By Steve Karnowski
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. — Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janee Harteau (juh-NAY’ har-TOH’) say the need for better communications is their main takeaway from a Justice Department review of how their city handled 18 days of protests outside a police station in 2015.
The protests were over the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark. The 24-year-old Clark was black and he died in a confrontation with two white officers.
Hodges said at a news conference that her communications with citizens about their strategy for a negotiated settlement to end the occupation peacefully came up short, and she apologized.
The report also found there was a breakdown in the Police Department’s internal communications during the crisis, leaving officers at the station frustrated with the lack of clear orders and inconsistent direction.
Harteau told reporters the big lesson learned is “communication, communication, communication” across all levels in the department.
A federal review released Monday of an 18-day standoff outside a Minneapolis police station following the fatal shooting of a black man in 2015 found problems with the city's coordination and communication but praised officers for their professionalism and the peaceful end to the protest.
The Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services conducted the review at the city's request after the shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark on Nov. 15, 2015. His death in a confrontation with two white officers sparked an occupation outside the station on the city's north side and other protests that were largely peaceful, though one on Nov. 18 included skirmishes between officers and demonstrators.
Some witnesses told police that Clark was handcuffed at the time, but an investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found the officers were unsuccessful in handcuffing Clark, and he was shot after one of the officers shouted that Clark had his hand on the officer's gun.
Clark's death came at a time of heightened tensions nationwide following protests over the killings of black men by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. Yet no protesters were arrested at the station during the Minneapolis protest and the only serious injuries occurred when a group of alleged white supremacists fired at demonstrators, wounding five, the report said. The protests cost the city over $1.15 million, mostly for police overtime.
Nevertheless, the Justice Department review found a lack of a coordinated response among city and police officials and said law enforcement didn't have a plan for managing the civil disturbance as it became a long-term event.
"Strained relationships, lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities, public disagreements and lack of consistent internal communication" hampered the response, it said. And it said the department "experienced multiple breakdowns in internal communications and messaging" during the occupation."
The report praised other aspects of the response, saying officers "demonstrated extraordinary resilience and professionalism" despite verbal abuse and threats to their physical safety from bottles, bricks, Molotov cocktails and other objects thrown over the fence around the station. Black officers were particular targets of verbal abuse, it said.
"The commitment of the city, the police department and individual officers to a peaceful, measured response played a large role in keeping the occupation from escalating into violent riots," the report said.
The report also noted that elected officials decided to resolve the impasse through negotiations — a strategy it said was consistent with best practices — without including the police leadership in the discussion. That and poor internal communications contributed to frustrations for officers at the station who were left with no clear orders and inconsistent direction.
City and department leaders should have put a higher priority on the officers' physical, mental and emotional well-being, the report said.
Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janee Harteau have scheduled a news conference for Monday afternoon. Nekima Levy-Pounds, a protest leader who was president of the Minneapolis NAACP at the time and is running against Hodges for mayor, said she would comment after the news conference.
The head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, Lt. Bob Kroll, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
State and federal prosecutors declined to charge the two officers involved, and they were cleared in the department's internal review.
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