that action other than he did not want to have the conversation recorded any longer,” Jacobs said.
Weber explained that his threat to break one of the teenager’s legs was a “crude verbal use of force comment to gain compliance,” according to the transcript. And he added that the last thing he wanted to do was fight with someone.
But in the arbitration ruling, Jacobs said Weber’s comment “likely set the stage for what was to come.”
The arbitrator questioned why Weber assumed the young man would flee or resist: “There was no high speed chase. There was no use of force by suspects nor any attempt to flee. When the car was directed to pull over, it pulled over. When people were directed to get out of the car, they did. When directed to keep their hands where officers could see them, they did.”
Jacobs noted the teens did start swearing at officers later, “but it was significant that this was after the initial comments by [Weber] to them about breaking legs and arresting them because he ‘felt like it.’”
“[Weber] had an obligation to de-escalate the situation,” Jacobs wrote. Weber’s actions “appeared quite possibly to have been calculated to evoke some sort of response from the young men in the car in order to escalate, rather than de-escalate the entire situation.”
Back during Weber’s July 2015 interview with internal investigators, he conceded he made the Black Hawk Down comments, and described the circumstances around them.
“I mean you try sitting in a squad car and have somebody swearin’ at you for twenty or thirty minutes,” Weber said. He alleged the teens weren’t cooperating or providing their ID during what he called a felony situation, according to the transcript. “You’re gonna have a breaking point at some time.”
Reviewing Weber’s defenses in the arbitration hearing, Jacobs said there “was clearly some sort of crime that day.” But he swatted it away as a defense for Weber’s words: “City policy require[s] that officers control any emotional response in a situation like this and never use racially insensitive or racist comments toward the public.”
Jacobs described an incident in which the police had created a hostile situation. “Context is important in cases of this nature and the context here was that this was not the sort of highly charged and terribly dangerous situation police officers sometimes encounter.”
In the July 2015 investigative interview transcript, Weber admitted that when one of the teens called him racist, he responded “Yep, and I’m proud of it.” But he claimed he was being sarcastic.
The labor arbitrator considered this claim, but disagreed: “The video and audio frankly did not sound sarcastic, but rather sounded very much like he was completely serious about that statement,” Jacobs said. “[But] the question here is not what he meant but how a reasonable person in the back seat of a squad car might take it. The young men’s voices indicated that they did not take it as a joke or some off the cuff remark.”
Weber didn’t contest many of his words and actions.
“Am I sorry for what I said? Totally. It was the wrong thing for me to say. But they, like I said, they just got under my skin. I lost my cool,” Weber said in his interview with an internal investigator.
“Am I a racist? No. I’m…that’s far fetched,” Weber said in the transcript.
Now five years later, Jeylani is 23 years old and says he still feels traumatized by the incident. He recalled the events of the traffic stop in an interview with Sahan Journal.
“Being African American and having that said about you, it’s very traumatizing and it’s just terrifying,” he said. “It gives us no type of protection.”
“They took my phone and everyone got detained and everyone got released,” Jeylani said. “A normal police stop would just go to the driver and ask him questions about the vehicle and situation. But this was a different matter: antagonizing everyone in the car at once.”
In the interview, Jeylani asked a reporter if the officer was still working. Some five years later, nobody had ever told him Weber got fired, he said.
“Everytime I get pulled over, I record,” Jeylani said, adding that it’s not always clear that officers are recording themselves. “If their cameras are on all the time, then we wouldn’t have that lack of trust, and would know they’re on duty to help us.”
Stanford University’s Open Policing Project has found through data analysis that police officers generally stop Black drivers at higher rates than white drivers. The Star Tribune reported that Black drivers make up the majority of police searches during Minneapolis traffic stops.
David Harris is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has written several books on police practices and racial profiling. Hearing Weber’s comments to the teens, Harris described the destructive effect of such an incident.
“The damage was immediate to the people subjected to a comment like this,” said Harris of Weber’s Black Hawk Down comments.
“There is no set of circumstances that can justify a statement like that, because the damage is not just to those people who were within earshot on that day,” Harris said. “When it becomes public — as it should — it damages the relationship with the entire Somali community and also the rest of the people they serve.”
Harris added that someone’s involvement in a possible crime doesn’t justify poor police behavior.
“We have to expect, we have to hire, and we have to train so that officers will be able to keep their cool in difficult situations and not make them worse,” Harris said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham has been vocal about police accountability, and chairs the city’s Public Health and Safety Committee, which oversees civil rights issues. He remembered the initial reports of Weber’s threat to break the teenager’s legs — but didn’t know it went beyond that.
“This is the first I’m hearing this,” he said of Weber’s Black Hawk Down remarks during an interview. Cunningham went on to label them horrific.
“Not only did this officer feel comfortable to say these things so openly and so comfortably, but no one intervened. No one said anything,” said Cunningham. “When we talk about police violence, folks often think about overt physical harm, but what we’re talking about here is also police violence.”
When Weber’s threats to break the teenager’s leg made the news in 2015, Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), called for a federal investigation. That was before Weber’s racist remarks were publicly known.
As a reporter read Hussein a transcript of the newly obtained recording of Weber’s remarks, he let out an audible gasp.
“This is extremely shocking to have a police officer not only threaten—but then also use an incident like Black Hawk Down to terrorize these young men,” said Hussein.
“These remarks are extremely volatile, particularly in the Somali community. It brings back the civil war, and the failed mission by the United States in Somalia,” Hussein said. “Once public, this is going to be seen in an extremely prejudiced way and it will add to the already existing loss of trust in the Minneapolis Police Department by this community.”
The police union’s fight to keep Weber’s badge
Nearly ten months after Weber stopped the young men, a discipline panel recommended the officer be terminated. A city discipline memorandum said Weber singled the teenagers out due to their ethnicity, and that his conduct “irreparably damaged the trust the MPD must have in its officers.”
“[The] panel finds that such bias, harshness and threatened violence are in no way acceptable and we are recommending that officer Weber’s employment be terminated,” the discipline memorandum read.
Weber’s firing made the news in January 2016—still without the public having knowledge of the full extent of Weber’s comments during the police stop.
But union head Lieutenant Kroll knew: He had attended Weber’s interview the summer before, when video recordings of the incident were shown in the room. Still, Kroll defended Weber after his firing as a highly decorated officer, adding that the termination was unwarranted and would be appealed through a grievance process by the union, according to news reports at the time.
The union had argued Weber was one of the very first responders to the 2012 workplace shooting at Accent Signage, where an 18-month-old child died in his arms. It was a traumatic event and the department didn’t provide Weber with needed help, the union asserted.
In the newly obtained ruling, the labor arbitrator provided a recap of some of the Federation’s arguments in its attempt to keep Weber’s job.
One of the union’s arguments was that other officers had used racial slurs in the past, and they weren’t fired. The arbitration document says the union argued: “[Even] in instances where very racially insensitive language has been used, including the N-word, or referring to an Asian American as a ‘ch**k,’ those offers were not fired.”
The union also claimed that if the city of Minneapolis was truly concerned about building trust, they could use Weber’s experience during the incident as a teachable moment for other officers.
The city of Minneapolis argued it would be obligated to disclose Weber’s statements to defense attorneys in future prosecutions where he was involved as an officer, “thus rendering him virtually useless as a witness,” the arbitrator’s ruling says.
The arbitrator upheld Weber’s termination in July 2016, about 16 months after the incident.
“This was not some rookie cop placed in a difficult situation for the first time,” Jacobs ruled. “His fellow officers may now find it even more difficult to build trust or to get the help they need to stop and solve criminal activity.”
City of Minneapolis records show this incident was the 23rd complaint against Weber during his time at the department. He received discipline in only one other case.
Almost five years after Weber’s dismissal, some questions remain. First, why did the squad car camera suddenly stop recording that day?
There’s no satisfying answer. Weber said that the dashcam wasn’t his responsibility: He was the passenger in the squad car. When Diedrich was asked if he stopped the recording, he responded: “I can’t remember. I’m not saying that I didn’t.”
Perhaps more important, why didn’t the Minneapolis Police Department investigate Weber until a reporter sent them a link to the video? And what did that silence say about the culture of the department at large?
There were five other officers present at the scene. To varying extents, these officers conceded that they’d observed and heard the incident—but made little of them. Park Police officer John Archer, for example, said he “thought the comments were strange and made him laugh,” according to the investigative reports.
The investigative report also said a police supervisor was at the scene, and that she stood less than five feet away from Weber when he made the threat to break the teenager’s leg. She claimed she hadn’t heard it.
When the Office of Police Conduct Review and Internal Affairs interviewed Weber’s partner, Diedrich, he admitted hearing Weber’s threat to break the teenager’s leg.
“[T]hrough the circumstances, I don’t see a problem with it,” Diedrich remarks in the transcript.
Diedrich also heard Weber’s Black Hawk Down comments that day, describing it as “probably a violation of the language policy,” and saying that it “doesn’t sound like something appropriate,” the transcript says.
Harris expressed concern about the way the other police officers responded to the police stop: “If you have a culture in which a bunch of officers could stand around and think ‘oh that’s pretty funny’ … What you get is either a message that this kind of behavior is acceptable, or that they know they won’t be held accountable for it, or they won’t be part of holding another officer accountable.”
Harris pointed to a relatively new concept in policing called bystander training. The New Orleans Police Department calls its peer intervention program “Ethical Policing is Courageous” (EPIC), and has training aimed to help officers stop their colleagues before a violation occurs.
Council Member Cunningham expressed concern about Weber not being investigated until a civilian notified the department.
“It demonstrates a kind of culture that cannot be trained out of people,” said Cunningham. “I can’t think of a reform that will change what is in that person’s heart, and that will change those kinds of comments being funny or acceptable to people.”
‘How often are these kinds of situations happening and we don’t know about it?’
Weber’s statements are revealed at a turbulent time for the Minneapolis Police Department and amidst growing frustration with police management.
On one hand, his dismissal appears to be one of the times the department took strong action. But in burying the full account until now, the department appears to have sought to avoid a public examination of its culture.
“This shows the kind of thinking that goes on in the union: their wanting to maintain this person in the force shows this is considered an acceptable way of thinking and expressing oneself,” Harris, the law professor, said. “And that simply cannot be allowed.”
CAIR-MN’s Hussein agreed: “The complicity of [union president] Bob Kroll in supporting this behavior and actually requesting the fired officer be reinstated is an example of what this Federation will do to undermine safety. But also in this case shows that they are racist and proud of being racist.”
Council Member Cunningham questioned why the union was “fighting for somebody who so egregiously engaged in violent behavior and very explicit racism,” adding that it was also detrimental to officers of color.
“We have to ask: how often are these kinds of situations happening and we don’t know about it?” Cunningham said, adding that the kinds of change needed in the department were the mayor and police chief’s responsibility.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo declined through a department spokesperson to be interviewed for this story. Interview requests for Weber’s colleagues at the traffic stop were submitted to the police department, but they didn’t respond.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey sent a statement through a spokesperson: “The behavior is abhorrent and has no place in our department. The decision to terminate was the right one, and it was rightly upheld.”
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis and Lieutenant Kroll declined an interview through the Federation’s lawyer. Kroll did not immediately respond to questions submitted through the lawyer.
Weber did not respond to multiple messages sent via email, phone, and social media. He also didn’t respond to a message left with the union attorney who sought to have him reinstated as a police officer. But a LinkedIn page under his name suggests he’s no longer doing police work. The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training confirmed last week that Weber’s license had expired in 2018, meaning he’s no longer a police officer at any Minnesota law enforcement agency.
Weber’s LinkedIn profile contains commentary discouraging police officers from working in Minneapolis.
“The clients you serve don’t like you! The mayor and city council despise you. And if you don’t have a chief who supports his cops and rides the same pony ride with the mayor you will have issues,” a 2018 social media post said.
“Your career will end in early early [sic] retirement. Best outcome,” the post continues. “Or you will be fired for something as idiotic as a Christmas tree incident which is a simple low level joke.”
This was a reference to another Minneapolis Police officer who was fired from the department after decorating a Christmas tree with racist ornaments. These included a box of Newport cigarettes, a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen beverage cup, malt liquor cans, police tape, Flamin’ Hot Funyuns, and Takis. The tree was in the lobby of the 4th Precinct building in north Minneapolis in late 2018, the site of an 18-day protest encampment following the police killing of Jamar Clark in 2015.
That officer got his job back after an arbitrator ruled the city made a “rush to judgment.” Weber’s arbitrator wasn’t so convinced.
March 18, 2015 – Police stop Somali American teens in south Minneapolis, and officer Rod Weber makes racist, violent threats
March 19, 2015 – Footage from Hamza Jeylani’s phone appears on Twitter
March 31, 2015 – Internal Affairs department opens investigation after a Fox 9 reporter contacted them about the video
April 6, 2015 – One of the teenagers submits a complaint to the Office of Police Conduct Review
May 6, 2015 – News reports that Weber has been suspended with pay
July 22, 2015 – Weber provides a recorded statement to internal investigators
Sept. 25, 2015 – Office of Police Conduct Review investigative report completed
Nov. 10, 2015 – A combination civilian and sworn panel finds merit to allegations of policy violations
Jan. 6, 2016 – Police department holds a “Loudermill Hearing,” which allows Weber to present his side
Jan. 11, 2016 – Police department discipline panel recommends terminating Weber’s employment
Jan. 22, 2016 – Weber fired from the police department
June 15-16, 2016 – Hearing before a labor arbitrator
July 21, 2016 – Arbitrator upholds Weber’s firing
Tony Webster is a journalist who covers policing, surveillance, and the courts. He frequently uses data obtained through freedom of information requests, and is an advocate for government transparency.