“They did this in retaliation for us fighting for justice for our son,” said Walter Bell to the Spokesman-Recorder about an incident that took place September 16 when Bell says police beat him.
A self-employed carpenter and contractor, Bell is the father of Walter Kenyon Collins, a 21-year-old black man who was killed by Minneapolis police in October 2003 in South Minneapolis. Bell and his family have been fighting for justice for young Walter, demanding federal prosecution of the officer who shot him.
The family also pressed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in an effort to expose what the family calls the “police cover-up” of their son’s death.
Bell explained that he sustained serious injuries as a result of the beating, including two broken ribs and a black eye. Bell was also charged with obstructing legal process.
“There was no reason to attack me. I wasn’t a threat, I couldn’t swing at them, and I was handcuffed. However, I’m still living, I’m still fighting,” said Bell.
Minneapolis Police Communications Director Lt. Gregory Reinhardt was contacted for this story. Reinhardt said he was unable to comment due to pending legal action.
According to the family, on Saturday, September 16, Minneapolis police entered Bell’s home in South Minneapolis. In the house at the time were a number of family members and friends as well as Bell’s grandchildren.
Bell explained that the police entered without knocking or ringing the doorbell, and without a warrant. “When I asked why the police came into my house, they told me to ‘Shut the f**k up,’” said Bell. He said that he reached for a cigarette lighter when police assaulted him. “They grabbed me in a ‘sleeper’ headlock, threw me up against the wall, and handcuffed me.”
Bell’s wife, Sara Collins, explained that when she protested the assault on Bell, one of the police officers called for back-up “They said this family was known to be hostile towards the police because of the killing of their son,” said Collins.
At this point, according to Bell and Collins, several more police arrived at the scene as Bell was pulled from the house, thrown to the ground, and held down by a number of police officers, while a crowd of other officers looked on. “There were about 15 squad cars, including a couple of state troopers,” said Linda Collins, one of the family members at the scene.
Bell said police forced his face down on the concrete while officers pressed their knees on his back and another officer held a nightstick to his neck.
According to Sara Collins, one of the police officers involved in the incident had testified for the City in the wrongful death trial of Walter Collins. “He had his foot on Walter’s face,” she said.
Bell said that police knocked him unconscious, put him in the back of a squad car, and sped off. He explained that they did not take him directly to the jail: “All I remember is waking up in a parking lot on Chicago and Lake and a police officer telling me from outside the window of the back seat of the cruiser, ‘You know what you did, don’t you?’ After that I passed out again and woke up in the Hennepin County Jail processing.”
Bell said that he complained to the nurse that his ribs were broken. “I could tell by how they felt. The nurse took a stethoscope, checked my breathing, and told me, ‘No you don’t.’ [She] gave me two ibuprophen and told me to go to my cell. I complained to the guards that I had to go to the hospital, but they wouldn’t let me go. I just laid down and tried not to move. I was afraid I might puncture my lungs.”
Bell was released from the county jail on his own recognizance at approximately 9:30 am, Monday, September 18, after complaining to the judge that he had to see a doctor because the police had broken his ribs. Bell said doctors at Hennepin County Medical Center, after taking an X-ray, confirmed that he had two broken ribs.
A history of harassment
This isn’t the first time the family has complained about police harassment of Bell since filing the wrongful death lawsuit. Bell said that after they filed the suit, he began receiving anonymous telephone threats saying, “Drop the case or you’re next.” Bell said he received such a call just three weeks ago. “The person said in a deep voice, ‘I told you, you’re gonna be next, you’re gonna die.’”
Bell recalls being pulled over 15 to 20 times by the police in the last three years.
According to Sara Collins, in March of last year, during preparations for the civil trial, Minneapolis police entered the family’s home under false pretences with the aim of attempting to intimidate them into dropping their lawsuit.
In a letter of protest to the City Attorney’s office, then-family attorney David Shulman said that on March 30, 2005, police harassed Collins at her home. The letter says that police “entered Ms. Collins’ home allegedly because of a call concerning loud music. This reason was false, however. No loud music was playing, and the neighbors had not made any calls to complain of loud music.
“Because this is not the first time since the filing of the above-referenced lawsuit that City of Minneapolis Police Officers have manufactured reasons to stop Ms. Collins and her husband, we believe that the City’s Police Department has been stopping and questioning Mr. and Ms. Collins for the purpose of intimidating them into dropping their lawsuit.”
That same day, said Bell, police took him down to the county jail for a bench warrant on a minor traffic violation, took him to a back room and beat him. “They told me to drop the case,” said Bell. “I didn’t think I could fight it, because they hit me so they didn’t leave any marks or bruises, and it was my word against theirs. This time they can’t hide broken ribs.”
Family speaks out
“I’m fighting for justice for my son no matter what, and now for my husband too,” said Sara Collins. “We’re a strong family, and we’re gonna keep on fighting. No police are gonna stop us just because they have a badge and a gun.”
Bell and Collins took action immediately to alert the community about the incident, contacting supporters of their fight as well as members of the Minneapolis Police Community Relations Council and the State Conference of the NAACP. The State Conference has expressed its intention to send a letter of inquiry to the mayor and investigate the incident further.
Last Thursday, Sara Collins also attended a news conference called to update the community on developments in the fight for justice for Maria Inamagua, an Ecuadorian woman who died from lack of medical treatment while in the Ramsey County jail.
Collins spoke at the news conference, expressing her family’s support for the fight for justice for Inamagua and encouraging them to maintain. “We are going to keep on fighting, and we want you to keep on fighting, too. Don’t let them scare you.”
Bell’s hearing date for the obstruction of justice charge is set for October 17.
Stephani Booker and Brock Satter contributed to this article.