As reported on this website and elsewhere, Al Flowers recently won $3 in a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis. Flowers charged, and the jury agreed, that two city council members forced his public access TV show from the air, which violated his First Amendment rights.
But you may not know that Flowers has pressed legal action against the city six times since 2004. His sister, Alisa Clemons, has been involved in eight employment administrative hearings against the Minneapolis Police Department and two lawsuits in the last 10 years. The city paid her a total of $737,500 to settle both suits.
Are Flowers and Clemons peppering the city with questionable complaints? Or are they African Americans who have turned to the courts to fight racism by hitting the city where it hurts taxpayers the most?
Flowers said he first realized he could force the city’s hand through a lawsuit after his teenaged daughter, Shyanna Freeman, was roughed up by an out-of-uniform police officer and booked for obstruction of justice. A city attorney dismissed the citation because the officer was in an unmarked squad car and obstruction couldn’t be proved. The girl sued and the case settled in 2003 for $180,000.
In September that same year, leaders at a Minneapolis-branch NAACP meeting called police to have Flowers removed, alleging that he had become violent. He was charged with obstructing a legal process and resisting arrest. Flowers said that Minneapolis police beat him while he was handcuffed.
The lesson from his daughter’s experience stayed with him. In 2004 he filed suit in federal court charging false arrest and harassment. Lt. Kevin Stoll, who lived near Flowers, had announced at “roll call that he would buy a steak dinner for any officer who could take Flowers down,” Flowers said.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery didn’t buy Flowers’ charge and dismissed the case. Flowers is appealing.
Making a point
In September of 2005, Flowers filed suit again, recounting the same harassment by Stoll and charging police had used excessive force. He added that Minneapolis police officers harassed him and his family by gathering five or six squad cars outside his house and approaching the door with the implication there had been a 911 complaint filed about the house. They flashed spotlights on the Flowers house as they drove by at night, he said. That case continues.
According to public documents, the city attorney’s office has spent $144,000 defending against Flowers’ first three actions against the city, not counting his daughter’s suit. Adding an estimated $50,000 for the attorney’s fee he was awarded by the jury in the First Amendment suit, the total cost to the city comes to $194,000.
Meanwhile, in the past year Flowers has filed three actions against the city charging racial discrimination. Figures aren’t available yet for the cost of those cases, which continue.
To date, the Flowers side of the lawsuit ledger is in the black for $3. The city’s side is in the red for $194,003, and counting.
Flowers says the value in the lawsuits does not lie in the money. It’s in using the courts to make a point about racial discrimination.
“It’s a matter of survival for my community,” he said. “The city is targeting me because I’m pointing out corruption.”
His sister, Alisa Clemons, believes the same.
Clemons, a former Minneapolis police sergeant, filed her first suit in 1997. She was fired after the city accused her of sending hate mail to herself and other African-American police officers. When an arbitrator ruled that there wasn’t reasonable proof that she wrote the letters, she was reinstated in her job, with back pay. She sued and the city paid her $400,000 to settle.
Her second suit charged the city with racial discrimination. Clemons says her superiors wrote her up for minor infractions that would not have been noticed had they been committed by a white officer, such as parking her car improperly. She said she was ordered to scrub riot helmets and called “Buckwheat.” She said the other officers wouldn’t back her up on police calls. She settled in 2001 when the city offered her $337,500 to resign.
Clemons also filed suit in connection with her brother’s 2004 action after he was thrown out of the NAACP meeting. U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle dismissed her claim that police used excessive force when she came to Flowers’ aid. A jury later found Clemons not guilty of obstructing justice.
Total cost to the city in defending against her charges? $24,761, plus her $737,500 in settlements.
Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Moore, who handled most of the Flowers cases, declined to comment about the cost to the city. But Clemons had no such compunction.
“The taxpayers should take note that the city does not care about spending taxpayer money to cover up bad police behavior,” she said. “The cops aren’t paying for this out of their own pockets. The city is paying for it.”
Because there are still three actions pending against the city, officials are loath to comment on Flowers and Clemons and their lawsuits.
“We’ll vigorously defend ourselves, but people have a right to file a lawsuit,” said Barb Johnson, city council president.
Judith Yates Borger reports on legal affairs, science and other subjects. She can be reached at jyatesborger [at] minnpost [dot] com.