Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Series of police stories raise questions about use of force

How much expertise does the FBI have in use of force? My experience tells me very little.” This comment comes from Lt. Mike Sauro in an email concerning the six officers currently under investigation by the FBI for excessive use of force in the arrest of Derryl Jenkins last February, according to WCCO. (The entire email can be read here) Besides defending the officers as having exhibited a “controlled use of force,” Sauro explained what he would have done in the same circumstance: “strike the suspect with hands, feet and baton.”

Does the name Mike Sauro ring a bell? Back in 1991, Sauro was at the center of a misconduct case that cost the city somewhere in the area of $1 million, as summarized on the Shielded from Justice website: “After midnight on January 1, 1991, Lt. Mike Sauro was working off duty in uniform, at a club for a New Year’s Eve party, when he arrested and handcuffed Craig Mische, then a twenty-one-year-old student at the College of St. Thomas, during a rowdy event. Mische claims he was kicked and beaten by Sauro in the club’s kitchen while his hands were cuffed behind his back.”

A surprisingly sympathetic profile of Sauro from the Pioneer Press, published in 1996 and archived here, summarizes his approach to the use of force, at least back then, in plainer language than the email offers: “He will describe his approach in handling a potentially difficult suspect as ‘a Skinnerian thing” (as in B.F. Skinner, behavioral psychologist) but then allow as how sometimes, though, ‘Boom! It’s fist city.’ ” From the sound of things, his views haven’t changed very much in the ensuing 13 years; Deputy Chief Janee Harteau is quoted in the WCCO story as offering a somewhat understated response: “There certainly are components and his personal view were in the e-mail that are certainly not consistent with views of the MPD.”

According to the Associated Press, the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Department was the site of picketing Sunday: About 50 people were looking for answers as to why 24-year-old Tyler Heilman was shot to death two months ago by a plainclothes sheriff’s deputy, Todd Waldron. Heilman was returning from a day of swimming and was reportedly wearing only swim trunks. If the AP story seems to raise more questions than it answers, well, that’s true of the case as well: Nobody really seems to know what happened. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has investigated but has yet to release the results of their investigation, according to Dan Nienaber of the Anoka Free Press, who also offers this quote from Heilman’s mother: “How do you shoot someone in a pair of swimming trunks? My son had four holes in him.”

Here is an eyewitness account of the event from Nienaber’s story: “Waldron asked for a driver’s license, Heilman told him, ‘no,’ and a wrestling match started, Hoehn said. Heilman didn’t know he was fighting a deputy until he saw a badge on Waldron’s belt. When Heilman backed off and put his hands in the air, Waldron pulled his gun and shot.”

It’s been a long time since Oct. 8, 2005, when Sandra Brown was handcuffed, shot with a taser and left barefoot in a jail cell for three hours or thereabouts, but the city of Golden Valley settled her civil rights and excessive force case on Monday, agreeing to pay out $200,000. Rochelle Olson of the Star Tribune reports that in settling the case, Golden Valley is admitting to no wrongdoing but also offers this quote from Brown’s lawyer: “$200,000 sounds like an admission of misconduct to me. Most police brutality cases are settled for a nuisance value of $2,500.”

FOX9 also has its own excessive-force story, available in video form on their site. The video originates from June 9, when a FOX9 reporter and photographer were invited to observe the Minneapolis mounted police patrol’s attempts to deal with rowdy weekend crowds in downtown Minneapolis. The FOX9 crew caught on film the arrest of one Bobby Smith, who was tased for resisting arrest, and the footage then shows an officer running over to the incapacitated man, kicking him from behind and striking his head repeatedly. FOX9 requested that a representative from the police department’s Professional Standards Bureau review the footage. “There are portions of that use of force that do cause us some concern,” the representative says.

Jeremy Olson of the Pioneer Press profiles Igor Vovkovinskiy, who attracted some attention at Obama’s heath care rally at the Target Center when he wore a T-shirt reading “World’s biggest Obama fan.” Actually, it wasn’t the T-shirt, it was Vovkovinskiy: 7 feet 8 inches. The story details the causes of Vovkovinskiy’s enormous stature, which are medical. According to Olson: “Vovkovinskiy said he wouldn’t be alive without the initial medical care the Mayo Clinic provided at no charge and the continued medical care funded by the federal Medicare program for the elderly and disabled.”

We should institute every means possible to ensure taxpayer dollars are not being used to subsidize this criminally structured organization.” That’s Michele Bachmann, of course, referring to ACORN, of course, in a letter to Barack Obama, according to Jack Sherman of Politico. the organization, in the meanwhile, will be the subject of a limited investigation by the Department of Justice, according to CNN. Hopefully such an investigation will be able to uncover the truth behind Bachmann’s past charges against ACORN, such as the organization having potentially had access to $8.5 billion in federal money or that ACORN was to be in charge of going door to door to collect data for the census. It will be nice to finally get some closure on those charges.

Starting Oct. 1, Minnesota will offer “Gold Star plates” — license plates that commemorate soldiers who were killed in action. Bob von Sternberg of the Star Tribune gives a little more information about the history of these license plates — they date to World War I, when families of the fallen would hang gold stars in their windows, and 40 states have already issued the commemorative license plates.

Twin outfielder Denard Span took a fastball to the head in Monday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, giving him a mild concussion. “”He took a pretty good whack,” the Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal III quotes manager Ron Gardenhire as saying. “A little dizzy. He said he’s a little light-headed right now.” In the meanwhile, if you were worried about the bandage on Brett Favre’s hand this weekend, fear not. He simply bent a fingernail back.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by John Reinan on 09/22/2009 - 10:23 am.

    I’m concerned with the increasing use of tasers in non-life-threatening situations. It’s part of the increasing militarization of local police.

    Tasers were originally promoted as an alternative to deadly force: in other words, they gave police an option for incapacitating a dangerous person without firing a gun.

    Now we commonly see them being used to subdue people for simply being unruly, uncooperative or verbally abusive. These are not situations where, lacking the taser, police would fire a gun.

    Do we want a society where police are free to shoot high-voltage charges through us simply because we’re talking back to them, or refuse to follow orders?

    I respect police and have never been stopped for anything other than a speeding ticket. If I were to be detained by a police officer, I hope I’d act respectfully.

    But the First Amendment protects our right to free speech. That includes being a smart-ass to a police officer — who is, after all, a representative of the government.

    The government, in the form of police officers, should not be allowed to shoot us full of electricity because it doesn’t like what we’re saying.

    The Web is full of videos of people being tased for garden-variety disorderliness. Nothing life-threatening. One video shows a man at a major league baseball game being tased because he was loudly disturbing people around him. When police arrived, they talked to him for about 30 seconds, then tased him twice. He fell out of his seat and headfirst down a flight of concrete steps.

    There were at least four cops on the scene. This middle-aged man in a T-shirt made no overtly threatening moves, other than thrashing with his arms when officers approached him. Why couldn’t they have simply hauled him off instead of tasing him?

    Watch it here:

    These instances are becoming commonplace.

    Garden-variety disorderly conduct is not grounds for Taser use. If police are tasing people for being drunk at a baseball game, then we do live in a police state.

  2. Submitted by Burton'Jon Blackwell on 09/22/2009 - 10:58 am.

    Journalist’s and Reader’s!…
    Myself, Janet Reno, and Lt. Sauro, all agree that the stick and carrot’s work best when it comes to maintaining productive lawfull behavior. B. F. Skinner advocates positive re-enforcement only, and we see that reward only, works best when it comes to pigeons…but not human behavior. Certain child behavior warrants a spanking and certain adult public misconduct the same. It’s clear that our 4th precinct officer’s are not rewarding misconduct and criminality. In fact, they are effectively administering negative re-enforcement to hard assed law-breakers. Us Northside resident’s are at war with those engaged in hard-core illegal activities. We have marched in out streets demanding that our police keep this criminality beaten down. If our law-enforcement officers can’t beat them into their appropriate place in a lawful society…then we’ll be the one’s getting beaten down in our own neighborhoods by the lawless. I commend these officer’s, as well as, Lt. Sauro for the way they’re getting our “zero tolerance” message across to the general public. I also ask that our local network’s keep covering our great men in blue when they administer negative re-enforcemnt to incorrigibles on out streets…this helps make our streets safer for those of us that live here. They’re doing an outstanding job of suppressing common crime in our neighborhoods. Inkpahduhtah

  3. Submitted by Robert Owen on 09/22/2009 - 11:06 am.

    John, I won’t argue whether the use of the Taser is good or bad. In fact I’ll just agree that it may have been used questionably at times.

    But know that a Taser is not an alternative to deadly force. It is an alternative to lower levels of force such as hitting, striking with a baton or using chemical spray. Its primary use is in non-life-threatening situations.

    A police officer facing deadly force (e.g., a person wielding a gun) would be totally wrong to use a Taser. In a deadly force situation a police officer would apply deadly force (use a gun).

    The idea of a Taser is that is incapacitates someone briefly. If given the choice between being struck with a baton and living with injuries, sprayed with chemical and crying for an hour afterward or suffering an excruciating pain for three to five seconds with no lasting effects the Taser isn’t necessarily a bad thing for both the officer and the offender.

  4. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 09/22/2009 - 11:19 am.

    Max, you really didn’t need to plug Michele Bachmann’s letter to Obama about ACORN again. Your colleague and Bachmann spokesperson Joe Kimball was thoughtful enough to run her letter in its entirety disguised as a MinnPost news story yesterday.

  5. Submitted by Scott Dier on 09/22/2009 - 12:41 pm.

    Robert: except cops aren’t doctors and a Taser has the ability to kill those with conditions that preclude their use. Those 3-5 seconds could be the ones that stop a heart.

  6. Submitted by Mike Wyatt on 09/22/2009 - 01:47 pm.

    The escalation of force is concerning at best, and an example of our quickly-fading rights at worst. Take for example the practice of forcibly drawing blood roadside in states like TX and ID in suspected DUI cases. The feds are looking to expand this practice to all 50 states. Its hard to imagine a scenario by which police would be justified in holding a person down and taking their blood on the hood of their squads. Are we scared yet?

    To our friend from the north side above:
    Did you NOT see the abuses of the Metro Gang Task Force play out this summer? A “zero tolerance” mentality lead to people who were guilty of nothing but being poor and of the wrong race to have their rights completely violated, property seized, and no charges being pressed. Is this brand of thuggery any more palatable simply because the criminals wore badges?

    People too often are taking a “not my neighborhood, not my problem” attitude toward these police beatings, abuses of power, and downright criminal behavior by police. These encounters cannot be contained to just the “ghetto” forever. It’s everyone’s concern that their rights are upheld, police enforce the laws they are tasked with enforcing by proper, ethical means, and that law enforcement should not shape public policy to benefit their own budgets and “morality.”

  7. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 09/22/2009 - 02:04 pm.

    Jeezus, look up “Thumper” in the dictionary and there’s a picture of Mike Sauro. Sauro commenting on police brutality?…why not ask Kanye West about manners?

  8. Submitted by John Reinan on 09/22/2009 - 03:08 pm.

    The sheriff in San Diego recently had sonic cannons at a town hall meeting.

    Link here:

    These devices have “the ability to emit a deafening tone aimed at incapacitating and dispersing a crowd without use of lethal force.”

    Our military uses them to control insurgents in Iraq.

    Why do county sheriffs have military-grade crowd control weapons? Has a crowd at a political rally in San Diego ever given any reason to think that such methods are necessary?

    It’s overkill.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/22/2009 - 03:38 pm.

    Now that Rep. Bachmann’s business with Van Jones is complete, and ACORN’s removal is well under way, I have contacted her office to encourage her to use her growing national stature as the people’s whistle-blower to focus attention on the Democrat plan to increase the scope of the Community Reinvestment Act.

    The misuse of the CRA by leftists, as all thoughtful people know, played an important role in the collapse of the mortgage banking industry and the subsequent economic disaster the American economy at large.

    For Rep. Ellison to consider anything but the sun setting of that ill considered piece of legislation is beyond all measure of prudence, if not sanity.

    Thank God we have Rep. Bachmann out there watching out for our best interests. Her success has moved her prominently into the ranks of the best leadership this country has ever produced.

  10. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/22/2009 - 05:25 pm.

    Thomas, if your name were not at the top of your comment on Michele Bachmann, I’d have thought it was a great piece of satire.

  11. Submitted by Richard Parker on 09/22/2009 - 06:26 pm.

    Great post, Tom! Your gift for deadpan satire puts you in the same league as other famous humorists Minnesota has given the nation — Al Franken, Louie Anderson and Pat Proft.

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/22/2009 - 08:50 pm.

    Swiftee, It is always a big mistake to theorize before one has data. Because one begins to twist facts to suit theories. Instead of theories to suit facts.

    Regarding CRA which conservatives use as a red herring to shoulder blame for the financial collapse of America.

    The CRA has nothing to do with the financial crisis. How do we know this?

    1) It has been in place for some thirty years, so if its going to produce disasters its not a very good explanation of a current crisis.

    2) 80% of non-prime loans were made by non-regulated entities not subject to the CRA. So obviously their behavior was not in any way prompted by the CRA.

    3) The institutions that were regulated and were subject to the CRA, none of them had any CRA rating problems. So they weren’t making these loans to try and improve their ratings. They already had great ratings.

    4), What changed in CRA regulation over the recent period relevant to the crisis? It was weakened and not strengthened as a result of Phil Gramm in the senate and Jim Leach in the congress and the repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. The banking industry had been seeking the repeal of Glass-Steagall since at least the 1980s The great success of the Glass- Seagall act was that it separated depositors from risky bets. Depository institutions will now operate in “deregulated” financial markets in which distinctions between loans, securities, and deposits are not well drawn. I can assure you that all this CRA hooey is all made up.

    Fannie & Freddie do have a role to play in this crisis. But it’s not the one that most people think about. Fannie & Freddie ironically were the primary reasons we didn’t have a crisis in sub-prime much earlier. Because Fannie & Freddie only purchased prime mortgages for packaging. And Fannie & Freddie’s standards in general are very good, that’s a conforming mortgage in jargon and so in the old days the non-prime folks could not sell their stuff because only Fannie & Freddie could by it.

    What changed? We passed a law that allowed what we call Private label to create mortgage backed securities. So these are primarily investment banks. Its the investment banks that purchased the non-prime loans. Then sent them to the rating agencies to receive bogus AAA ratings.

    So its overwhelmingly again a story of actually a weakening and the creation of competitors to Fannie & Freddie that led to this. But Fannie & Freddie did NOT purchase sub-prime loans, but exotic derivatives, the ones that got the phony AAA rating from the rating agencies. Primarily liar loans and it did so while at a time when the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight was regulating it and had full regulatory power to stop this practice. A conservative republican ran OFHEO, he did not stop this practice, and he did not think it was risky. It is also true that the Bush administration pushed the stuff, remember the “ownership society” it was in fact a “bipartisan effort”. Fannie & Freddie are massively insolvent as a result of the CDO’s they purchased.

    Conservatives have miscast history to such a degree that it is almost as if “conservatives” were not in complete control of government from 2001 through 2007 when many of these issues were born.

    If you were employed in the banking, mortgage or securities industry you would already know this to be true. Just because you have a savings account does not make you qualified on the subject of economics and or financial securities. Your comments regarding CRA are nothing but “Tom foolery”

  13. Submitted by Susan Peterson on 09/23/2009 - 12:43 am.

    Wow, Richard, a post filled with facts instead of inuendo, false logic, sarcasm and put-downs — what a novel idea! Would that some commenters (you know who you are) would follow suit.

Leave a Reply