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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

5 High Ranking Black Officers in Minneapolis to Receive $2 Million Dollar Settlement

If approved, the officers would share $2 million and the city would more closely oversee diversity and race issues.

By DAVID CHANEN and TERRY COLLINS, Star Tribune staff writers

Does anyone else find it comical that when it came to fighting their cause these guys chose white lawyers? They had a chance to help thier … read more community by using minority lawyers and didn't. I'm sure there has to be some very good black attornys in the twin cities. Perhaps these guys racially profiled attornys.

Minnesota bridges rated: An interactive map of bridges that are "structurally deficient," "functionally obsolete" or have gusset plates like those on the I-35W bridge.

Five high-ranking black police officers would share $2 million in a proposed settlement of their lawsuit alleging a long history of discrimination against black officers in the Minneapolis Police Department, sources familiar with the suit said Tuesday.

The suit against the city and Police Chief Tim Dolan alleged that such actions became more institutionalized after Dolan became chief in 2007. Its filing in December was among a number of disputes that highlighted racial divisions in the Police Department and intensified criticism from the community.

If approved by the Minneapolis City Council on Friday, the proposed agreement could help ease those tensions, which have simmered for a year and a half.

The settlement would involve a payment to the officers and the creation of a unit headed by a deputy chief to oversee diversity and race issues, according to the sources.

Two of the officers who filed the federal suit, Lt. Don Harris and Lt. Lee Edwards, were demoted by Dolan. A third officer, Sgt. Charlie Adams, was transferred from the homicide unit over a series of insubordination incidents.

Several black officers met with the director of the city's civil rights department in September to voice their concerns. But the director dismissed the allegations and later publicly said they were "disgruntled cops near the end of their careers," the suit said.

The other officers named in the suit are Lt. Medaria Arradondo and Sgt. Dennis Hamilton. The officers in the suit have an average of about 20 years with the department.

Federal probe plays key role

A recent federal investigation involving Edwards that found no criminal wrongdoing on his part may have intensified the city's desire to settle the suit. The department had forwarded to the FBI a tip it had received that several white and black officers were leaking confidential information, the sources said. But it appears only Edwards and Mike Roberts, who are black, were seriously investigated, sources said.

Investigators had a tape of Edwards allegedly providing a man with confidential driver's license information, the sources said. They also had the man on tape trying to get Edwards to give out confidential information on a fake case set up in the department's computer system, the sources said.

It was eventually determined that Edwards didn't do anything criminally wrong, the sources said. He may still be disciplined by the department in connection with the federal investigation.

Last week, Roberts was indicted on corruption charges after he allegedly received $100 on two occasions for giving confidential information to an undercover informant who claimed to be a gang member. Roberts, 57, a 29-year veteran of the department, was relieved of duty in April after the allegations came to light.

Attorney John Klassen, who is representing the five black officers, declined to comment Tuesday.

Alleged pattern of treatment

The suit claims that black officers received fewer training, detail and overtime opportunities, as well as fewer appointments to key units, than white officers. It also claims the department fails in several diversity areas required by a mediation agreement brokered with the help of the Justice Department.

The suit details patterns of alleged discrimination involving each of the five officers. Arradondo, head of the Fourth Precinct's community response team, was refused overtime pay for the key role he played with critical incidents, the suit alleges. Harris, a Fourth Precinct investigator, was passed over for appointments in favor of white officers, the suit said.

While several white homicide officers received more than 150 hours of overtime after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, Adams was never informed of the overtime opportunities until the last days of the detail, the suit said. Hamilton was fired for misconduct that for some white officers resulted in less discipline, the suit said.

Before their reassignment by Dolan, Harris had been one of the department's three deputy chiefs and Edwards was in charge of the city's Fourth Precinct, which encompasses north Minneapolis. The only black officer with a rank higher than lieutenant is Deputy Chief Valerie Wurster, who was appointed by Bill McManus, Dolan's predecessor.

About 18 percent of the department's employees are people of color, the highest in the department's history.

There have been three settlement sessions, the last one Tuesday. A settlement was apparently reached during a session Thursday, but Mayor R.T. Rybak wanted to know more about the federal case involving Edwards before moving the proposed settlement forward, the sources said.

Rybak hasn't said whether he endorses the settlement. Jeremy Hanson, the mayor's spokesman, said Rybak and the council will receive an update from staff members and discuss the issue Friday.

The council will discuss the settlement during a closed session Friday, and a vote could follow.

It's unclear how the $2 million would be distributed among the five officers. Besides the money and creation of the new diversity unit, the settlement would require an independent audit of the department's diversity efforts, the sources said.

dchanen@startribune.com • 612-673-4465 tcollins@startribune.com • 612-673-1790