Minneapolis, MN – A Minneapolis police officer who was fired for decorating a prank Christmas tree with racially-insensitive items two years ago got his job back this week.
Minneapolis Police Officer Mark Bohnsack was one of two officers who were initially suspended after community members shared photos of a Christmas tree he helped decorate in the police department’s 4th Precinct.
Officer Bohnsack and Officer Brandy Steberg decorated the tree in the lobby of the precinct house with a Newport cigarette pack, malt liquor cans, police tape, a bag of Takis (hot chili powder chips), and a cup from Popeye’s fried chicken among other things, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Community members who saw the bizarre holiday display were not amused.
“It’s a modern-day version of a dog whistle, tainted with racism, specifically against the African-American community,” civil rights activist Ron Edwards told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Edwards called the tree a “wink” to racial stereotypes.
Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison called on the 4th Precinct to address the offensive matter as a group, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“Man, every way I could put it would understate it,” Ellison said. “It’s disappointing, but also I think deeply disturbing to wake up to something like that. Not just for myself, but for my neighbors.”
This is a photo of a racist and derogatory Christmas tree at the Minneapolis 4th precinct. @jeremiah4north @CunninghamMPLS @Jacob_Frey We must demand an apology and commitment to build better community relations. This is unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/xNq4CUZUu5
— North by Northside (@northxnorthside) November 30, 2018
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he was appalled and called for the termination of Officers Bohnsack and Steberg.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo condemned the display and ordered an Internal Affairs investigation, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave pending the findings of the investigation.
But the fallout didn’t end there.
The 4th Precinct’s commander was demoted for having ignored the display in his lobby for several days after he had been made aware of it, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Chief Arradondo knocked Inspector Aaron Biard, a 23-year veteran of the department, down to lieutenant and transferred him to the traffic unit.
The chief also demoted former Lieutenant Chris House, who was in charge of “daywatch” at the 4th Precinct.
The officers were terminated almost nine months later, KMSP reported.
Officer Bohnsack’s last day on the department was Aug. 8, 2019, and Officer Steberg was terminated three days earlier.
Minneapolis Police Department officials recently confirmed that Officer Bohnsack had won his appeal in arbitration and that he would be reinstated to the police force, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Officials said that the arbitrator had ordered Officer Bohnsack to serve an unpaid 320-day suspension.
Minneapolis Police Spokesman John Elder confirmed Wednesday that Officer Bohnsack had returned to duty but former Officer Steberg had not, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Elder did not release any details about what happened to Steberg.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that it wasn’t yet known whether the arbitrator had awarded Officer Bohnsack back pay and benefits from the date of his termination.
Chief Arradondo has apologized publicly more than once for the incident and said he realized that the act of one officer reflected badly on the entire department, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“In these often challenging times our communities are looking towards us to be their beacon of hope that we, as peace officers, will serve in a manner that treats everyone with fairness, dignity and respect,” the chief wrote in a letter to all of his officers. “That manner of treatment is nonnegotiable.”