The top leaders of the civilian body that investigates St. Paul police misconduct resigned Tuesday, saying city officials — including Mayor Melvin Carter — did not support their work.
Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (PCIARC) Chairwoman Constance Tuck and Vice-Chairwoman Rachel Sullivan-Nightengale sent a joint resignation letter to city and police leaders Tuesday morning, according to Carter spokeswoman Liz Xiong.
“We have repeatedly seen evidence that the Mayor and the Mayor’s appointees are not serious about supporting the work of the PCIARC,” the letter said. “By failing to adequately support the PCIARC’s mandate, the mayor and his appointees are denying St. Paul community members the opportunity to have meaningful participatory oversight of their police department.”
The resignations are the latest chapter in what has been a rocky few years for the commission, which is charged with investigating police misconduct complaints.
It’s also not the first time the mayor has been criticized for his handling of police accountability issues. A year into Carter’s first term, his director of community-first public safety initiatives resigned, alarming advocates and community leaders who said they were still waiting for Carter’s campaign promises on public safety to become a reality.
In their letter, Tuck and Sullivan-Nightengale said the mayor and his staff did not address “well-documented workplace concerns that impede the PCIARC’s work” and “have failed to seek input from the PCIARC and refused to support funding necessary for the PCIARC to fulfill its mandate.”
“The Mayor has never sought the PCIARC’s input on community policing concerns observed in the course of the Commission’s work,” they wrote. “Similarly, the Mayor has consistently failed to use his platform to encourage community members to bring their policing concerns to the PCIARC, or to indicate his intent to support the PCIARC in its efforts.”
“I’d like to thank our PCIARC Chair and Vice Chair for their service to our city. It will undoubtedly help inform our work moving forward,” Carter said in a statement.
City officials described in the letter — including interim Human Rights Director Toni Newborn and City Attorney Lyndsey Olson — were not available for comment.
Though police Chief Todd Axtell also received the resignation letter, spokesman Steve Linders referred questions to the city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity, which oversees the commission.
Tuck and Sullivan-Nightengale did not respond to requests for comment.
The letter also outlined concerns about how accessible the review commission is to members of the public. The two women noted the commission’s opposition to a city attorney proposal to create a panel, which would include a member of the police department, to review civilian complaints.
“Inclusion of a St. Paul police representative on that panel would worsen deep-seated community concerns about the police department steering the complaint process,” they wrote.
Tuck and Sullivan-Nightengale also mentioned that the civilian commission’s strategic plan — “a public document which describes the Commission’s plan for increasing transparency and community confidence in the St. Paul police department” — has not been released, even though it was submitted in March.
Last year was the commission’s second as an all-civilian body. In 2016, the City Council decided to remove police officers from the body and transfer oversight from the police department to the human rights department.
Less than two years after the change, city Human Rights Director Jessica Kingston resigned and got a $250,000 settlement from the city. In an October interview, Kingston said she’d repeatedly raised concerns that the Police Department was blocking misconduct investigations.
Kingston’s job was supposed to be filled by January 2019, but a finalist has not been announced. Newborn, Carter’s chief equity officer, is filling the role.
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509