City Pages: TV station revealed identity of tipster who later killed himself

Until today, few people likely thought of a sanitation worker as a victim of the Jamar Clark shooting in Minneapolis in November 2015.

But today’s City Pages article on what happened to one of them — Alan Ditty — is a disturbing piece of journalism.

When the protests outside the 4th Precinct police station were to be put down, the plan was for the police department to move out the protesters, the fire department to put out their fires, and the sanitation workers to clean up the mess.

Ditty was reportedly concerned about the safety of the workers. They hadn’t been trained in riot zones.

“Al was concerned about us because half of us live up there in north Minneapolis, and they know all those people, and it would have been an all-out war if they’d gone in there,” one employee told City Pages. “This was safety and them being neighbors. It was a real touchy situation at the time. A lot of anger, a lot of tempers up.”

Employees of the city interviewed for the story didn’t want their name used. They’re afraid of the city’s response to their talking to a reporter. There’s good reason for their fear.

When Ditty saw the video of white supremacists threatening protesters,he knew the situation wasn’t safe. His supervisor had told him he didn’t have a choice; he and the others had to go into the area to clean up the site when the raid on protesters came.

So he sent a news tip to KARE 11, City Pages reports.

And KARE 11 turned his email over to the police, it says.

Some cops were infuriated by the leak. After being informed of KARE’s email, Chief Janee Harteau called off the raid, says a source with knowledge of the events inside the ops building.

Sometime during the night, Al received an email saying the raid was aborted.

“RE: Street Cleanup Strike Team,” read the subject line.

“For many reasons,” the email said, “this has been CANCELLED.”

Two or more other raids were also planned and scotched, say city council members, one after another supposed leak from a mayor’s aide. (Hodges’ spokesman, Eric Fought, declined comment for this story.)

The missed opportunity didn’t sit well with some inside City Hall, people with the power to make certain a tipster was going to pay.

Ditty was suspended. He acknowledged to the city’s investigators that he sent the email because he was afraid for the safety of him and his colleagues.

In March 2016, he was fired for talking to the media.

All the city officials who could talk aren’t talking.

The employees who are afraid of their names being used are.

“Al was a blue-collar guy, a working guy. If he knew something he would tell you. He wouldn’t play no games with you. He was only looking out for his employees. Somebody had to be the scapegoat, so it had to be Al Ditty. They took everything away from him.”

A week after being fired, Ditty killed himself.

KARE 11 told City Pages it’s still investigating — 13 months later — how and why an email with a tipster’s name was turned over to police.

  • MrE85

    Looks like they KARE more for Kops than for their sources.

    • One of the undercovered angles back when this town had media reporters is the way-too-close relationship between cop-shop reporters and the police.

      • Laurie K.

        I do think the relationship is way too close and makes for some biased reporting. When you have a police reporter who not only gets a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement but also took the eight week training in order to become certified as an officer, I think most people would agree, you have a conflict of interest.

        • Caroline Lowe?

          I still think the Brad Dunlap reporting was some of the most egregious journalism I’ve seen in my time in MN.

          • Laurie K.

            That was who I was referring to. I also agree with your opinion on the reporting of the murder of Anne Dunlap. I recall thinking at the time of the murder that the reporting was completely biased and that clearly she had made up her mind about who the killed Anne and was trying to use her position as a reporter to “solve” the crime.

          • She assisted in the police in trying to “smoke out” Brad Dunlap. It was unbelievable.

          • Dan

            Never heard of this case, but yuck. I do like his response, though. Ouch!

            “There really isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think of Anne,” he said then. “It’s been a long time, but it seems like yesterday, and I just wish that media coverage would go away.”

            In the same interview, Dunlap was presented with the idea that without media coverage, the case may never be solved and someone would get away with murder.

            “I don’t have any comment on the media’s plans on solving crimes,” he said.


          • Jim in RF

            Don’t forget Jay Kolls, who essentially moonlighted as police spokesperson.

    • RBHolb

      Wasn’t KARE the station that had a reporter who was being stalked, and they sent a camera crew to watch for the stalker? When he showed up, they alerted the police and pointed out where he was hiding.

      They were always big on the entertainment value of law enforcement operations.

  • crystals

    I read the full story this morning and it’s going to sit with me for a long time. I think everyone should read it, *especially* because it’s so hard to. I hope it prompts some long and difficult soul searching for everyone involved in city hall.

  • Dean E Carlson

    KARE11 burning a source is a big issue needing discussion. But I’d also love to hear how the decision was made by the City to fire Mr. Ditty. Some disciplinary action was merited, but no way did he deserve firing. Perhaps the firing would have been reversed in the appeal. That story could be an interesting follow-up.

    • Yep, if the records weren’t sealed.

    • Hannah

      Why would a whistleblower need to be disciplined?

  • Will

    What a heartbreaking story… I’m sorry for his family.

  • On the Washington Post’s website there are seven suggested methods of submitting a confidential story or tip. It may be found on their “Confidential Tips” page. This is the sort of tool that media organizations can make available to protect whistle-blowers. It indicates to me that a media organization takes confidentiality seriously and that tips are likely to be escalated to a journalist trained in the necessary privacy procedures. In the absence of such a tool, it is better to use the phone – and not an office phone, since that will create a data trail that belongs to the employer. Emails are awful for confidentiality because the hidden headers may be forwarded to anyone on insecure systems, and of course the content may reveal the original sender. Further, you don’t know who at the media organization will sift through the messages. It may well be an untrained low-level staffer who could make this type of error while thinking that they are helping the police.

    • // It may well be an untrained low-level staffer who could make this type of error while thinking that they are helping the police.

      No media organization should be hiring anybody who thinks part of their job is helping the police as part of a news story.

      • That’s certainly true – and I used to be a cop. But it is the reality of insufficient planning and training at a media organization. Perhaps there isn’t even a clear mission statement. Where does one begin? If you are in the journalism business, you should know your mission – and it should reflect the highest ethical standards. That should be clear to everyone from the HR department to the clerk who arrives early and sorts the mail – or email. I think clarity of purpose is important, and that separates journalistic endeavors like MPR News and the NYT, WAPO, and others from entertainment companies like TV stations. Of course a serious journalist knows their job, but can that be said of staff at an entertainment company that happens to field a news program? We would like to think that the news department is somewhat independent and subject to journalistic standards, but who knows for sure?

        • It’s possible the KARE employee wasn’t fully familiar with the culture of Minneapolis government.

          The Duy Ngo story alone should be required reading for anyyone who wants to learn about the culture.

  • Jeff

    Very much an aside but I’m wondering why sanitation is an essential part of clearing the streets? Seems like it could wait until things calmed down.

    • If the whole point of the raid — at least publicly –w as to open up the street to allow emergency vehicles and such to get through, you couldn’t very well not open up the streets by cleaning them up. Otherwise, people might think there was another motive.

  • I doubt that the gentleman in this story asked for or was granted a promise of anonymity so the two cases aren’t similar in that regard, probably, but the Twin Cities have an interesting record when it comes to sources being “outed.”

    This is probably the most famous one:

  • Kassie

    This makes me so mad. I wish I had the capacity to plan a march of government union workers on KARE 11 over this. I am just too over-committed right now and my union is just too busy with the legislature trying to dismantle us and all.

  • AmiSchwab

    kare and kstp classy tv stations ya got there

  • Tom Q. Johnson

    “Minneapolis spokesperson Casper Hill says the only prior instance of a city employee being cited for improper communication with the media happened in 2013. Sgt. Marvin Schumer was given a letter of reprimand.”

    This was the most infuriating part of the piece. Police are holier than all other city employees. They do. not. get. fired. ever.

  • Hannah

    So who determined it was suicide… the Police?