It started as an exercise in seeing how long it would take to get the dash cam video that involved a Minneapolis Police Department team accident I witnessed.
Answer: 28 months.
Under Minnesota law, police video recordings are mostly banned from the public eye. Only victims and people shown in the video have a legal right to see it. The exception is if the video was used in a prior disciplinary – and only if the officer is disciplined.
That was the result of the accident on June 28, 2019, I witnessed. Without the use of lights or sirens, the squad car ran through a stop sign in the North Loop and hit a Lexus SUV passing through the intersection. The impact spun the SUV around before eventually stopping near a sidewalk where diners were sitting at outdoor tables.
It was around 6.15pm and I, my wife and one of our daughters had left a brewery and went back to our apartment. We had just crossed 6th Avenue North and were about to cross North 4th Street as the troop passed to the left of another car stopped at the stop sign and continued through the junction where it hit the SUV, driven by Justice Niko Feldman.
That’s what the footage eventually gave me of the MPD reveal (there was no sound on the file shared by the MPD) before they showed the hood of the squad car and the steam escaped from the engine for another 25 minutes and people occasionally passed in front of the car. (This excerpt here only shows the squad’s approach to the intersection, the crash and the immediate aftermath.)
After witnessing the crash, we made sure the officers were okay, and I spoke briefly with Feldman and gave him my phone number. At that time, the officer who was in the passenger seat at the time of the accident was out of the squad and seemed to be in control, so we left. Later, Feldman and the two officers were taken to area hospitals, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.
The accident happened on a Friday. That Monday, I sent a request to MPD for documents and video below Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, the state’s open records.
Reports began to flow from the city, including the incident report and later the “case report with narratives.” It was the report that contained information about the squad car’s video and data from the Crash Data Retrieval system, which showed that the squad car was driving 22 miles per hour and that lights and sirens had not been activated at the time of the accident.
But a year later, I still did not have access to a report from an accident control committee and I was told that the MPD’s internal affairs had not yet completed its review of the incident. Still, the city closed my requests, stating that – at least at the time – there was no more information that could be passed on.
Finally, after being told by the accident victim’s lawyer that the disciplinary case against the officer who was driving the squad car was over, I renewed my request for the dash cam video. I received it on October 8, along with a document describing the discipline of the officer, signed by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
According to to the documents – which is also posted on the MPD’s website – the officer, Mohamud Jama, was not directly disciplined for what he did at Lexus. Or to endanger pedestrians and other motorists. Instead, he was disciplined for violating three departmental policies for the use of seat belts and for “normal and emergency response of vehicles.”
Jama admitted in the investigation that he had removed the seat belt before reaching the intersection, extinguishing his lights and sirens more than a block away. By suspending him for 20 hours, Arradondo wrote that he decided on the suspension after reviewing the investigation and on “Jama’s statement that he could have used lights and sirens or been more thorough when clearing the intersection.”
The Arradondo disciplinary letter does not appear to sanction Jama for the accident itself, although one of the policies on the list of violations is that an “emergency driver must exercise caution and due regard for public safety.”
While another policy allows officers to turn off their lights and sirens “if a responding officer determines the incident justifies an unannounced approach”, it further states that if these lights and sirens are off, “the officer must sound the siren or show at least a department authorized a red light in front if it exceeds the speed limit or passes a red or stop signal or stop sign. ”
Jama told investigators he turned off emergency lights and sirens because he had been called to an “assistant fire / jumper call” three blocks away from the crash site. He said he did not want to “alert or distract the potential” jumper “, according to the disciplinary report, however, the Dash video shows that other emergency vehicles were already on the scene and the emergency lights on those vehicles were on.
A year ago, Jama was charged with and pleaded not guilty to failing to stop at stop signs. He paid a $ 178 fine for what is classified as a minor offense.
But the city of Minneapolis is contesting a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Feldman, the driver hit by Jama. According to Feldman’s lawyer, the city denies that Jama acted negligently or was responsible for Feldman’s injuries or damage to his car.
State law for police body-worn camera video was intended to protect victims and witnesses who may be recorded in their homes or other locations where privacy is expected. There was no exception in the statute for video recorded in outdoor public spaces where there is no expectation of privacy and where other video systems operate outside the camera camera statute.
That state law passed in 2016, and signed by the then Gov. Mark Dayton agreed to object to civil liberties and police watchdog groups. That classifies most police videos as non-public. The exceptions include footage showing the release of a firearm (except during training and in cases where an animal is being shot); use of force that causes significant bodily harm; or if the video is placed in a staff application for an officer. Some in the legislation at the time also wanted recordings recorded in public places to be public, but the final version of the law made no such difference.
ONE different state law publishes “the final disposition of any disciplinary action together with the specific reasons for the action and data documenting the basis of action, except data that would identify confidential sources employed by the public body.”
This is the path through which my request for the video was fulfilled.
There is another way police video to be published: If the subjects in the data (ie the persons recorded in the recordings), including police officers, request to have the information made public, even though law enforcement then has to edit the identities of “non-consenting data subjects” and undercover officers.
But while Feldman’s lawyer, Brian Stofferahn, has received the video – along with other documents related to the crash – he also accepted a confidentiality agreement to expedite the release. This agreement also prevents him from describing what is in the documents.
Because the city denies guilt, the case must first establish that Jama was at fault and that the city is liable for damages, Stofferahn said. Only then can he try to win injuries.
“I think I can clearly prove that it was Jama’s fault that he was negligent in causing this accident and that the policies and procedures in the city of Minneapolis were not followed by him and his partner,” Stofferahn said.
It said a spokesman for the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office will not comment on the trial at this time.
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