Cop Watcher arrested, alleges police brutality

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Police brutality is alleged after a July 20 arrest of Darryl Robinson, vice president of the Minneapolis-based Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB). Robinson was a successful plaintiff in a 2003 civil rights lawsuit against the Minneapolis Police Department.

Describing the latest incident, Robinson says: “I was down there doin’ cop watching, The police rolled up in the area. They were telling people to move out of the area.” Robinson says he was with a group of people known as “copwatchers”, an assembly of people armed with video cameras, whose goal it is to monitor police brutality.

The arrest took place in the area of 10th Street and 1st Avenue in Minneapolis, near the Greyhound bus station. There are several homeless shelters in the neighborhood and, according to Robinson, the police have been monitoring the neighborhood heavily in recent weeks.

Darryl Robinson described the “Cop Watch” program and his arrest. (Photo by Sheila Regan)

“I was on my cell phone,” Robinson explains. “They told us we had to move. I told them we were doing cop watching. Police said ‘come here’. I had stuff in my hand–cell phone, video camera–they smashed it to the ground. They told me to turn around. They put cuffs on me. They choked me. They put me in arm locks. They rolled me to the ground. I got knocked out.”

According to the police report, Robinson was arrested for obstructing the sidewalk, obstructing legal process, and failing to obey a police order. According to Sgt. Palmer, Robinson was loitering with “a couple of people that were known as chronic offenders” near a construction barrier.

According to Robinson, when he came back to consciousness, the police still had him in arm locks. “They asked me ‘who was I.’ I told them I was the vice president of the Communities United Against Police Brutality.”

Robinson says they told him “We don’t give a fuck who you are.”

The arresting officers were James Archer and Mark Lanasa. They could not be reached for comment due to MPD’s policy that officers involved in arrests do not speak with the media. All information is channeled through the public information department.

Sgt. William Palmer, Public Information Officer for the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) denies that there is a specific operation targeting homeless people in that area, although he says it is common for the police to pick up people in downtown for “livability crimes,” such as urination in public, drug paraphernalia, and loitering.

Sgt. Palmer also denies that the police choked Robinson, although he does admit that they had him in a headlock. Palmer’s version of this exchange is slightly different. (Palmer was not present at the time of the arrest, and the officers who were present were not allowed to discuss the case.) He says that Robinson said to the police: “You don’t know who I am but you are about to find out.” According to Palmer, the fact that Robinson was cop watching “does not exempt him from the law.”

Sgt. Palmer says that Robinson was confrontational. “He wanted a confrontation, and he got what he wanted,” Palmer states.

Robinson claims he did not fight back. “Why would I fight back?” he asks.

Robinson does say that after he regained consciousness, he started screaming, because he was disoriented. “That riled them up more,” he says. “They kneed me in the head. They told me to get up. I had cuffs on. I told them I could not get back up. They choked me back up. They told me to get in the back of the van. They pushed me in there.”

Robinson says the abuse continued when he was at the jail. He says he was pushed against the walls by one of the deputies, who also pulled his hair.

The incident on July 20 was not Robinson’s first experience with police brutality. On September 11, 2001, (yes that September 11) he was assaulted by police officers. That incident involved, according to Robinson, getting his eardrum broken by a cop’s combat boot. He subsequently was involved in a federal, multi-plaintiff lawsuit that lasted from 2003 to 2006.

Robinson won a settlement of $150,000 as part of the multi plaintiff lawsuit against the police department, according to his lawyer, Jill Clark.

Since the filing of the 2003 lawsuit, Robinson has been arrested at least 15 times. According to Clark, the arrests were an act of retaliation by the police for the lawsuit. Clark explains the arrests as “death of a thousand cuts,” a term which describes a number of arrests for apparently no reason at all acquired cumulatively in order to take Robinson’s credibility away.

“I was constantly being pulled over,” says Robinson. “”They were all different kinds of tickets. I was given a ticket for walking down the street. They took my wallet, never gave it back. I got two tickets for rollerblading.”

Although there is no crime in “rollerblading” or “walking down the street”, there is for “obstructing the sidewalk” and “loitering”, two citations that police frequently used to arrest Robinson. These citations did not result in convictions.

He was also accused of more serious crimes as well, which were thrown out in court for lack of evidence. Once he was accused of “drug paraphernalia” which ended up being a nail clipper, according to Clark.

Clark says that the charges were overwhelmingly dismissed. She says there were only two convictions: one for not wearing a seatbelt, and one for not registering a new vehicle within thirty days.

“If police get accused of brutality, they attack the person in the media,” Clark says, explaining the “thousand cuts” tactic. “They smear the plaintiff. That was a very common tactic.”

When members of the CUAPB posted Robinson’s bail on July 20th, they took pictures of Robinson’s wounds, which Robinson says included huge bumps on his head and swelling around his neck, and roll rash on his elbows. After they took the pictures, the CUAPB members took Robinson to the county hospital.

Robinson declined to comment on whether he would pursue a new lawsuit over the July 20 incident. When asked why the police would assault such a prominent member of the community, Robinson responds: “I’m just too visible. There’s a lot goin’ on out there. The shelter’s a hotbed. It was a way to remove me.”

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.