State review faults law enforcement response to unrest after Floyd killing

State patrol march in front of buildings
State Patrol coming in to guard the 3rd Precinct march in front of burning buildings on May 29, 2020 on South 27th Avenue, south of East Lake Street in Minneapolis.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News file

Updated 5 p.m.

A newly released after-action report offers a stinging analysis of law enforcement’s response to the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

The analysis by Wilder Research was released Thursday morning. It was commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to examine the response from agencies including the State Patrol and the National Guard to the unrest that rocked Minneapolis for nearly a week.

The report identified a number of positive aspects in the response, including the effectiveness of state personnel in protecting the public and infrastructure, and the use of curfews to help restore order.

The report’s authors said the state's command center at TCF Bank Stadium, known as the "MACC," was effective once in operation, but they said it was set up too late and that the state should have stepped in sooner, whether or not the city of Minneapolis had requested help.

They also found fault with coordination — specifically with the Minneapolis Police Department.

"MPD had an emergency operations center set up at their emergency operations training facility in Northeast Minneapolis and largely remained there," the report authors state. "While they had a couple of representatives present at the MACC, the Minneapolis police chief was notably absent. This led to several challenges, including the initial use of competing law enforcement strategies (e.g., MPD used crowd dispersal tactics while State Patrol simultaneously used contain and arrest tactics)."

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

An official at the state command center told investigators that Minneapolis police having their own command center "couldn't possibly have demonstrated a more significant breakdown in command and control of an event like that. And to everyone at the MACC, it was very clear that Minneapolis had no interest in being a good partner."

Even after the Minnesota National Guard was called out, Minneapolis police used tactics that undermined the statewide law enforcement response, report author Anna Granias told a state House committee Thursday.

“When different law enforcement teams use uncoordinated and varying tactics, it negatively affects the morale of law enforcement professionals, and can potentially incite more frustration among the people who were protesting,” she said.

Police prepare and organize to address protesters
Police respond to protests in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020, following the killing of George Floyd.
John Minchillo | AP file

The report also says law enforcement didn't appropriately distinguish between lawful and unlawful demonstrations, and that some community members felt abandoned by law enforcement.

Law enforcement officers used crowd control tactics, including chemical munitions, "in or near residential neighborhoods, including the Little Earth public housing complex,” the report said. “According to some reports, these tactics were used even after city officials communicated with community residents and leaders that it was OK for them to be outside protecting their community."

The city of Minneapolis and state law enforcement officials did not communicate about agreements with community leaders and residents around curfew exemptions, the report added.

The 129-page report offers 20 recommendations for improving future response. Three “critical recommendations” include: strengthening coordination between multiple agencies; improving coordination and relationships with local jurisdictions and the media; and addressing tension between law enforcement and communities through trust-building efforts, police accountability and transformation, and education.

The Wilder report authors also wrote that Minnesota can do more to address tensions between law enforcement and communities, and must incorporate a deeper sense of humanity in the way it responds to civil unrest in the future.

“Further research and evaluation are needed to understand the role of racism and other forms of bias in law enforcement responses to civil unrest and determine additional steps to address community distrust in law enforcement and state government,” the report states.

In a letter to Gov. Tim Walz that accompanied the report’s release Thursday, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington wrote that his agency “has instituted numerous changes since June 2020, many of which are responsive to the recommendations in Wilder's report” — including body cameras for state law enforcement officers, more planning with local agencies ahead of possible unrest, and improving radio communications.

Later Thursday, Harrington told state lawmakers that the unrest was unprecedented and that his agency pulled together more than 80 law enforcement agencies and created a command center in 24 hours.

“We mobilized what I think is still accurate, the largest police and national guard team that’s ever been seen in the state of Minnesota," he said.

The Wilder report — completed at a cost of about $180,000 — was compiled using information from a review of media coverage and state documents, and by interviewing state personnel, community members and business owners, among other sources.

The authors noted their work was limited by a "tight timeline, potential missing perspectives due to a lack of response to requests for an interview and time and resource constraints, and challenges related to events happening simultaneously." Those events included the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer eventually convicted of killing Floyd.

The state-commissioned report follows the release earlier this month of a review commissioned by the Minneapolis City Council focused on how the city’s public safety officials responded to the unrest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.