HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States

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Officers Marvin Schumer and Michael Lardy: On April 17, 1993, Officers Michael Lardy and his partner Officer Marvin Schumer of the 4th Precinct encountered Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney, Native Americans who were apparently intoxicated and sleeping in front of an apartment building.14 According to the plaintiffs' civil complaint, the officers called for an ambulance and then canceled their request and dragged the men to the squad car. The men were then allegedly handcuffed and thrown in the trunk of the squad car; the trunk was closedon Lone Eagle's leg, injuring it.15 The two men in the trunk claimed that the ride to the hospital, which was only three blocks from where the men were picked up, took an unreasonably long time, and that the car's driver drove erratically, causing injuries. The officers later claimed that they used the squad car because they were worried about the well-being of the men and wanted to get to the hospital quickly, yet the dangerous and menacing confinement in the vehicle's trunk undermines this claim.

At the time of this incident, Officer Schumer had reportedly been the subject of thirteen complaints, and at least two were sustained. He was accused of picking people up and taking them to deserted areas near the Mississippi River, where he would allegedly beat and question them. Schumer reportedly told internal affairs investigators that it was his practice to take "troublemakers" out of downtown areas to secluded spots.16 In 1989, Schumer was reportedly suspended for six days for taking two men to the river to intimidate them, and an internal affairs investigator warned him that similar misconduct in the future would be grounds for further discipline, including dismissal.17 The incident of Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney involved serious misconduct. Officer Schumer, nonetheless, remains a member of the Minneapolis police force.18

Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, alleging civil rights violations, and the city paid approximately $100,000 each to Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney as the result of a civil trial jury verdict in October 1995.19

Officer Michael Ray Parent: In the early morning hours of August 5, 1994, a woman motorist was stopped by Officer Parent, who asked her whether she had been drinking.20 She acknowledged she had been drinking, and he put her in the back seat of his squad car and told her she was under arrest for driving under the influence. He then stood over her, with his waist at her eye level, and asked her if she could think of anything she could do to avoid being arrested. She did not respond, so he tried again, this time warning her that the arrest would cost her $1,500 and three days in jail. Then he said, "You mean a pretty girl like you doesn't know what to do?" while stroking her arm. He started fondling one of her breasts, then took her to a more remote area. She began crying. He reportedly forced her to have oral sex with him, and he told her this was better than going to jail and having some woman have her way with her. He also let her know there was no record of his having pulled her over. Indeed, there was no record, but his notes contained her phone number and address, and his clothing tested positive for sperm.

After the incident was reported, investigators reportedly found several complaints about Parent involving inappropriate sexual conduct while on duty, even though he had only been on the force for a year and a half prior to the August 1994 case; he was accused of a sexual incident during his probationary period on the force, when dismissals of officers who commit abuses are much easier, but was not dismissed. In learning about Parent's behavior, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton stated "as a woman who lives in the city of Minneapolis, I am horrified."21 She wanted Parent fired immediately, but the county prosecutor convinced her to hold off until the criminal proceedings were completed. In April 1995, Parent was convicted in state court on kidnaping and rape charges and sentenced to four years in prison.22

Lt. Mike Sauro: After midnight on January 1, 1991, Lt. Mike Sauro was working off duty in uniform, at a club for a New Year's Eve party, when he arrested and handcuffed Craig Mische, then a twenty-one-year-old student at the College of St. Thomas, during a rowdy event. Mische claims he was kicked and beaten by Sauro in the club's kitchen while his hands were cuffed behind his back. Witnessestestified that they saw Mische being hit by Sauro, while officers contended that Mische was the aggressor.23

In September 1992, federal prosecutors decided not to pursue the case, explaining, "We do not believe there's a reasonable likelihood that a jury would find [Sauro] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."24 Local prosecutors also reportedly decided not to prosecute Sauro in relation to the alleged Mische beating. Mische filed a police misconduct civil lawsuit, and the city council decided against settling with Mische for $415,000, and instead went to trial.25 Their decision followed Sauro's campaign on television and radio news shows, defending his record and convincing the public and the council that the city would win if they went to court.26

Sauro was wrong, and his conduct and the department's indifference cost the city $700,000, the largest civil award in a police misconduct case in the city's history; with attorneys' fees the case would cost the city over $1 million.27 The jury found the city liable for "maintaining a custom of deliberate indifference to complaints about excessive force in the department."28 At the time of the civil trial, Sauro had in his nineteen-year career reportedly been the subject of thirty-two internal affairs complaints, many alleging excessive force; none were sustained, and he was promoted through the ranks.29 In the Mische case, the department reportedlydecided not conduct an internal affairs investigation at all because its findings could have had a detrimental effect on the city's attempts to defend itself in the civil trial.30

Sauro had been the defendant in an excessive force lawsuit that was settled for $350,000 in 1991. And in 1996, the city agreed to pay $300,000 to another plaintiff in relation to an alleged beating by Sauro on the same night as the Mische incident.31 In December 1996, the city settled for $25,000 with yet another plaintiff alleging excessive force used by Sauro in a September 1992 incident.32 While a sergeant, Sauro led the 1989 mistaken raid on the home of an elderly couple who were killed in a fire set off by the officers' use of a "flash bang" grenade - an incident that reinforced distrust of the police in the black community and led to the creation of the CRA.33 (See above.)

Despite the large civil jury award and two attempts to fire him, Lieutenant Sauro has successfully fought efforts to have him removed from the force. In July 1997, an appellate court upheld an arbitrator's ruling that Sauro had been fired improperly in 1995 and should be reinstated with seniority and back pay.34 Sauro's lawyers had argued that the complainant's injuries were not consistent with his testimony and that the mayor's attempt to rescind a suspension ordered by the police chief and to instead dismiss Sauro constituted double jeopardy.35 Sauro was fired a second time by Chief Olson in July 1996 after an internal investigation into another incident. Chief Olson reportedly found Sauro's conduct, "incompetent, unprofessional andinappropriate, at best. At worst it constituted criminal assault." The dismissal was subsequently reversed by an arbitrator who cited the alleged victim's inconsistencies and lack of credibility.36 Lieutenant Sauro was again reinstated with rank and back pay.37 In an interview with Human Rights Watch, Chief Olson stated that the arbitration system was perhaps the greatest barrier he faces in his efforts to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.38

Sgt. William Hannan: In January 1995, Sgt. William Hannan's ex-girlfriend accused him of throwing her down two flights of stairs, banging her head into a concrete wall, and sexually assaulting her while he held her captive in his home in Olmstead County.39 He faced criminal sexual conduct, kidnaping and assault charges, but the charges were dismissed in June 1995 after the alleged victim refused to cooperate with prosecutors.40 Hannan had a history of complaints; he had been suspended from the force three times and fired once (the firing was later reversed by the Civil Service Commission). In April 1992, he was charged with fifth-degree assault and other charges when he called his estranged wife and threatened her and her boyfriend. Former Chief Laux suspended him after he was convicted on all of those charges in October 1992, but he returned to duty and remains on the force today.41

14 Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney v. Minneapolis, Marvin Schumer, and Michael Lardy, Hennepin County District Court, No. 94-00083, a civil complaint filed on December 30, 1993. Randy Furst, "Marchers protest police treatment of Indians," Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 20, 1993.

15 A third man accompanying Lone Eagle and Boney was placed in the back seat of the car.

16 Furst, "Marchers protest police treatment," Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 20, 1993.

17 Randy Furst, "Officer accused of mistreating Indians has record," Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 30, 1993.

18 Telephone interview, Chief Olson, January 23, 1998. The police department's personnel office also confirmed that Officer Lardy remains on the force. Telephone inquiry, April 22, 1998.

19 Telephone inquiry, Larry Warren, city solicitor's office, October 28, 1997. A total of $448,000 was reportedly paid in the case, with $248,000 provided for attorneys' fees. Telephone interview, attorney Larry Leventhal, October 28, 1997.

20 According to criminal complaint filed by Hennepin County, State of Minnesota v. Michael Ray Parent, District Court, Hennepin County, September 1, 1994, No. 94-3037.

21 Pat Pheifer, "Minneapolis officer held on charges of assault," Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 2, 1994.

22 Burl Gilyard, "Al Berryman cops an attitude," Twin Cities Reader, August 30 -September 5, 1995.

23 Mark Brunswick, "Lt. Thomas denies using brutal tactics during `90s New Year's Eve bar fracas," Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 30, 1994.

24 Associated Press, "No indictment against officer," Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 11, 1992.

25 Kevin Diaz, "City will go to court over claim of brutality," Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 14, 1994.

26 Diaz, "Officials concerned by implications of Sauro verdict," Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 15, 1994.

27 Ibid.

28 Diaz, "Minneapolis won't appeal judgment in Sauro case," Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 23, 1994.

29 Mark Brunswick, "Minneapolis liable in Sauro case," Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 15, 1994; Kevin Diaz, "Sauro stands by his record, profession, Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 15, 1997.

30 Kevin Diaz, "City will go to court over claim of brutality," Minneapolis Star Tribune.

31 David Channen, "Judge confirms ruling favoring Sauro," Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 15, 1996.

32 "Minneapolis City Council approves $25,000 Sauro settlement," Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 14, 1996.

33 Wayne Wangstad, "Grenade use suspended after fatal raid/fire," St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, January 27, 1989.

34 "Lt. Mike Sauro: another blow to public confidence," editorial, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 7, 1997. Mayor Sayles Belton fired Sauro, overruling then-Chief Laux, who had ordered a twenty-day suspension. The arbitrator eventually upheld the twenty-day suspension.

35 Kevin Diaz, "Judge sends Sauro case to arbitration," Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 16, 1995; Blake Morrison, "Mike Sauro must be re-hired," St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 2, 1997.

36 Kevin Diaz, "Credibility was key factor in Sauro's latest victory," Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 3, 1997.

37 Telephone interview, Chief Olson, January 23, 1998.

38 Ibid.

39 Incident as described in State of Minnesota v. William James Hannan, January 31, 1995, Hennepin County, District Court, No. 95-0427.

40 Margaret Zack, "Rape, assault charges against policeman dropped," Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1995.

41 Telephone inquiry, MPD personnel office, May 13, 1998.

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© June 1998
Human Rights Watch