A rift between Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau led to a communication breakdown that hindered the city’s response to an 18-day occupation of a north Minneapolis police station following the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, a new federal report concluded.
The report, released Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPS Office, also praised the city’s “peaceful, measured response” that helped keep protests from escalating dangerously.
But it said Hodges, City Council members and other political figures undermined Harteau’s authority and prevented the city from responding effectively from one central command, which is a “key component of the response to any critical incident or emergency situation.”
Disagreements between the mayor, chief and Fourth Precinct leadership caused police confusion and frustration, resulting in unauthorized uses of force and even some officer insubordination.
“The apparent strained relationship between Mayor Hodges and Chief Harteau, and the mayor’s unfamiliarity with the implications of the terminology she used when in charge, likely contributed to the inconsistent direction given to MPD personnel and the resulting frustration among officers over poor communication and inconsistent, uncoordinated leadership,” the report said.
Elected officials chose to resolve the occupation by negotiating with protest leaders, but initially didn’t tell the Police Department of their decision, the report said.
A work group in the mayor’s office was separate from the Police Department’s central command and sometimes worked at cross-purposes with police efforts.
Hodges apologized Monday for not communicating better as demonstrations roiled the streets outside the Fourth Precinct police station in the weeks after Clark’s death in November 2015.
“The people of Minneapolis — all of us — needed to hear from me more clearly, more frequently, and more consistently. My communication fell short,” Hodges said at a news conference. “Regardless of whether it was because I lacked the bandwidth, I was constrained for legal reasons, or I simply lacked the skill, I did not communicate in a way that would have helped the situation go better. I’m sorry.”
The federal agency that published the report has conducted similar reviews after mass demonstrations in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., and Hodges and Harteau asked for this investigation.
The review praised the city and police because the occupation ended “without any significant injuries … or property damage, and prevented the violence and riots seen in other cities following officer-involved shootings.”
Police showed “commendable restraint and resilience in these extremely difficult circumstances,” Russell Washington, acting director of the Justice Department’s COPS Office, said in a statement.
But the report laid bare a “dynamic and chaotic” chain of events in which rank-and-file officers felt powerless, “as if they were left to deal with the occupation on their own.”
In interviews with Justice Department officials, officers said they felt as if police and city leaders had sided with the community against them, particularly after they failed to authorize force in response to a series of attacks on Nov. 20, 2015.
On that night, several protesters threatened officers with Molotov cocktails, the report said.
Police complained of inconsistent orders on strategy and tactics.
Supervisors were at times shut out of strategy briefings and orders were relayed verbally, rather than in written directives, because officials worried about leaks, according to the report.
On Monday, Harteau said most cops knew what they were supposed to do but also wanted to know why, and weren’t always getting that message, a problem she pledged to work on. Other times, they knew why, and disregarded orders.
“There was another component of ‘I don’t agree with the why, so therefore this is what I hear.’ That is a challenge,” Harteau said.
Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll acknowledged the breakdown in communication between City Hall, police leadership and the union. Kroll said there was “some disconnect between who was calling the shots between the mayor and the chief.”
In response to the chief’s suggestion of insubordination, Kroll said some officers donned helmets and other riot gear in defiance of an official order.
Harteau and Hodges wanted to present a “softer” image, he said.
The 108-page report called for better record-keeping and training around police use of force, pointing out that on the night five protesters were shot, onlookers reported officers using pepper spray, though no record of such action exists.
In other instances, the report found that officers used pepper spray and batons on protesters in clear violation of department policies.
Several officers who were later interviewed expressed confusion about who authorized the use of force.
“The unprecedented nature of this event does not justify the lack of documentation and need to track the use of less-lethal responses,” the report said.
Protest leaders said the community, not city government, deserves the credit for keeping the occupation peaceful, despite the actions of outside protesters who they say were responsible for the violence around the Fourth Precinct.
“The reality is the community leaders were the ones keeping everyone calm,” said Jeffrey Aguy, economic development chairman for the Minneapolis NAACP, after the mayor and chief held a news conference Monday at City Hall.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, a candidate for mayor who was one of the protest’s leaders, said the report confirms what she already knew, that the occupation was a natural outcome of decades of police misbehavior in north Minneapolis and rifts in city government.
“They were dysfunctional long before the occupation happened, but this exposed the rifts,” Levy-Pounds said of Hodges and Harteau.
The occupation reportedly cost the city more than $1.15 million — $1 million for police overtime and $165,000 for barriers and fencing, repairs, services, and related costs.
Jason Sole, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said he’s tired of reports and promises, and he sought to restore the focus on Clark.
“We’re dying out here. Being kicked, being mistreated every which way, and there’s no accountability,” Sole said. “They keep the badge and the gun. It’s not right.”
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany