Minneapolis Chief Dolan reappointment sparks controversy at Civilian Review Authority

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The recent in-house hullabaloo at the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA) went to court February 12, as CRA member Dave Bicking filed a writ of mandamus asking the court to require Minneapolis Chief Dolan to comply with the ordinance relating to disciplining police officers for sustained complaints made to CRA and to require CRA chair Donald Bellfield to notify the city council that Dolan is “failing to obey his mandate.” 

Two CRA seats have expired and are up for re-appointment, at the same time that Police Chief Tim Dolan faces a reappointment vote in the city council. CRA chair Donald Bellfield has called for CRA member Dave Bicking to resign, because of Bicking’s criticism of Dolan.

The purpose of the CRA is to investigate and makes determinations regarding complaints brought against any Minneapolis police officer, according to its website.  When a complaint is investigated by the CRA, the hearing panel makes a determination whether or not to sustain the complaint within 30 days of the hearing. If the complaint is sustained, the matter is referred to the Chief of Police who will decide whether or not to impose discipline. When the Chief has made his decision, he must provide his reasons in writing to the mayor and the CRA.

In December, the CRA published a performance review of Chief Dolan covering 2008 and the first three quarters of 2009.  According to the report, most sustained cases that the CRA has submitted to the chief have not led to discipline. The report states:

During the evaluation period, the CRA has received discipline decisions from the MPD on 25 cases that were sustained. In only 3 cases (12%) was any discipline imposed on the officers involved. 4 Some cases involve more than one officer. Of the 37 officers who were found by the CRA to have engaged in misconduct, 5 officers (14%)were disciplined: three received letters of reprimand, two received oral reprimands.

The report also indicates (In Appendix B) that the CRA does not approve a majority of the complaints.  The report’s statistics show that during an evaluation period involving 55 cases, 60% of them were not sustained by the CRA board. 

According to the Star Tribune, there was a CRA hearing on January 6 where the group presented the 18-page performance review.  Clearly, the official stance of the CRA is critical of Dolan, but for Chair Donald Bellfield, Dave Bicking’s statements outside the CRA have gone too far.

Dave Bicking ran for city council against Gary Schiff this fall, is a vocal peace, justice and civil liberties advocate, but fellow CRA member Justin Terrell said that in his work with the CRA, Bicking has adjudicated complaints fairly and has been “very neutral.” Terrell said that Bicking is very good about approaching each CRA case “as adjudicate, not activist.”

CRA Chair Donald Bellfield asked Bicking in an email not to attend a January 26 New Broom Coalition Forum on “Minneapolis Police Chief Dolan: should he be reappointed?”

“Your role as a member of the CRA and as a participant in this forum may be a violation of the CRA’s mission to remain neutral,” Bellfield wrote. “This seems to be a conflict of interest and misrepresentation of the CRA committee.” Bellfield’s email continued:  “If you plan to participate, you will need to resign your membership from the CRA. Please let the Board know your intentions.”

Bicking responded to Bellfield’s email with an email of his own, in which he asked Bellfield if he would withdraw the ultimatum if Bicking promised to represent his views at the forum as his own and not of the CRA. Bellfield then replied to Bicking, again copying all CRA board members, stating: “If you plan to participate, you will need to resign your membership from the CRA.”

Bellfield said in an interview that he couldn’t respond to whether he asked Bicking to resign. As far as Bicking’s activism, Bellfield said: “People can do what they want to do.”

CRA member Justin Terrell said that the email Bellfield sent to Bicking “was a personal email” and wasn’t meant as an official action. “When Don found out about the meeting,” Terrell said, “he was upset because Dave associated himself with the board. That creates a perception that we’re okay with that whatever input he has about the Chief.”

On January 28, the Star Tribune published an article that quotes Bicking’s criticisms of Dolan and identifies him as a member of the CRA. Following the publication of that article, Bellfield wrote a letter to Mayor Rybak and the City Council with a complaint that Bicking “is featured as a member of the CRA opposing the reappointment of Chief Dolan.” Bellfield wrote: “I am deeply disturbed at Mr. Bicking’s comments and lack of respect he is showing for the Board and staff of the CRA.”

Bicking said that that at the most recent CRA board meeting on February 3, he attempted to have emails Bellfield sent be retracted. “Those are public documents,” Bicking said. “That’s public information.” Bicking said that he’s aware that the expiration of his term and the fact that he is up for re-appointment have caused controversies to heighten recently. “Even though [Bellfield] has no authority to kick me off,” Bicking said, “[The City Council] are the ones that vote on my reappointment.”

On Friday, February 12, Bicking, along with Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) took action against Bellfield and also Chief Dolan by filing a writ of mandamus, to “force Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan to discipline cases sustained by the CRA” and to force Bellfield to file a notice to the City Council’s executive committee “regarding Chief Dolan’s repeated violations of the CRA ordinance,” according to a CUAPB press release.

Bicking said that his action on Friday was as an individual, not as a member of the CRA. Bicking said that Dolan is violating the ordinance that compels him to discipline cases passed by the CRA. Bicking said that the fact that Dolan is up for re-appointment is part of the reason he and groups such as the CUAPB have been so vocal against him.

Jesse Garcia, spokesman for the Minneapolis Police, said that CUAPB and Dave Bicking’s cause “lacks credibility” and that “Chief Dolan’s office is the most stringent of any previous police chief.” Garcia said that Dolan also receives pressure from the Police Federation for being too harsh in disciplining officers.