MN Human Rights probe finds pattern of racism in Minneapolis Police Department

Demonstrators protest outside a police station.
Protesters calling for police reform and justice for George Floyd gather outside the 1st Precinct police station on June 11, 2020, in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Human Rights Department on Wednesday said it found a pattern of racism in the MPD.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images 2020

Updated 4:15 p.m.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Wednesday slammed the city of Minneapolis and its police department for what it described as a “pattern or practice of race discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.”

The newly released findings from a nearly two-year investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department — a probe launched days after the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd — paint a stunning portrait of an agency with a culture of animus toward people of color.

In reviewing body camera video and discipline records, and interviewing community members and officers, investigators reported finding a litany of vile racist and misogynistic slurs made by officers against suspects, community members and even other colleagues.

“It’s going to take a lot of work by a lot of people to get out of this,” Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero told reporters Wednesday of the patterns of behavior her office said it discovered after examining the past 10 years of police reports and data and conducting or reviewing hundreds of interviews.

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“Race-based policing is unlawful, and it harms everyone, especially people of color and Indigenous community members, sometimes costing community members their lives,” she said.

Among the troubling behaviors and comments, the report found:

  • MPD officers used covert social media accounts to pose as Black community members to criticize city officials and members of NAACP.  That social media work wasn’t part of any criminal investigation, said Lucero.

  •  MPD officers are more likely to use more severe force against Black people than white people in similar circumstances, and treat Black and white people differently during traffic stops because of race.

  • The department teaches an approach to policing “that emphasizes aggression,” helping create a “culture that results in unnecessary escalation and/or excessive force during encounters with community members of all racial backgrounds.”

  • “MPD maintains an organizational culture where officers consistently use racist, misogynistic, and otherwise disrespectful language" against suspects and community members, and when that behavior surfaces on body camera video, it makes prosecutions harder “and therefore undermines the criminal justice system.”

  • An officer investigating a sexual assault case allegedly said that a man could not be guilty of rape if he and his victim had children together.

The commissioner also faulted “former and current city and MPD leaders” who she said haven’t acted with the needed urgency to address racial disparities in policing.

City and police leaders told the Human Rights Department they’ve been thwarted in efforts to address race-based policing in Minneapolis because of “legal or practical limitations imposed under collective bargaining agreements, the arbitration system, or the City Council’s funding decisions.”

‘What Black people have been saying for decades’

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Amelia Huffman, the interim MPD chief, described the report’s conclusions as "deeply concerning” but said the department has been moving forward with reforms for two years, and that would continue.

Saray Garnett-Hochuli, the city’s director of regulatory services, said the report’s findings of racism in the police department didn’t surprise her and wouldn’t surprise other Black people.

“What pains me in this is that we needed a report to validate what Black people have been saying for decades,” she said, noting that her father told her of his experiences with police and prejudice.

“I do look at this as true transformational change,” she said of the report. “I’m not interested in change on the surface. I'm going deep, and I'm going to the root.”

Lucero said Wednesday her agency will work with the city on a consent decree to identify specific changes that need to be made in policing.

Some changes were made following Floyd’s murder. In June 2020, a judge ordered the Minneapolis Police Department to implement immediate changes, including a ban on neck restraints and chokeholds.

However, Lucero’s office found that MPD officers said the department “provided no substantive training to officers” around the neck restraint and chokehold ban until more than a year after it was put in place.

The state human rights investigation is separate from a United States Justice Department inquiry launched last year that’s looking into discrimination within the Minneapolis Police Department and whether it engages in unlawful policing, including during protests.

A Justice Department spokesperson said officials would review the Minnesota report and consider the findings as part of the federal inquiry, although she noted that DOJ is examining issues beyond discriminatory policing.

Since 2003, the city of Minneapolis has paid out more than $80 million in settlements, judgements and claims stemming from allegations of police misconduct. 

Two settlements make up the bulk of the money the city has paid out. The $20 million settlement with the family of Justine Ruszczyk, an unarmed 911 caller shot and killed by officer Mohamed Noor in 2017, and the $27 million payout to the family of George Floyd in 2021.

Watch Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero speak on her agency’s report about patterns of racism in the MPD:

Watch Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city leaders speak to the findings by the Minnesota Human Rights Department: