The city of St. Paul has an unwritten policy of "deliberate indifference" to constitutional violations by its police officers, argued an attorney representing a man whose arrest in a downtown skyway captured national attention.
Andrew Irlbeck argued in federal court Wednesday that his client, Christopher Lollie, should be allowed to amend his lawsuit against the city and three police officers to include that allegation.
"The city has a long-standing practice of exonerating culpable officers," Irlbeck said.
Lollie, 28, was subdued with a Taser and then arrested in the skyway on Jan. 31, 2014, after he refused to leave a lounge and identify himself to police. He has said that he believes he was targeted because he's black.
His suit, which seeks $500,000 in damages, alleges that his constitutional rights were violated and that officers used force and detained him without "a reasonable, articulable suspicion." It also alleges that his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated.
Assistant City Attorney Judith Hanson argued that Irlbeck's assertions were unfounded.
"He has no facts to support that there was a policy — written or unwritten," she said.
Irlbeck argued that although police and city officials said they would investigate the officers' actions, "behind closed doors" they peddled an unwritten policy that protected their interests.
"Although the city initially paid lip service in the press and news to the uproar over the violations of Mr. Lollie's civil rights, internally the city closed ranks, whitewashed the internal affairs investigation, took a hardball litigation strategy toward this case …," Irlbeck wrote in a memo supporting his motion. "These policies are policies of deliberate indifference toward the constitutional rights of citizens …"
An internal affairs investigation conducted by a panel appointed by the mayor, which included two police officers, exonerated officers Lori Hayne, Michael Johnson and Bruce Schmidt of any improper conduct in Lollie's arrest.
Hanson wrote in her rebuttal that there was no evidence to support the claims.
"City policy does not permit officers to engage in unlawful or unconstitutional conduct; rather, it prohibits such conduct," she wrote. "Lollie has failed to allege any facts that support the existence of a continuing widespread persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct by St. Paul police officers."
The day of his arrest, Lollie was sitting in a First National Bank skyway lounge waiting for his two children to arrive at day care. A security guard informed him that the seating was for tenants only, and asked him to leave. When he didn't, guards called police.
Lollie's arrest garnered national attention when he posted video of it to YouTube in August. The video shows Hayne, Johnson and Schmidt, who are named in the lawsuit, confronting Lollie, who walked away and declined to identify himself.
He was eventually charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process. The charges were dropped, the city has said, because there was no evidence that he was on private property.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson said she would issue her decision on the matter in a few weeks.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708