St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced late Tuesday afternoon that the city will undergo an outside review of the public safety effort tied to the Republican National Convention — but its limited scope may not satisfy calls from various quarters for independent review of police misconduct.
Leading the charge is former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, who now works for Minneapolis law firm Best & Flanagan, and Andy Luger, previously an assistant U.S. attorney who is employed at Greene Espel in Minneapolis.
They’ll be putting a team together to perform the assessment and define its parameters, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. The timeline for the study and other details are yet to be nailed down, according to mayoral spokesman Bob Hume. He told Minnesota Independent that the city had always planned to “take a hard look at the events of the week,” but didn’t before know “what form it would take.”
“Today we basically said we would bring in a fresh set of eyes to work through the process of determining what went well and what lessons are to be learned,” said Hume.
Regarding the questions that members of the public have raised about security measures during the RNC, “We want to be able to answer those as best we can. Our feeling is these two [attorneys] will help us navigate that and will give an honest look at how things went,” he said.
But Heffelfinger is saying the team will not look into allegations of police misconduct, raising the question of whether St. Paul’s move will satisfy the various organizations and officials demanding independent reviews. An international human rights group, a national civil liberties organization and a smattering of local officials have issued calls — ranging in tone from livid to tepid — for investigations:
Amnesty International wants “city and county authorities to ensure that all allegations of ill-treatment and other abuses are impartially investigated, with a review of police tactics and weapons in the policing of demonstrations” — adding that it should be prompt and public.
The American Civil Liberties Union wants “an investigation into possible violations of the First and Fourth Amendments, including the arrest of reporters trying to gather the news; the mass arrest of hundreds of peaceful protestors; the surveillance and subsequent raids on several activist groups and private homes; and the confiscation by law enforcement agents of constitutionally-protected private property.”
Locally, St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune has said he wants “a public airing of what went right and what went wrong.” To that end, he’s scheduled a “community conversation” on Sept. 24, 5:30 p.m., City Council chambers, to hear from interest groups — but no open mic for public testimony. He’s also is soliciting citizen comment for St. Paul’s official police “after-assessment.”
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak wants to investigate police actions personally — “just the mayor taking a look at how the police responded to the protests,” his spokesman told MPR. The mayor is eschewing any formal review.
Minneapolis City Council Members Cam Gordon and Gary Schiff want “an independent, blue ribbon panel to conduct a thorough investigation into the events, decisions and policies surrounding security issues and the RNC, hold hearings and make recommendations for future policy changes.”
Schiff told Minnesota Independent on Monday that he envisions a joint Minneapolis-St. Paul commission approved by both city councils, with funding from both cities. In contrast to Heffelfinger’s statement that civilian review and police internal affairs panels could handle charges of police misconduct, Schiff said the cases arising from hundreds of RNC arrests would overwhelm those local boards, and that is why an independent blue-ribbon panel is needed.
Another parochial concern that may elude Heffelfinger are Minneapolis’ guidelines of recent vintage against which Minneapolis council members intended to measure police actions during the RNC, the “police policies regarding public assemblies” that the council passed in July 25. Gordon aide Robin Garwood and Schiff agreed city police appear to have violated at least one of the 29 policies regarding treatment of the press.
Might RNC policing be an issue in Minneapolis elections next year? Schiff shrugs, but Dave Bicking, who unsuccessfully challenged Schiff for the Ward 9 city council seat three years ago, says it could. Police accountability was one of the main issues on which Bicking ran in 2005 — a lit piece of his cautioned that “Expensive lawsuits should not be the only means for accountability” — and it could be again, especially now that Bicking’s daughter Monica is one of the marquee arrestees facing the stiffest penalties from the pre-RNC sweeps.