A department dogged by itself

“Meantime, the police do not know what to expect and the department is demoralized.”

- New York Times article on the Minneapolis Police Department

August 2, 1902

MPR’s Brandt Williams reports today on a new twist on an old story: the Minneapolis Police Department at war with itself. Five African American police officers sued the department and Chief Tim Dolan, alleging a history of discrimination against black officers that the five say has gotten worse under Dolan.

“That’s ridiculous. Charlie Adams has been a fine officer in homicide. And I don’t think there’s anyone in homicide — commander-wise or in the commander’s investigations, including Val Wurster, who’s African American — who are targeting African Americans,” Dolan said last week.

The lawsuit ends what has been — at least in public — a honeymoon for Dolan, who was appointed from within the ranks of the department a year ago.

Here are some of the more recent controversies in the department.

September 1992 – Officer Jerry Haaf killed by gang members, ending an effort by some in the department to work with known gang members Many officers reviled the group, United For Peace, and openly opposed police administrators who met with the group.

Mid-1994 – Deputy Chief Dave Dobrotka, who championed the gang alliance, and was criticized heavily after Haaf’s killing, leaves to take a job in Arizona.

February 1995 – Amid controversy over police misconduct and high crime, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton appoints Robert Olson to replace retiring Police Chief John Laux.

1995 – Donald Banham, an African American, loses lawsuit against Chief Robert Olson, after the police union objected to attempts to promote him ahead of white officers who ranked higher. Banham loses his case.

July 1996 – Minnesota Department of Human Rights hears testimony on allegations that the Minneapolis Police Department discriminated against female employees. About 10 percent of the women on the force testify.

April 2002 – Mayor R.T. Rybak wants Chief Robert Olson out. Olson says, “I’m staying.”

August 2002 – During a drug raid, a police bullet intended for a pit bull, hits 11-year-old boy. A melee ensues.

December 2002Chief Robert Olson leaves.

February 2003 – Officer Duy Ngo, an undercover cop, was shot by another officers with a submachine gun. Ngo settled a suit with the city last week.

October 2003 – Federal officials investigate allegations that two Minneapolis police officers were involved in the assault of a suspect while serving a search warrant. Later, it’s leaked that the suspect was a police informant. The incident comes while the police department is in federally-mediated talks with community members, aimed at easing tensions between law enforcement and residents, especially minorities.

February 2004 – Two weeks after taking office and promising a hard-line against police misconduct, Chief William McManus suspends supervisors — including an internal candidate for the job he ultimately won — amid allegations one ordered the destruction of an internal memo in the Ngo case.

March 2004 – An outside investigation finds no wrongdoing on the supervisors’ part. They allege McManus is persecuting them.

October 2005 – Sgt. Giovanni Veliz files civil rights complaint against department after being reassigned to night patrol.

March 2006McManus quits. Takes job in San Antonio.

March 2006 – Tim Dolan seen as top contender for police chief.

November 2006 – Sgt. Charlie Adams was transfered after he contradicted statements made by his commanding officer, that a bicyclist who was killed over the summer was trying to buy drugs.

Minneapolis is not particularly unique in struggling with allegations of strife within. But Dolan is only the second home-grown chief in the department in several decades, something Minneapolis officials had hoped would provide more stability to the department.

Chicago, by contrast, is trying a different approach. Last week it hired its first non-Chicagoan to head the police department in 50 years.

“A minority candidate probably would have been more attentive’ to the need for a diversified command in the department’s top ranks,” an alderman said. “But I will give the guy a break and see how he does.”

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