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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Defunct Twin Cities gang unit long in disarray

34 Comments:

Anonymous Pioneer Press said...

Lawsuits claim problems at Metro Gang Strike Force were ignored for years
By David Hanners
dhanners@pioneerpress.com
Updated: 12/03/2010 11:28:10 PM CST


As far back as 2002, Minneapolis police officials worried that Metro Gang Strike Force officers were mishandling evidence yet did nothing to address the problems.

Depositions and documents in a newly settled lawsuit involving the anti-gang unit show that department officials up to Police Chief Timothy Dolan were told that unit members were, in the words of one officer, "committing perjury" and that "violations of due process (are) going on every day" in the elite force.

Police Sgt. Kelly O'Rourke, who had served on the strike force, filed a "whistleblower" civil lawsuit against the unit and city in August 2009. The city recently settled with him.

In depositions for that suit, he testified he told a string of superiors, including Dolan, about serious problems.

"This place is a mess. Their civil procedure is terrible. They have — the cops are going to be committing perjury as soon as they get on the stand and testify to the chain of custody," he said of one conversation he had with a superior who is now a precinct commander.

Those problems, left unchecked, led to the unit's downfall in scandal. Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion disbanded the Metro Gang Strike Force last year, citing improprieties that included abuses of suspects' rights and improper seizure of evidence.

The wrongdoing was documented in reports by the Legislative Auditor's Office and a special panel appointed by Campion. One of the two authors of the review panel's report, retired federal prosecutor Andrew Luger, called some officers' conduct "criminal."
Despite that claim, it is doubtful any former member of the unit will be held to account. In September, Hennepin County Attorney Mike

Freeman said a special criminal inquiry concluded there wasn't enough evidence to bring charges against anyone.

Federal prosecutors investigated the unit but charged only one person, a former Minneapolis police officer accused of violating a teen's civil rights by kicking him. A jury acquitted the officer.

UNGUARDED 'MESS'

While criminal investigations have yielded little, civil suits have fared better.

Several suits were filed by people who claimed strike force members illegally seized their property, and O'Rourke filed his whistleblower claim. The officer said his superiors harassed him and retaliated against him because he complained about improprieties in the unit.

He also claimed the department tried to cover up the wrongdoing and withheld knowledge of the mishandling of evidence by other members of the force. The city denied the claims.

In a deposition he gave in August, O'Rourke testified that soon after he joined the gang unit in 2005, he became alarmed by the misconduct and complained to his superiors, particularly Lt. James Heimerl, who commanded the Minneapolis contingent on the strike force.

He said his main concern was the handling of evidence at the unit's headquarters in New Brighton. O'Rourke said he warned Heimerl that the unit's evidence room — a garage — was an unguarded "mess" and could easily lead to an officer perjuring himself on the witness stand.

5:21 AM  
Anonymous story continued said...

An attorney for the city asked O'Rourke why he was worried about members committing perjury.

"Well, it was very simple," he replied. "If you have 20 people walking by a piece of evidence on a daily basis, times however long it takes for that case to get into prosecution, when you step up on the stand and you testify that your chain of custody was never messed with or was not manipulated in any manner, it's a complete lie."

He said he complained to Heimerl about the problems weekly for a year, but nothing was resolved.

"Having conversations with him was really interesting," O'Rourke testified of his lieutenant. "You'd walk into his office, you would lay out all this stuff that was as a matter of fact, you know, procedure, you know, this is an issue. And then he'd start talking about his Wild tickets or, you know, his granddaughter or his sore hip, you know. It was, by far, the most frustrating thing I've ever dealt with in my career."

'A DISASTER'

Heimerl acknowledged in a July deposition that serious problems existed in the handling of evidence. He said he noticed them almost from his first day in the strike force in December 2006. He said he complained to Dolan.

"I thought the place was a disaster when I first walked in, and I remember asking (Minneapolis police) Lt. Andy Smith as he showed me around, and I might have used a couple of obscene words in describing all of the stuff that was sitting out like it was hard to believe," he testified.

"There was no place to put it when it was taken in, and there was no reasonable way to dispose of it once it was taken in," he said of the unit's evidence. "So it just grew and grew and grew. And there were things there from the opening years back around 2000 that were still sitting there."

He said he complained to Dolan and the strike force's board, made up of police officials from member agencies. Heimerl also said he complained to Ron Ryan Sr., who headed the strike force and its predecessor for 11 years.

Heimerl said Ryan wasn't happy with the evidence issues but did nothing.

Heimerl said Dolan offered to help strike force leaders straighten out the evidence problems in 2009, but the offers were rejected.

Ryan retired from the Ramsey County sheriff's office in 2008 and declined comment Friday, saying his attorney had advised him "to stay out of the whole deal."

EVIDENCE ISSUES

It appears from at least one internal Minneapolis police document that department officials were concerned about how the gang unit operated as far back as 2002 — especially about the way it handled evidence seized from suspects.

5:22 AM  
Anonymous Bill Dahn said...

Fletcher and Ryan removed means nothing when the corruption is in the ranks also.
My name is Bill Dahn, I would like to know?
What ever happen to Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy Lori Kratzke
Former deputy sentenced in theft
Woman receives probation, must repay $211,000
Posted on Wed, Sep. 06, 2006
BY DAVID HANNERS
Pioneer Press
Mr. Dahn--
Thanks for your message. I checked our archives and we haven't had any articles on Ramsey County Deputy Lori Kratzke since shortly after her sentencing, when she was sent to the workhouse because she went to the casino right after she was sentenced the first time.
The short answer to your question is I don't know how much (if any) of the restitution she's paid. In checking the state's court system website, it appears that she ran afoul of the law again in Washington County after the theft-by-swindle case. In October 2007, she was charged with two counts of DWI and a single count each of obstruction of legal process and fifth-degree assault. The result of the case was that in April 2008, she pleaded guilty to a single count of DWI (the other charges were dropped) and was sentenced to a year in jail, but only had to serve 30 days of that and she was placed on 3 years' probation.
The file shows that her sentence in the theft-by-swindle case was amended in August 2008 because of a probation violation. I can't tell from the record if it involved the DWI case or was something else. She was ordered to serve 210 days in jail, but was given credit for 18 days she'd already served in jail. She was still on 20 years' probation, and she was ordered to get a chemical dependency evaluation, get a Gamblers Anonymous sponsor within 30 days of her release and she also had to undergo domestic abuse counseling.
That's all I know. Hope it helps
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXX
Thank You from Bill Dahn
The problem is the whole Government is Dirty

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

City Government has been in disarray ever since it introduced corruption into it.
Take away the immunity that the legislature gave these crooks and we will see a different kind of Government.
We must change the laws of immunity and create harsher penaltys against city officials who engage in corrupt and evasive behavior. Until that happens the tax payors and citizens will pay the price for a long standing era of corruption and lawbreaking.
To bad, the people we want to trust the most to protect us from crime are the ones commiting the crimes.




Jeff Matiatos

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what Wikileaks has on St.Paul ?

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the immunity is from the feds. There is getting to be more and more abuse of the government immunity.

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you guys even understood the basics of government....

First the gang task force was under the Ramsey Co sheriff when it fell apart not the City.

And second, government immunity only means you can't sue the government or a government employee who is doing their job.

So, you can't sue the cop if he is in a high speed chase and hits your car or drives you off of the road.

You can't sue the city council member who comes up with a no smoking policy and you sell cigarettes.

They both are doing what is their job to do or in effect being the government.

But, that does not make anyone immune from criminal charges if you find them breaking the law.

But, you need evidence of the law being broken. Not just accusations.

JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WRONG WRONG WRONG Chuck.

Governmental Immunity,
( there are different forms of immunity ) is the perfect incentive for corruption in Government.

They know it exists so it acts as a counter deterrent for those in government to want to step all over you.

Immunity can be lost by the way Chuck but Judicial Immunity is perhalps the most bullet proof kind out there with the exception of perhalps congressional and diplomatic immunity given to heads of states of other nations.

Your buddys in DSI have no immunity here Chuck and isn't that just too bad :) !!!!





Jeff Matiatos

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've stood by friends who have sued the government here in St Paul in the very recent past. The Fire Department for discrimination and the city itself for discriminatory contracting and procurement practices which was settled about three years ago.

So yes, it can happen and you can win. You just need proof.

Eric

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Government Immunity or Sovereign Immunity is a thousand years old. It comes from the notion that the King was always right.

The point of Governmental Immunity is to say you can't sue the government for being the government. Jeff that is all that it is. It is to stop the nut cases that would personally sue the actions of all public employees for doing their jobs and from suing elected officials from taking actions they don't like.

Without it, if the City awards a contract to someone to build something, you could sue them because they didn't give the contract to you... that would be insane. But, if you had EVIDENCE (not just crazy rumors) that there was a bribe associated with the awarding of the contract, the government official who took the bribe and all those aware of it would be criminally liable. BUT, those who were clueless to the bribe, wouldn't be liable for voting for that contract or for administering that contract.

There is no immunity from criminal acts. But, you do need facts, evidence, not just accusations.

Like I said, a good example is when the government says you must where seat belts. It forces car makers to put them in cars or you can't sell them. They can whine that it isn't fair, but they can't sue the government for doing it. And, if that made someone go broke, its just tough...

The City pays law suits all of the time... look at the consent calander of the Council. They pay for people tripping on broken sidewalks... tons of stuff.

JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I consulted an attorney about holding state employees accountable. He said that with their immunity, the burden of proof is much higher, and it takes big federal lawsuits to overcome it, which most people cannot afford.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I said once before that attorneys are reluctant to take tort lawsuits against cities, counties, and the state. Reason ? They can be very costly and when you throw in the immunity that is almost always plead, the attorney had better have found an exception to the immunity clause and there had better be some gainful damages to make it even worthwhile.

I personally have beat the state at the district court level on the immunity issue but was overturned in the court of appeals.

I feel still to this day that I was right but in my early days of litigating I failed to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Anyhow, It's not impossible to break down immunity because for most local Governments the immunity is not absolute..

For instance, ministerial duties will not protect state and local Government employees and official immunity will not be afforded if that employees conduct were done with malice.

In the case of the gang task force, there was a settlement on the table that agreed to pay out and avoid all the embarassment due to the facts that have shown that the actions of various cities police officers in the task force acted outside the law and a trial would only have exposed many other dirty deeds.

I read the settlement that was presented to the Federal Court judge and it sounds complicated to the victims and half baked.

The settlement is the tasks forces bailout and the taxpayors are paying it.






Jeff Matiatos

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:09 - it depends on what you mean by "accountable." Just because you don't like what someone in government did doesn't mean it is against the law.

You have to define what law is being broken and who did it.

And, a lot of the landlord lawsuit is over the issue that the government didn't do to everyone what it did to them, and therefore the government must be picking on them.

That is always a loser. I am suing you for doing what the law tells you to do because you didn't do it to everyone else...

JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck, The landlords very clearly set out a claim for which there will be no immunity.

I am not surprised your understanding in this area of law and in general is so limited .

It's easy for you to understand how the city might payoff a fall on the sidewalk claim but anything bigger than that your pretty much clueless.




Jeff Matiatos

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Jeff an attorney here in Minnesota?
Why isn't he representing the landlords? I'm sure he wouldn't have dragged this on for years.

Jeff, what firm do you work at or what's your business contact? I have a couple of potential cases that we can use some legal representation. I'm sure that at least one of them will be worth your time, unless your billing hours are outrageous.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like how Chuck does damage control with the task force by saying it " fell apart ".

Chuck, it was an intentially corrupt way of running an agency.

Not all in the task force were in on it but alot of them were.

I have a relative that is part of the task force and a relative that was a long time veteran in the St.Paul Police department's homicide unit but I assure you that both of these men were on the up and up.

What is essential in sueing a Government entity for a tort is a very well examined pre-case filing review by a qualified attorney to examine the facts of a case and to determine whether or not the enitial facts and evidence justify filing the action and most importantly, whether or not an immunity exception will apply.

Some attorneys will take cases simply to get a fee for case exploration and simply tell the client after about 10-15K spent, that immunity applys here and for the client to head on down the road.

To prevail in getting a pre-trial settlement, the attorney for plaintiff must present the Government entity with a complete briefing of the claims, the damages, the proof, and how any presumed claims of immunity will not apply.

I appreciate your comment 11:29.



Jeff Matiatos

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff

I doubt that anyone starts out an agency with the intent of it being corrupt... even Sheriff Bob.

The problem in the Twin Cities gang unit was that it didn't have enough administrative staff (or support) to properly handle the financial issues and to manage a chain of evidence of property removed.

Believe it or not... you actually need people to document what they do and clerical type people are better at it than cops. (They had like one FTE clerical.)

And then, since it ultimately was an agency without a government authority with permanent control, they made stupid decisions because there wasn't anyone to kick the decision up to.

On some of this disposal of property, you can see that some of these decisions that were pretty dumb they did because they didn't know what else to do and it made sense at the time.

Remember, they aren't Ramsey county and the aren't Saint Paul and they aren't Hen county and they aren't Mpls. So, they have gotten a couple of cars that they have legally (judge OK'ed) acquired in drug busts and they now belong to the unit. What do you do with them? (After you pay off the impound lot the fees for sitting there.) There is no "procedural manual" because you just started a unit. You are making the rules as you go.

Sell them to help finance the unit? To who for how much? How? Auction? Direct sale? How much do you spend to get it sold (advertise auction house)? Have one of the cities or counties do it for you? How much will that come out of your monies?

So, on many of these kinds of decisions, they decided to do things internally. Use the cars as "undercover cars" allow the cars to be used by staff "save on mileage costs." Sell them to the first person that will pay blue book... Whatever, but because all of the decisions were made inside, without anyone developing official policies and procedures that were approved by someone on high, they all start to sound bad.

Add to that a couple of big issues in dealing with bad arrests and the entire thing looks even worse than it was.

JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck, but something about shredding documents by Task Force employees doesn't reek of corruption or a cover up ? How is this a simple case of not having enough resources or the wherewithal to run the Task Force ?

Something very suspicious and fishy looking to me.





Jeff Matiatos

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff,

You may very well be right. All I am saying is that with this unit, you may have had no one in the building who had any idea about what were the rules of holding on to information.

So, case is closed what do I do with the file? No place to store old files here, maybe I should shred the file... sounded like a good idea, who do you check with? They aren't working for any one area of government so, which attorney do you call? Not the City attorney, not their unit, not the county attorney, not their unit.

So, who do you ask?

I mean at a certain point its kind of your on your own becomes the attitude.

JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WoW, the task force settles for millions of dollars and for what ?

Google" twin cities forum.com gang strike force suit " and get the facts Chuck.

Case closed.



Jeff Matiatos

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff Matiatos 11:11 AM

Nice comment Jeff .

I wonder what Wikileaks has on St.Paul ?
12:24 PM

Thank to who put up about Wikileaks has on St.Paul ?

Thanks good too

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck,
You are the man with the plan 99% of the time on here, however, I have to disagree with you on this.

This was a doomed unit from the beginning for several reason. First and foremost having Bob Fletcher as the fiscal agent.

As Sheriff, he made the rules up as he went along. He never stayed within his budget and when the county board limited his budget, he went to the state legislature for more money. His style of management was borderline corrupt and he has been sued at least three times for his practices. His record of promoting those close to him instead of those who are competent, and his leniency toward his close circle of deputies have led to several fines and a couple of them in federal prison. Even the clerk at the lock up was a relative of Bob's. His management style begs for trouble.

The other problem are some of the cops themselves. According to more than a few in police leadership, management is less likely to give up their best investigators for a task force that they have no control (therefore no credit) over. They're going to keep their best cops and givaway the ones that can 'use some experience' or the ones who 'need a different fit'. So basically you have this unit of 35 cops with about 25 of them being the rejects from other area departments.

That combination of management and personnel led to the air of being untouchable and able to do what they pleased. Constitution be damned. It also led to the three investigations behind the unit and suits. Chuck, they weren't using those cars for undercover work, they were using them for personal use. I don't understand how a cop's wife driving around in a confiscated Mercedes out in their Edina burb is contributing to the undercover work. Or, the furniture, watches, jewelry, jet ski, televisions and 14 missing cars that were all found being used as personal items and even sold to other citizens or given away as gifts.

It also led them to believe that shredding documents in the middle of the night and locking out the strike force chair was less of a risk than letting the investigators find that information. That's what drug dealers do to their books before a raid. Its called getting rid of the evidence. Heads still need to roll for that.

This unit was doomed from the beginning.

Eric

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck , I think Eric is suggesting you follow up on his post .

Fact is, you can't spin this one because you seem to be the only one who ignores the facts of how this all went down and that Sheriffs deputys went to jail over this.

How could it be the way you say it is Chuck ? It's you that doesn't no diddly squat not me.






Jeff Matiatos

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man with the plan 99% of the time ? Your kidding me Eric. LoL
Guess thats not saying much for you now is it.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point was that it was destined to fail because there was little or no administrative support.

Jeff's argument was that it was intentionally currupt.

What I was trying to show was how without policy, procedures and administrative support its pretty easy to see how this place fell apart.

JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck, I don't believe that the Task Force started out as corrupt but some officers fell out of line and the money and confiscations became tempting.

When officers of the law get into trouble and it seems like the whole program starts looking like a RICO case, someone tries to cover it up and sugar coat it.

Thats what happened here and it didn't work. The court settlement was not enough in my opinion.



Jeff Matiatos

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Chuck wants to believe that the Task Force unraveled because someone didn't know how to manage paper work.

Thats not what happened Chuck and you know it.

Stop playing dumb.



Jeff Matiatos

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point was that it was destined to fail because there was little or no administrative support.
Jeff's argument was that it was intentionally currupt.


I'm taking a slightly different angle than Chuck. I believe that because of the administration and structure it was destined to fail. A different fiscal agent and leadership would have made a big difference.

Fletcher had the reverse Midas touch in that everything he was involved with turned to sh!+ since his last campaign. Finney may have lost but he turned a spotlight on to Bob Fletcher that turned on the press and average voter to him and his activity.


Eric

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The strike force is a good idea if there is actual information sharing and its helpful to combating gang activity.

So, I don't agree with Jeff that it was intentionally corrupt. It wouldn't make any sense.

Eric

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff these were your words...

I like how Chuck does damage control with the task force by saying it " fell apart ".

Chuck, it was an intentionally corrupt way of running an agency.

-snip-

I just tried to show that without adequate administrative support it was destined to fail. I don't disagree with Eric that having Sheriff Bob as the fiscal agent was a part of the issue because he took a very hands off role as the fiscal agent. As fiscal agent, he is only required to account for the monies that come directly from the government as a grant and spent on the program. ...and that appears that was the only oversight he took responsibility for.

I am not trying to protect Bob, only trying to show that there is a structural problem when you throw a bunch of people together with limited management experience into a situation with no oversight or pre-approved policies and procedures for the control of property.

Again, this agency doesn't own an impound lot and if it sends a car to the impound lot it has to pay for it out of its budget. (Which means less money to do other things with...) When it gets a car given to the agency from a drug charge, it doesn't own a parking ramp to leave it in that it doesn't have to pay for the parking space... So, at what point does someone in the office OK "Sgt Jones" taking the car home tonight? ...and if that is OK'ed, for the weekend.. for the week.

And, once we get there, why pay someone to auction the car off when Sgt Jones will pay blue book for it?

And, since we don't have enough cash assigned to the account to make drug buys for stings, what's wrong with using the money we got in last night on a bust for the buy tonight? ....we will put it right back...

I am not OK'ing the behavior, I am only saying that it is more likely to happen when you have an agency that has no direct oversight and no administrative support.

JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck,

You said, "First the gang task force was under the Ramsey Co sheriff when it fell apart not the City."

Not true and you know it.

The Metro Gang Task Force was under many different departments. Minneapolis, West St. Paul, St. Paul and others. These chiefs of police say on the governing board. Harrington and Dolan were major players on this board along with Stanek and Fletcher.

Your hate towards Fletcher is evident, you got your facts WRONG buddy. Hows that drinking issue Chuck? Interesting record you have Chucky.

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JMONTOMEPPOF
Chuck Repke 9:18 AM
facts are that Ford had seat belts in their 1965 and 1966 Ford wagons and that was before there had seat belt law.

But these people want the revenue that tickets bring in on the seat belt law.

Seat Belts only same your life when some driver cuts across four lanes without a turn signal or driving in rain or show without head lights, tail lights on is the law.

St Paul is the parking ticket in America.

Just Have your weird mayor enforce all laws or none,

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:56 - sober since 2/13/99, the second DWI was enough to cure me.

Thanks for the reminder of why I quit.

Anytime you think about doing the same you can call me, I'll sponsor you.

And, it guys like you that cost Bob his job...
JMONTOMEPPOF

Chuck Repke

1:22 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Come on! It's sad but true, I personally don't know anyone who drinks who hasn't driven intoxicated at some point in their life.

When I was 24 I drove from Hudson to Delano tanked after drinking shots of tequila and chasing it with beer. I had a 78 Ford f250 with a 460 that had a broken exhaust manifold. That damn truck sounded like thunder coming down the road in the early morning hours. I drove right by to Maple Plains cops and was damn lucky I didn't get pulled over.

7:02 PM  

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