Damaged Lake St. restaurant sues Mpls. over response to civil unrest, in a first for the city

Protesters watch a burning Wells Fargo
Protesters watch a burning Wells Fargo branch on Lake Street in Minneapolis during a riot on May 29, 2020.
Chris Juhn for MPR News 2020

The owners of a Minneapolis restaurant have filed the first lawsuit against the city over property damage caused by the civil unrest stemming from the police killing of George Floyd.

The Town Talk Diner and Gastropub was burned down during the riots that took place after Floyd died May 25 under a police officer’s knee. In a lawsuit filed this week in federal court, owners Kacey White and Charles Stotts say Mayor Jacob Frey was fully aware of the seriousness of the protests that turned violent, but that Frey and other city leaders failed to quell several nights of rioting or protect small businesses along Lake Street.

The complaint said that when the business owners called the police before the building burned down, they were simply told to get out — and offered no other assistance.

In a statement, City Attorney Jim Rowader disputed the lawsuit and said that Frey acted swiftly.

“Mayor Frey took quick and decisive action, requesting the support from the Minnesota National Guard immediately upon the police chief’s request to do so and as soon as there was any discernible risk of civil unrest and damage to neighborhoods and businesses,” Rowader said. “That same evening the Minneapolis Police Department submitted a detailed request outlining scope of the need and a mission plan for the additional support. The city has provided plaintiffs with these documents, and we are hopeful that they will amend their complaint given this clear and documented evidence.”

A person on a bike looks at a burned out building.
Demolition crews secure the remains of buildings on East Lake Street as people stop to photograph the ruins Tuesday on June 2, 2020.
Courtney Perry for MPR News file 2020

Blocks surrounding the city’s 3rd police precinct were heavily looted and damaged in the days after Floyd’s killing. The city’s decision to abandon the station in the face of violence drew national attention, and experts say it will be studied for years to come.

In the complaint, Town Talk’s owners say Frey initially tried to “negotiate with and appease the rioters rather than give law enforcement the authority to confront criminal acts with enough force to restore law and order,” and his failure to protect the public led to an increase in violence.

The diner’s owners are seeking $4.5 million in damages.

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