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MPD suit riles Minneapolis civil rights director

For all the controversy surrounding the suit against the Minneapolis Police Department by five black cops, little in the complaint will shock any observers of the department. Is there anyone left out there who doesn’t believe the MPD is one of the most politically and racially fractured forces in the country?

The ascensions of the five officers suing — Lt. Medaria Arradondo, Lt. Don Harris, Sgt. Charlie Adams, Sgt. Dennis Hamilton and Lt. Lee Edwards — and their demotions at the hand of Chief Tim Dolan are well documented. (Dolan is the only city leader actually named in the complaint, which was filed in Hennepin County District Court Dec. 3.)

The usual tales of MPD come-uppance and revenge are plentiful: Dolan allegedly denied a position to Arradondo because the lieutenant had filed a civil rights complaint with the city against the department. Tales of race baiting are repeated: One white officer supposedly “wears a motorcycle jacket with a ‘White Power’ badge sewn into it.” And the usual suspects of critics and activists make cameos in the suit: Yes, Ron Edwards and Clyde Bellecourt are mentioned.

Still, one part of the 38-page demand for a jury trial, presumably written and signed by attorneys John A. Klassen and Andrew P. Muller, doesn’t quite ring true. This passage pops up: “On or about September 11, 2007, Plaintiff Arradondo and other African American officers met with Michael Jordan, director of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, and communicated their concerns, including those set forth in this complaint. Jordan was dismissive of these concerns, never followed up on the report, and later publicly dismissed the officers’ allegations as those of ‘disgruntled cops near the end of their careers.'”

“A lie,” Jordan said, when reached Friday by phone, of that last assertion. “It’s a complete fabrication. I never said that in public or in private.”

‘I hear what’s going on’
Jordan, who is African American, clarified that he did point out that some younger cops might set themselves up for retaliation within the department, and advised one older cop — Don Banham, who did not join the suit — that he was nearing the end of his career. But Jordan, by his and other accounts, called for the meeting in the first place, and has known some of the officers in the suit for roughly 15 years.

Jordan, who can be a wee bit brusque from time to time, served as the state of Minnesota’s public safety commissioner under Gov. Arne Carlson for four years and afterward was press liaison for former St. Paul Police Chief William Finney (also African American). He is well acquainted with the plight of the black cop.

“I grew up in this town, and I hear what’s going on,” Jordan said. “Based on my career in public safety, I’m very familiar with these issues.”

So he called the meeting at a site he chooses not to name (reportedly the Urban League in north Minneapolis) to “get more information.” Jordan then met with at least one of the officers a second time in October. “Is that follow-up?” Jordan asked on Friday.

Jordan points out that the length of time between the first meeting and the lawsuit is three months. “The inference is that this is my fault,” Jordan said. “Three months, maybe that’s a long time, but it’s not inordinate. I didn’t do what they wanted me to do and didn’t do it in the timeframe, I guess.”

But Jordan insisted he was taking the gripes seriously all along, and putting things in motion. “I didn’t feel an obligation to let them know what I was doing,” Jordan said, “but they weren’t coming up and asking me either.”

Jordan’s only been on the job in Minneapolis since June, and perhaps he doesn’t have the jaundiced view of the civil rights department that the five officers probably have and that many others around town certainly have. For nearly 20 years, it’s been a City Hall outpost plagued with infighting, nepotism, malfeasance and incompetence. Even though in recent years the image of the department has improved, there’s no reason to believe the city entity is any better at identifying and taking action against discriminatory injustices. In other words, the cops could be forgiven thinking that the infamous Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights had no interest in doing anything about their grievances.

The director said he understands that some of the fictional qualities of the complaint exist to simply shore up the case against the city. Still, Jordan admitted he’s ticked about the portrayal of him in the suit, but not for personal reasons. “It riles me,” he concluded, “because the inaccuracy will undermine their whole case.”

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