from the protests-are-now-free-passes-for-record-destruction-I-guess dept
Immediately following the murder of George Floyd by former-officer and current-convict Derek Chauvin, Minneapolis burned. Literally. Unchecked violence by cops provoked violence by some city residents, who looted businesses and, most provocatively, set the Minneapolis PD’s Third Precinct building on fire.
While this happened, another precinct — located nearly five miles away from the most intense protests — decided now was the time to pursue some opacity.
As an unruly crowd besieged Minneapolis’ Third Precinct headquarters last summer, officers on the other side of the city destroyed a cache of documents, including inactive case files, search warrants and records of confidential informants.
In a private police report, Minneapolis officer Logan Johansson disclosed that he and other investigators in the Second Precinct to the northeast decided to destroy the documents shortly after May 28 “in direct response to the abandonment of the Third Police Precinct in Minneapolis by city leadership.”
If the Second Precinct fell, this sensitive information could wind up in the wrong hands, Johansson wrote. “The data contained in these files could put the lives of CIs or various other cooperating defendants at risk.”
You know, files are portable. I mean, it’s not as easy as feeding them to a shredder or burning them, but files can be moved because, at worst, they’re on paper. At best, they’re digital, meaning they can be moved almost anywhere without anyone having to lift more than a finger.
Ignoring this reality, the Second Precinct decided to use unrest in the city as an excuse to destroy a whole bunch of records that might have eventually “fallen into the wrong hands” as the result of, say, public records requests or court orders demanding the relinquishment of exculpatory evidence.
And the cops might have gotten away with it (at least for a bit longer) if it wasn’t for those meddling… um… arrestees. Apparently, county courtrooms are also considered to be part of the “wrong hands” group.
Public defender Elizabeth Karp says the officers acted without oversight and against policy when they destroyed critical evidence in the charges against her client, 36-year-old Walter Power. Power is charged with a felony for allegedly selling drugs. Police collected evidence against him based on search warrants that were destroyed by the officers and through cellphone data that has since been lost, according to Karp’s motions that ask the judge to throw out the case.
Hey, if you don’t want someone to avoid doing the time, maybe don’t do the crime. This has resulted in Power’s lawyer asking the court to issue an order it shouldn’t really have to issue: one that requires the Minneapolis PD to stop destroying evidence. It seems like an entity involved in law enforcement would want to keep as much evidence preserved at all times, since that’s the pretty much the only thing it can use to get dangerous criminals off the street.
Or maybe the destruction of evidence just happened to be an unfortunate side effect of (possibly) destroying other, less-useful records.
Only about 1.5% of complaints filed against Minneapolis police have resulted in suspensions, terminations or demotions between 2013 and 2019, according to a CNN analysis of data from the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review, which investigates complaints. That office, which is separate from the police department but works with officers to resolve complaints, received about 2,013 complaints against police within its jurisdiction in that time.
If complaints that garnered letters of reprimand are included, that rate of discipline rises to about 2.6%.
That’s a whole lot of misconduct that appears to have been given a minimal amount of attention by the MPD’s internal oversight. It would be kind of terrible if these underlying documents made their way into the public domain, so why not toss these records into the bonfire that theoretically might have been the end result of protests if the demonstrators made their way five miles northeast and duplicated their Third Precinct efforts.
Not to worry, Minneapolis residents. The Second Precinct is hard at work clearing itself of any wrongdoing!
Asked for comment Wednesday, Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said the department is investigating. “We are conducting an internal investigation to understand what happened at the Second Precinct, how the decisions were made and whether there were broader issues with documents, records or files stored in our facilities during the riots,” said Elder.
Doesn’t seem like there’s much to understand. Some cops saw one precinct building on fire and decided the best way to preserve records was to destroy them. The statement continues:
“Any disciplinary decisions would be made through the normal process after an investigation.”
LOL OK. [Taps CNN report quoted above.] The “normal process” appears to be 2.6% wrist slap and 97.4% “officers did nothing wrong.” Perhaps this time it will be different because this time there are more eyes watching the Minneapolis PD than ever before. But an internal investigation can be allowed to consume as many news cycles as needed to sweep it under the press-release-late-Friday-afternoon rug.