Minneapolis, MN – A Hennepin County District Court judge has ruled that the Minneapolis residents who are suing the city for allegedly violating the city charter by failing to have enough police officers on the streets will be allowed to move forward with their lawsuit.
The City of Minneapolis had alleged that the eight Hennepin County residents who filed the lawsuit did not have legal standing to do so, and requested that the court toss the lawsuit out altogether, The Southern Square reported.
More specifically, the city argued that the residents’ “action must fail” because they relied “on taxpayer standing as an alternative to the injury-in-fact requirement,” which the city claimed “is inapplicable” to this action, according to court documents.
Conversely, the petitioners argued they “are beneficially interested in the City Council and Mayor performing the actions required by law, namely, funding a police force of at least 0.0017 employees pre resident,” as dictated by the charter, according to the order.
“This Court cannot decide the issue of standing in this case without ruling on the merits of Petitioners’ petition,” Hennepin County District Court Judge Jamie Anderson wrote in the Nov. 20 ruling. “However, simply put, the Court does not have enough information, facts or law to decide the merits or the outcome of Petitioners’ petition at this time. As a result, the Court must only analyze whether Petitioners have a beneficial interest in the petition.”
The Minneapolis City Council and the mayor have “a clear public duty” to fund a police force, the judge wrote.
“Petitioners allege recent violent acts in their Minneapolis neighborhoods prove that the public duty to fund a police force is compromised,” the order read. “Petitioners now move to enforce said duty.”
Anderson ruled that the residents have “beneficial interest in the clear public duty of funding a police force,” and noted that the petitioners have also accused the city of “misallocate[ing] money that properly should fund a police force.”
The city council and Minneapolis mayor “have no authority to divert funds from the Minneapolis Police Department if they have not met their public duty to fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident,” the judge wrote. “Misallocation of money that properly should fund a police force, is an unlawful disbursement of funds.”
Anderson concluded that additional information is needed “in order to determine the facts of this case,” and ordered that an evidentiary hearing be scheduled for early next year.
During a previous hearing in late October, the plaintiffs alleged that the city has allowed the number of officers on to the force to fall below the minimum staffing level required by the city charter, MPR reported.
The citizens said there has been a sharp rise in violence in their neighborhoods – a spike they blame on the Minneapolis City Council’s push to defund the police department, WCCO reported.
“We walked outside and I pulled this bullet out of my house. Out of my home, out of my siding,” one of the plaintiffs, Jon Lundberg, told reporters after Monday’s hearing while holding the bullet in his hand.
“Every single night on any block in this neighborhood you can hear gunshots!” agreed another plaintiff, Cathy Spann. “Every single freaking night!”
Former Minneapolis City Councilmember Don Samuels and his wife, Sondra, who are among those who filed the lawsuit, blasted the city’s attorneys for trying to convince the court that their lawsuit was unfounded because none of the plaintiffs have been shot yet, WCCO reported.
“To get standing we need to take a bullet, right?” Sondra Samuels argued. “We’ve seen our neighbors take bullets. We know the 20-year-old, we know the six-month-old who’s in the car when her mom gets shot up!”
She said the council is so focused on defunding police, they’ve forgotten about their constituents, KMSP reported.
“This is like all they are focused on is having a reimagined police department while we’re focused on staying alive,” she told reporters.
Don Samuels said that the city left them with no choice but to file the lawsuit.
“We have made the emotional appeal. We have demonstrated the statistical uptick and now this is the legal action we are exercising because it seems as if the City Council cannot hear us and doesn’t feel what we feel,” the former councilmember said, according to KMSP.
According to the residents’ attorney, James Dickey, the charter requires the city to have a minimum of 753 police officers on the force, WCCO reported.
But the city has refused to disclose how many officers remain with the department, Dickey said.
He further noted that an attorney who represents Minneapolis police officers who are dealing with disability issues has told him that hundreds of additional officers plan to seek disability for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), MPR reported.
An estimated 100 officers left the department or had taken leave exceeding two weeks between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, according to city officials.
The plaintiffs urged the court to block the Minneapolis City Council from further defunding the MPD, MPR reported.
They also asked the judge to order the city to hire additional officers to replace those who no longer work for the department.
“We all know we have to have reform of the police department,” Sondra Samuels said. “Everybody wants that… But in addition — with that, we need protection. We need adequate police protection. We have to do both.”
Minneapolis City Attorney Greg Sautter denied allegations that the city is in violation of the charter, and said it the lawsuit should be dismissed, MPR reported.
But Dickey said the city did not present anything to the court that “would actually indicate that they have enough police on the force to keep Minneapolis safe, according to the city charter,” according to WCCO.
“We simply want to have enough police on the streets to keep Minneapolis safe,” he told KMSP.
The recent rise in violent crime has what remains of the city’s beleaguered police force scrambling to serve the city, KMSP reported.
The police department has shuffled people around to fill gaping holes left since roughly 20 percent of the officers have filed for “duty disability” in the wake of violent riots after George Floyd died in police custody in May.
Almost 200 officers have sought “duty disability” to leave the Minneapolis Police Department and cited the reason as PTSD from the riots.
Fifty of the officers who have claimed disability were present when the 3rd Precinct was overrun by rioters on May 28 and burned to the ground, according to KMSP.
Attorney Ron Meuser, who is representing the officers seeking disability, said the siege of the 3rd Precinct was the tipping point for the many of the officers.
“They did not feel they were going to come home,” Meuser told KMSP.
He said some officers texted their goodbyes to their families and others said they had planned to save a bullet for themselves that night rather than being beaten to death by the mob.
The attorney said many of the Minneapolis officers he represents feel abandoned by their local leaders as well as the communities they’ve served for years, KMSP reported.
“We have de-staffed certain units, cut back certain units to be sure we have the staffing available to meet the needs of the city,” the police department spokesperson said.
The Minneapolis police chief has also pointed to record numbers of veteran officers retiring as contributing to the staffing problem.
The city has relied on backup from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the Minneapolis Park Police, and the Metro Transit police departments, KMSP reported.
The city council pushed legislation to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of Floyd’s death in custody, but it was derailed when the city’s Charter Commission requested an additional 90 days to review it, effectively pushing it past the deadline for the November ballot.
Some of the front-line proponents of defunding the police have walked back their initial demands for abolishment in the wake of the crime spike that has affected their communities and instead have begun demanding more from the officers.
In late September, Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender, who led the movement to do away with the police department, told Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo that she thinks officers were making the city less safe intentionally, the New York Post reported.
“This is not new,” Bender said. “But it is very concerning in the current context.”