Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Minneapolis Police Department’s transfer of Sgt. Charlie Adams out of the homicide unit — oh, let’s just call it a demotion, shall we? — is the far reach of anger and puzzlement out there. The usual African American voices are filled with rage, since Adams is black. MPD cops past and present are in disbelief. Even Don Shelby, perhaps our last talking head still using a brain, decried the move in one of his editorial segments on WCCO-TV.
Add to the list of the discontented the family of Mark Loesch, whose Sept. 13 murder is at the beginning of a curious chain of events. “My first reaction is that it’s shameful and disgraceful,” says David Barnes, Loesch’s father-in-law. “It’s dangerous to play office politics and take one of their best homicide detectives off the street. I can’t fathom what the problem is.”
Barnes is not alone. Almost uniformly, Adams, a 22-year vet of the department, is admired for his work with partner Sgt. Richard Zimmerman in solving many of the city’s murders in the last five years. The Loesch case was another example. On Nov. 5, less than two months after Loesch was beaten to death with a baseball bat while riding his bike in south Minneapolis, there was a press conference to announce that the MPD had a suspect. Barnes’s elation turned to confusion when he learned that Lt. Amelia Huffman, the homicide unit supervisor, and Chief Tim Dolan planned to also announce a motive: That Loesch was the victim of a drug deal gone wrong.
“Both Zimmerman and Adams kept us informed on the case and did their jobs,” Barnes recalls. When he learned of Huffman and Dolan’s intentions, he hit the phone: first to the lieutenant and the chief, and then to Zimmerman. “[Huffman and Dolan] didn’t return my calls. But Zimmerman repeated to us that this was not a drug deal.”
So Adams and Zimmerman did what Molly Hanson, the sister of Loesch’s widow Samantha, calls “the honorable thing.” They apologized to the family, and publicly maintained that a bag of weed was not responsible for Loesch’s murder.
(Huffman and Dolan were going off one tenuous shred of evidence: an account from Donald Jackson, the 23-year-old suspect in the case.)
Zimmerman again told the family that there was nothing in the investigation indicating a drug deal.
“Everyone in my family is just sick that the department would treat Sgt. Adams this way,” Hanson says. “They want to protect their image rather than citizens.”
Professional cop Adams has his defenders outside of the Loesch family and the department as well. Mike Quinn, a former MPD cop who wrote a tell-all book about the department’s longtime follies and foibles, knows Adams well. “One of the most professional guys I’ve ever worked for, absolutely top-notch character,” Quinn says. “I would have done the same thing Charlie did. I would have gone to the press with the correct information and I would have called the family to apologize also.”
But apparently Huffman and Dolan don’t feel that way, as Adams was transferred to investigations as his reward for doing the right thing. Dolan has repeatedly indicated that there was a conflict between Huffman and Adams, and that the public rebuking of the department’s official stand in the Loesch case was simply the final straw. The official cause, according to the chief: insubordination. (Zimmerman, who apparently was able to smooth things over with Huffman, is unscathed in all this.)
“If Charlie told me something I believed it,” Quinn says. “I can’t imagine the problem was all on his end. That wouldn’t make sense, especially given his background in homicide and all the fine work he’s done there lately.”
Quinn calls into question Huffman’s experience, and Barnes also wonders whether his son-in-law’s murder was the first homicide investigated under Huffman. It is true that the unit has seen its shakes-ups, and just three months ago, Huffman was acting as the department’s media spokesperson. Still, it’s hard to believe this is all at Huffman’s feet.
‘Coming from higher up’
If so many people feel Adams is not at fault here, then why all the hubbub? It could very well be an internal police matter — there’s hardly a force in the country more fractured and polarized politically than the MPD. But it’s hard not to see the whole fiasco — the drug smear on Loesch, the Adams demotion, the original high-profile press conference announcing Jackson as the suspect — as a series of PR moves through and through. And, frankly, no one is more image-conscious in this town than Mayor R.T. Rybak.
“My theory,” Hanson says with a pause, “Well, I have a feeling this isn’t coming from Huffman, but coming from higher up. It might be coming from Rybak.”
It would seem a logical conclusion, in some respects. For starters, Loesch lived in the Kingfield neighborhood, a relatively bucolic, white and fairly well-to-do enclave in south Minneapolis that fits the bill of R.T. country — that is, where the votes are. Secondly, there’s a feeling in town that murders on the North Side are sad but inevitable, while there’s a scramble and panic when someone is killed south of Lake Street. (Loesch’s body was found in the 3700 block of Elliot Avenue South). And Rybak had a reputation for meddling in MPD affairs when the department was run by Chief Bill McManus, Dolan’s predecessor.
Not so at all, says Rybak spokesman Jeremy Hanson. “Mayor Rybak is not in the business of directing city department heads on internal personnel matters,” Hanson writes in an email to MinnPost. Further, Hanson adds, “Mayor Rybak is confident in Chief Dolan’s ability to run the police department well.” When reached by phone, Hanson reiterates: “The mayor doesn’t make a practice of getting involved with the police department … it’s an internal police department matter.”
Hanson points to an “overall situation involving the past and present” with regard to the Adams demotion: “I’m certain that Chief Dolan took that all into account, not just the recent situation with Loesch. There are certainly many factors.”
Even so, Molly Hanson, the sister-in-law, is hardly assuaged. “I’m just confused as to why they would spin it this way,” she says. “I can only assume it’s to appease the public.”
Molly Hanson, for her part, says that she and her father, Barnes, are thinking of some kind of letter-writing campaign or rally in support of Adams, with the hope of getting him back on the trail of investigating murders. “The community needs to react to this, it affects more than just us, it’s bigger than our family,” she says.
“There are how many unsolved murders in Minneapolis,” she continues. “They shouldn’t take one of their best detectives out of the department.”
More importantly, Barnes and Molly Hanson say the entire incident has put further strain on an already grieving family. And Barnes points out that the Loesch case is hardly closed, and now Adams is off of it. “This is just outrageous,” Barnes offers. “I don’t know if they should reinstate him, but it’s disturbing that the chief would play these kinds of petty politics.”
Molly Hanson concludes that the kerfuffle is “all about the MPD image.” If so, it’s turned out to be the PR disaster of the Dolan era. And it’s helped no one.