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Minnesota Sees Rising Tide of Payouts for Epidemic of Police Misconduct

by Derek Gilna

Although bigger cities and states have gotten most of the negative publicity regarding police misconduct, Minnesota and its biggest city, Minneapolis, are drawing unwanted national attention for over $60 million in payouts the past 11 years. Minneapolis’ share of that figure was almost $21 million, or 35 percent of the total, dwarfing the 8 percent for its slightly-smaller sister city, St. Paul. 

Like their big-city cousins, the statistics show that the bigger of the “Twin Cities” disproportionally targets people of color for alleged misconduct. Many of the victims of alleged misconduct over the 2007-2017 period are minorities. Records show that the six largest payouts were to people of color.

During that same time period, Minnesota cities and counties paid out money to 933 individuals for alleged police misconduct. Most payouts were the result of settlement prior to trial, avoiding possibly of perceived inflated jury awards. 

Most of the big-ticket payouts were made by Minneapolis, including $4.5 million paid to former police officer Duy Ngo who was shot by another officer armed with a submachine gun who thought he was a suspect. In 2011, $3.6 million was paid to settle a class-action suit resulting from misconduct by the Metro Gang strike force, which was subsequently shut down. Another high-profile misconduct case expected to settle, involving the killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017, could potentially exceed $10 million, according to legal experts.

Why the increase in settlements? “I think video plays a big role” in the increase in misconduct allegations, said American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota attorney Teresa Nelson. The ubiquity of surveillance cameras, police bodycams, police-car dash cams, and common cellphones provide video proof that often contradicts inaccurate police reports. 

According to St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtel, “conversation and awareness of police-community relations has made people more aware of what police interactions and arrests should look like. When the interactions don’t meet the standard of what the community should expect, people are more likely to report that conduct.”

This awareness, he said, contributes to citizens asking the following: “Were the actions reasonable, necessary and done with respect?” 



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