An arbitrator ruled Tuesday that there was just cause for the Chaska Police Department to fire officer Joshua Lawrenz after an independent investigation found that he targeted Hispanic residents simply because of their ethnicity.
Lawrenz, 37, was put on administrative leave by Police Chief Scott Knight in August 2014 and officially fired in April 2015, but he contested his termination and agreed to enter into binding arbitration.
Knight said Tuesday that “each and every witness of all ages and both genders were terrified of Josh Lawrenz and showed great courage in coming forward to testify.
“All of these people, the victims and the Latino community at large knew this was an action of an individual and not the police department and for that I am very gratified,” Knight said.
The arbitrator found that Lawrenz “relied on racial and ethnic stereotypes as factors in selecting where to engage in stationary patrol and whom to stop and search.
The Carver County attorney’s office found that the stops Lawrenz made that involved Hispanic drivers “were invalid and unconstitutional,” the ruling said. As a result, the prosecutor’s office said Lawrenz would not ever again be allowed to testify and it dismissed all active prosecutions involved Lawrenz as a primary police officer in cases where the defendant had a Hispanic surname.
The arbitrator also found that Lawrenz lied when he was questioned during an internal investigation.
An investigation was started after members of Chaska’s Latino community met with Knight in mid-2014 to voice their concerns. Several residents also spoke at a City Council meeting that September, including one elderly man who said Lawrenz handcuffed him and threw him to the ground while arresting him.
Another resident, Natalie Lopez, said Lawrenz sat in his squad at the end of her block for several days before stopping her as she backed her car out of her driveway to pick up her son at day care. She said Lawrenz gave her a ticket for not having a driver’s license, telling her he wanted to send all people without licenses back to Mexico. Another time, he confronted her as she returned home from work, arrested her and took her to jail.
Lawrenz had been a police officer in Chaska for 14 years and had no other disciplinary action in his file.
Knight said Tuesday that “I and my staff are pleased that the arbitrator found that the work of our investigators and our staff showed what an egregious set of behaviors this officers performed. It is most appropriate that he no longer be a police officer.”
Lawrenz answered his cellphone Tuesday and said, “I don’t have a comment to give you. I haven’t spoken with my attorney about it. I guess you could say I’m disappointed. I have a lot to process right now.” He would not say where he is working now.
Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252