Blan Tadasa was watching a movie in his boxers one night in November when he heard police at the door.
The officers said they were responding to a call of a domestic incident by his neighbor's garage and saw footage of a crying woman running from what appeared to be Tadasa's property. They asked if they could search his home. Tadasa refused. He had no criminal record and questioned whether the cops had the right address, noting that his mother and cousin, the only women who lived there, were away.
Tadasa felt his heart pound as an officer pushed past him to search the home anyway. Alone at his north Minneapolis home, the 34-year-old Black man feared that he could be hurt or killed if he tried to stop them.
"Tadasa said we needed a warrant," police wrote in a case report. "It was explained that due to extenuating circumstances officers could check for the victim of domestic assault."
Police found no evidence of wrongdoing. After they left, Tadasa filed a complaint with the city's Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR), a panel of citizen and police appointees who review complaints.
"I thought I was [going to] die I did everything to stay alive," Tadasa wrote to the office. "… I can't even be safe in my house from cops in this city."
On Dec. 30, seven weeks later, he received a letter stating that the office had decided not to proceed with his case.
Even as a global spotlight has been trained on the Minneapolis Police Department since George Floyd's killing two years ago, the overwhelming majority of people who filed complaints with the OPCR have not seen their cases lead to disciplinary action.
As Tadasa tried to stop what he believed was an illegal search, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) was concluding an investigation of its own that found the MPD had engaged in a pattern of discrimination against Black residents that included disproportionately higher rates of searches and use of force. The human rights report released last month zeroed in on the decade-old OPCR, concluding that it lacks independence from the police department and improperly investigates about 50 % of police misconduct complaints.
Cases like Tadasa's are routine – the sort that, without a shooting or dramatic video, tend not to make the news. But they offer a window into how seemingly mundane interactions between police and Black residents fuel distrust and fear at a time when the MPD needs community relationships more than ever to address the city's spike in violence.
The city says the OPCR investigated 1,341 complaints filed in 2020 and 2021; 48 cases resulted in a disciplinary decision from the police chief during that time. The office, housed in the Department of Civil Rights, investigates complaints, and a joint panel of two civilians and two sworn members of the police department gives a recommendation on whether the case has merit. From there, only the police chief has the authority to take disciplinary action.
The office has doubled its staff to nine full-time people in the past year and is searching for a permanent director after the last one resigned in September.
Alberder Gillespie, director of the civil rights department, said Friday that it's an intricate and detailed process and she wants the department to be more intentional about educating the public and decreasing the time it takes to handle complaints.
"I understand if you're a person who took the time out, and you feel you've been harmed or hurt and you submit a complaint and it goes into this dark place and you really don't know what happened ... you feel that wasn't taken seriously," Gillespie said.
"Our title is Office of Police Conduct Review, but we have no authority to discipline police officers ... We also have to make sure that community understands what our role is."
Minneapolis police officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Officer departures end probes
Lamont Johnson said he was driving down Portland Avenue one night in February 2021 when a swarm of unmarked police cars boxed him in and officers approached with guns drawn. "'Oh man, I'm about to die for nothing,'" he recalled thinking. "I put my hands as high in the air as I could."
He claimed officers "tore the car up," asked if he had guns — Johnson, 45, was on probation for illegal gun possession — and said they'd heard about him threatening someone, which he denied. After they found nothing, he said, they told him they would search his residence and followed him to the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Angela Marbles, in Richfield. Marbles, 53, was reluctant because the officers lacked a search warrant.
"I allowed the search with all the fear that was going on with the George Floyd issue," she wrote in a complaint to the OPCR. "A small black woman with 4 officers at her door …[I] felt as though I had no choice but to comply."
Marbles said she told the officers that she had a permit to carry a handgun and kept her 9-millimeter in a locked safe at home, a safe for which Johnson did not have the combination (Johnson said he disclosed Marbles' gun ownership to his probation officer). She said that one of the officers took her firearm to check it for Johnson's DNA but never returned it, even after she contacted the police department about 16 times. Marbles said she even went to the property and evidence unit, only to be told it wasn't there. No one, she said, gave any explanation about what happened to her $800 gun.
A public information report of the incident confirms the traffic stop with Johnson occurred and that force was used, but it doesn't explain why he was pulled over. It states that a case is active, though Johnson was never ticketed or charged with anything. John Vinck, the officer who submitted the report and who Marbles said took her gun, left the force in April 2021.
One year after the officer's departure, Marbles received a letter that read: "After taking into consideration the evidence you provided along with any evidence collected during the intake phase, OPCR has decided not to proceed with your complaint."
The OPCR stops investigating a case after an officer leaves, which has posed a challenge as hundreds of cops have left the department since Floyd's killing. The office says that it's going to soon start including this information when sending letters stating that the OPCR will not move forward with a complainant's allegations.
"I wasn't told by anyone that he had left and that kind of makes me mad," Marbles said when the Star Tribune informed her of the officer's departure.
'Just a joke, you know'
The SUV roared up the street, hitting a few parked vehicles and a fence.
Russell Arnold, 69, watched in horror outside his daughter's home in southeast Minneapolis last November as the car came hurtling across the yard straight for their living room window, near where his granddaughter was playing. Arnold claimed the vehicle stopped less than 10 feet away, then tried to reverse, tires screeching.
He figured it was obvious the driver was under the influence, and rushed over, fearing he would try to flee. When police showed up, Arnold gave his witness statement and watched as they had the vehicle towed while letting the white motorist off without a citation. He said he heard the passenger say everyone at the game had been drinking.
Arnold claimed that the officers treated him, a Black man, with hostility, as though he were the problem.
He filed complaints with the OPCR and the civil rights department; while the former can only investigate violations of police policies and procedures, the latter looks more broadly at discrimination. Arnold hasn't heard back from the OPCR, but the civil rights department dismissed his allegations last month, saying it reviewed body camera footage and found that Arnold was treated no differently from anyone else at the scene.
Officers claimed in a police report that the driver in question had no insurance papers, seemed dazed and confused, and had trouble standing at times. The man claimed he'd been distracted laughing at something on the radio, but "at no point did he mention that he had been drinking," and police never tested the driver for alcohol.
Arnold was concerned that police had released a man who could endanger others. He wrote a rebuttal to the city, pointing out that the deferential behavior shown to the offender and antagonistic behavior to him was proof of white privilege. Since when, he asked, "has the statement of an offender been given more credence than the statement of an eye-witness? Only in Minnesota."
The Department of Human Rights found in its report that white citizens were issued traffic citations less than Black citizens in similar circumstances.
"I can tell you now in the Black community it's just par for the course – they're not even trying to lodge complaints against these police unless it's something egregious," Arnold said in an interview. "They've got to kill you before any government agency or news media even takes notice. But it's still the same racism, and it still impacts everyone's lives."
As for Tadasa, an Ethiopian refugee, he still feels scared every time he sees a cop drive by the home he owns. He wonders if the cops came to his house last November on a pretext to find drugs, and was heartened to see the Department of Human Rights report validate his experience. But he never received a full explanation of why his complaint went nowhere. The letter to him said, "An appropriate investigation into this matter has taken place, but under Section 13.43 of the Minnesota Data Practices Act, the law prohibits us from providing you with details about this case investigation."
"It's just a joke, you know?" Tadasa said.