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City of Minneapolis should not be bullying watchdog group

The city’s response is a clear smokescreen for what should be required transparency on the issue of police discipline.

Minneapolis City Attorney Kristyn Anderson
Minneapolis City Attorney Kristyn Anderson
MinnPost photo by Mohamed Ibrahim

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

The city of Minneapolis has doubled down in its effort to hide its failure to discipline rogue police officers by bullying a good government group that is suing on behalf of the public’s right to know.

The city and its attorney Kristyn Anderson recently requested Social Security numbers, addresses, education level and marital status of board members and volunteers of the group as part of its “discovery” process in defending a lawsuit by the Minnesota Coalition of Government Information. The request is far outside legal norms and practices and amounts to bullying citizens who are seeking the truth.

MNCOGI had requested information on officers who were “coached” after alleged misconduct instead of disciplined. Personnel information on officers is not public unless they are “disciplined,” according to state law. The city was getting around this requirement by instead saying officers were not disciplined but were “coached” to improve their performance. Critics have argued this stealth policy provided cover for a much higher rate of disciplinary action against Minneapolis officers than what was publicly disclosed.

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The city pulled back its request for the personal information of plaintiffs and their board members and volunteers after a backlash, but Anderson defended the actions saying they were typical for a discovery process. We see no reason a person’s Social Security number, education or marital status has any kind of relevance to this case.

MNCOGI’s attorney Leita Walker told MinnPost it was “extremely atypical” for lawyers in cases like this to demand the Social Security numbers of opponents. Walker said “the vast majority of what they’re asking for has nothing to do with the issues in this litigation.”

While she said she couldn’t judge the city’s motives, she said the action felt wrong. “It feels intimidating, and it feels as if people are now on notice that if they ask the city for data, the city will come back at them with really invasive questions,” she told MinnPost.

While the city pulled back its requests for personal information on group members, it asked for any communications, including emails and social media posts the group has had regarding the police discipline issue. It also asked the group to divulge its sources, possible whistleblowers, whether they be at City Hall or part of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission.

While MNCOGI is not a news organization, it includes some current and former journalists as its members. Minnesota law does not require journalists to reveal their confidential sources unless there is a separate hearing and those seeking confidential sources must meet legal standards to obtain them.

But the city’s request for confidential sources still seems untoward. The city’s on the wrong side of justice and good government in this case. It’s hiding information the public has a right to know.

Minneapolis should disclose the information on those officers who were “coached” instead of disciplined. Its lawsuit response is a clear smokescreen for what should be required transparency on the issue of police discipline. Doubling down by bullying the messenger and continuing a suit that seems more about intimidation than legitimate litigation is an approach that does not serve the public.