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Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara said Monday night that he "could have been clearer," but he did not intentionally mislead the public in statements regarding the hire of an officer accused of a violent assault that was caught on body-worn camera video in a previous job.

Speaking at a news conference, O'Hara acknowledged that he knew months ago that officer Tyler Timberlake had been involved in a "critical incident" in the past. O'Hara also confirmed that he'd been present during the interview process for Timberlake, whose employment with Minneapolis was terminated last week. When the chief released a statement months after signing off on the hire saying he was "extremely concerned" based on what he'd "just learned" about Timberlake, he meant to convey he'd just seen the body camera footage for the first time, he told reporters Monday.

"I had a very visceral reaction to the behavior that I saw on that video," O'Hara said. "I was shocked and I gave a statement to the media very quickly, and the statement could have been clearer."

O'Hara vowed to "fix the hiring process so that we do not simply hire people who meet the minimum qualifications, but that we screen in individuals who reflect the values of this community and of this department." He said the background check for Timberlake took place before he became chief, and he would not have signed off on Timberlake's hire if he'd first seen the video.

"I accept responsibility for not being clear enough in my initial comments and for not following up to clarify," O'Hara said. "But again, I had not seen the video."

O'Hara's remarks come in response to sharp critiques over the past five days from the police union and law enforcement watchdogs on his handling of Timberlake. Timberlake was charged and later acquitted of assault and battery for repeatedly shooting a stun-gun at a man who appeared to need medical attention in June 2020, when he worked as an officer in Fairfax, VA. The video appeared in national news coverage.

After the Star Tribune first reported on Timberlake's termination last week, Minneapolis police union president Sherral Schmidt said that O'Hara was pandering to critics when he told reporters back in April that he'd "just learned" of the incident. Schmidt said O'Hara knew about the officer's past before a story published by the Minnesota Reformer drew attention to it, and that O'Hara had told Timberlake "he would be OK, if he did good work."

The Star Tribune obtained internal emails that showed Timberlake had informed the department about the stun-gun incident and criminal charges in September 2022 — seven months before O'Hara said he'd just learned about it. A month after the Reformer story, Timberlake sent an email to Mayor Jacob Frey, City Attorney Kristyn Anderson and Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander accusing the chief of defaming him and asking for city officials to look into the matter.

"Chief O'Hara's recent statements regarding my employment with MPD are factually false and can be proven as such," wrote Timberlake in the May 15 email. "These statements have been harmful to my reputation by, among other things, implying that the chief had no knowledge of my prior work history or my hiring at MPD when, in fact, he was involved in my hiring."

In the news conference Monday, O'Hara said he was limited in what he could address because of data laws pertaining to personnel matters. Anderson was present and stopped O'Hara from answering a question about who else in the city was involved in the hire.

O'Hara said he was only an "observer" — not a participant — in Timberlake's interview, which took place on a "whirlwind" second day on the job.

When pressed on whether he told Timberlake in the interview that he would "be OK, if he did good work," O'Hara claimed he didn't recall the specifics of their conversation.

"I was meeting literally hundreds of people in my initial days here," he said.

O'Hara said he knew Timberlake "was involved in a critical incident." But, he said, "quite frankly that is unremarkable. Anyone who has been a police officer in a major city, if they've been working on the street, they have been active — it would be unusual if you had not been."

Asked about the union's defense of Timberlake, O'Hara said "it is disturbing to me that any member of this department could observe the behavior in that video and think that is what we need in this city at this time."

O'Hara was sworn in as Minneapolis' 54th police chief last November on the ambitious promise to reduce the surge in violent crime while also rebuilding community trust in the department. Frey hailed O'Hara, a veteran enforcement officer from New Jersey, as a "change-maker" — someone who could navigate the city and its police into a new era.

In his short time in Minneapolis, O'Hara has won praise from some in the department for changing a policy that stopped officers from pursuing suspects — and by appearing in a body camera video chasing down and helping arrest alleged shooters. He's also positioned himself as capable of stewarding Minneapolis through a complicated federal consent decree, having recently served as a liaison between the Newark Police Department and Justice Department for a similar agreement there.

"I came here to fix problems," he said Monday. "I became aware of the problems in this hiring process in April and I have been working ever since to address them."