Five Minnesota families who lost loved ones in recent police shootings are suing the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. They allege that the BCA is withholding data about the investigations that it’s required to make public under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
The plaintiffs are the next of kin of men killed by police since late 2020. In all five cases, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducted use of force investigations and forwarded the results to local prosecutors who each determined that the officers’ use of force was legally justified. It’s rare for police to face criminal charges for on-duty shootings, and even more rare for them to be convicted.
At a news conference at St. Paul City Hall on Thursday, the families said that their grief is compounded by not having the full picture of their loved ones’ final moments.
“Many of the families I’m standing here with are just looking for the answers,” said Jay Sykes, the stepfather of Brent Alsleben. “We can’t get those answers or that closure until the BCA really comes through and fulfills their obligations.”
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Alsleben, 34, suffered from bipolar schizoaffective disorder and was experiencing a mental health crisis in December when three Hutchinson police officers fatally shot him after his mother Tara Sykes called 911 to seek help. Investigators say that Alsleben swung a knife at first responders after a 10-hour standoff.
Mark and Cindy Sundberg joined the lawsuit after making multiple requests for investigative data following the fatal shooting of their son Andrew Tekle Sundberg on July 14, 2022. Following a six-hour standoff that also began with a mental health crisis, MPD snipers shot the 20-year-old when he allegedly pointed a gun at other officers who were outside his apartment.
Mark Sundberg said a BCA staff member told them that the agency was too busy to provide the investigative file when they requested it in March. But he said the BCA did allow them to see some of the evidence, which didn’t answer all of their questions.
“We met with them, and the first thing they said was ‘what do you want to see?’” Sundberg said. “And I think Cindy said ‘we want to see what you don’t want us to see.’ And we saw some really horrific pictures that day, and that made things harder to even ask questions.”
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Ovid Sims, the father of Okwan Sims, who was killed in a shootout with Stillwater police in March, and Jim Shogren, whose son Zachary was killed by police in Duluth in February after allegedly refusing to drop a knife. Shogren was a 34-year-old Iraq combat veteran who suffered from PTSD and schizophrenia.
Bayle Gelle is suing for the case file of his son Dolal Idd. Minneapolis police killed the 23-year-old on Dec. 30, 2020 while trying to arrest him at a gas station. A clip of body camera video that authorities released shortly after the incident shows Idd firing at police before three officers returned fire.
Attorney Paul Bosman with Communities United Against Police Brutality said that once the BCA concludes its investigations, state law requires the agency release the data.
“The unfortunate fact is that as long as [the shootings were] under investigation, that data was not public,” Bosman said. “But once the county attorneys decided not to charge the officers involved, that data became public. And at that point, it should be provided to the families upon request. The law says within 10 days.”
Bosman said time is of the essence because Minnesota imposes a three-year statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits.
The BCA released a statement in response to the lawsuit late Thursday:
“We understand that families who have experienced these tragic losses would want all of the information that they can have as soon as possible. Once a case is closed, the BCA must review every report, image, audio and video in the casefile to ensure that information that isn’t public is removed as required under Minnesota law. This requires review of dash camera, body-worn camera, and surveillance video; all other images and audio of the incident; and voluminous reports. The BCA is committed to providing information to families and the public as quickly as possible, while ensuring the protection of information that we cannot release under Minnesota law.”