Crime, Law and Justice

8 takeaways from the Justice Department probe of Minneapolis police

People stand and yell and raise their fists in the air
Family members of those killed by law enforcement raise their fists and chant during a press conference outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Friday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

The two-year federal probe of the Minneapolis Police Department released Friday said the MPD’s culture cultivated “systemic problems” institutionally and made possible the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

The report focuses on four main findings: MPD uses excessive — sometimes deadly — force, “unlawfully discriminates against Black and Native American people,” violates the Americans with Disabilities Act in its response to mental health calls and violates the constitutional rights of people who criticize them. 

Here’s a breakdown of 8 of those findings by category.

Excessive force 

1) MPD officers routinely use excessive force, often when no force is necessary

Officers fired their weapons in situations where there was no immediate threat and use deadly force against people “who are a threat only to themselves.”

2) Excessive use of neck restraints

“De-escalation, if it occurred at all, was poor; officers shouted commands, gave multiple conflicting orders, demanded immediate compliance, or threatened force.”

The DOJ interviewed MPD officers who think the ban on neck restraints, adopted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, is a bad idea. “We spoke to officers and supervisors who called the ban an overcorrection, ‘knee jerk’ and ‘politically driven,’” the report noted.

Officers warned that the ban would lead to an increase in force overall, because, as one officer put it, “if you can’t touch the head or neck, the result is you punch ‘em.” These views took hold as MPD did not train officers in alternative tactics until the year after the ban. 

A person holds a sign reading Chicago Avenue and 38th Street
Resident and activist Marcia Howard holds a sign reading “Chicago Avenue and E. 38th Street” during a press conference outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Friday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

3) Justifying unnecessary use of force

The report cites multiple instances where its investigators deemed force was unnecessary, but MPD supervisors found it justified.

The investigation cites a report of a teen stealing a $5 burrito, where an officer in street clothes unholstered his gun and held the teen against the hood of a vehicle. “Several witnesses called 911 to report the teen was being accosted by a ‘wacko who has a gun,’” the report said.

The report goes on to say, “when we spoke to the teen’s mother, she reported that after the incident her son experienced a sense of ‘helpless rage,’ as well as feelings of ‘frustration’ and ‘powerlessness.’”

 Racial Discrimination

4) Black, Native people disproportionately stopped

Like earlier analyses of law enforcement data from Minneapolis and other large police departments around the country, the report found that Black and Native residents were far more likely to be stopped by police.

But the DOJ’s analysis went deeper. Even controlling for other variables, the report still found that police were more likely to stop, search and use force against Black and Indigenous residents than white residents behaving in similar ways.

The report says Black people were subjected to 22 percent more searches, 37 percent more vehicle searches and 24 percent more uses of force. Minneapolis police performed 23 percent more searches on Indigenous people and 20 percent more uses of force.

A woman holds a sign and talks to a crowd
Shatana Cooper, sister of Winston Smith, who was shot and killed by U.S. Marshals in Uptown in 2021, calls for justice for her brother at a press conference outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Friday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

5) Incidents of racial animus

The report details several instances of Minneapolis police officers expressing racist views about the citizens they were sworn to protect.

On camera during the 2020 unrest, an MPD lieutenant said, “‘I’d love to scatter ’em but it’s time to fuckin’ put people in jail and just prove the mayor wrong about his white supremacists from out of state. Although, this group probably is predominantly white, ’cuz there’s not looting and fires.’ Another officer agreed. The lieutenant oversaw MPD’s use of force training — a position where he had enormous influence.”

“[I]n late 2020, a woman called MPD to ask about a man she believed was putting flyers threatening Black Lives Matter supporters 44 onto vehicles. The officer who answered said Black Lives Matter was a ‘terrorist’ organization and stated: ‘We are going to make sure you and all of the Black Lives supporters are wiped off the face of the Earth.’ He said, ‘I think you should file a complaint, and I want you to do it well, so let me spell my first and my last name so you get it right. Then I’ll give you my badge number.’”

“The woman filed a complaint the next day but was not interviewed for seven months,” the report said.

“The investigation concluded in February 2022 with a finding of ‘no merit’ and no discipline or coaching. The officer had been the subject of at least nine previous complaints since 2017 (including at least one about racial profiling that was dismissed for unclear reasons). The woman told us the officer ‘sure felt like he was above any repercussions,’ and he was. He still works for MPD,” the report said, citing the department.

First Amendment violations

6) Retaliation against critics

The report found that police used force to retaliate against critics.

“In 2017, MPD officers responded to a disturbance call about a college party. A 19-year-old yelled, ‘Fuck the police!’ as he walked past two officers. One of the officers grabbed him and asked him whether he had said, ‘Fuck the police.’”

“The teen responded (correctly) that he had the right to say it. ‘No,’ the officer replied, ‘You can’t.’ Another officer put the teen in a neck restraint, and the teen screamed, ‘I can’t breathe!’ The officer then pulled the teen, still in a neck restraint, backwards towards the patrol car.

“Once the teen was in the back seat, another officer approached the car to weigh in: ‘Hopefully you can tell your friends when you say, ‘Fuck the police,’ now you understand that’s actually not legal unless you’re in a riot or a display of protest.’ That officer was wrong.” 

A woman holds a photo of her son
Cindy Sundberg, mother of Tekle Sundberg, takes part in a press conference outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Friday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Poor response on mental health calls

7) Problematic training

The Minneapolis Police Department requires officers to receive training in responding to people experiencing mental health crises, but the report found that training inadequate, inaccurate and possibly dangerous

“A slide on autism stated that a child with the condition ‘will power struggle with you to the death.’”

Lack of accountability

8) ‘Fundamentally flawed’ accountability system

At the root of the department’s problems was a system of investigating complaints and disciplining officers that was “fundamentally flawed…an opaque maze, with multiple dead ends where meritorious complaints are dismissed without investigation and often for no discernable reason.”