Judge rules Minneapolis residents have standing in their lawsuit against city over ‘defunding’ police

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Eight neighbors in Minneapolis have filed suit against the city and its mayor for failing to protect and police its streets after council took steps to “defund” the police, and a judge greenlighted the suit.

The lawsuit was originally filed in August 2020, but became stalled in the court system pending the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted for murder in the killing of George Floyd.

A group of eight Minneapolis residents filed the lawsuit against the city for allegedly scaling back the police presence in their neighborhood in the months after the police killing of Floyd and the unrest that followed.

The lawsuit cites the city’s surge in crime since the May 2020 killing, and city officials failed to keep residents safe:

“Instead, the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey have violated their duties to fund, employ and manage a police force as required by the City Charter.

“Rather than work to improve public safety, the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey are making the city unsafe for its citizens, thus requiring this Court’s intervention.”

Hennepin County District Court Judge Jamie Anderson has ruled in November that the Minneapolis residents have standing to sue the city over an alleged police staffing violation. In her ruling, the judge cited the case of McKee v. Likins, which said:

“Taxpayers are legitimately concerned with the performance by public officers of their public duties. Accordingly … a taxpayer suing as a taxpayer has standing to challenge administrative action which allegedly is rulemaking adopted without compliance with the statutory notice requirements.”

The residents filed the suit against the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey arguing officials violated the charter requirement to staff roughly 743 officers for the 425,000-person city. The documents also allege city officials reduced police funding in 2020 by about $1.1 million during a police manpower shortage.

In his decision on standing, Judge Anderson ruled:

“(City officials) have no authority to divert funds from the Minneapolis Police Department if they have not met their public duty to fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident.

“Misallocation of money that properly should fund a police force is an unlawful disbursement of funds.”

“Respondents are collecting tax money that should be paying for the police force, but is paying for something else. This alleged misallocation of money would ‘likely increase the tax burden on the government’s taxpayers.’”

Doug Seaton, who is representing petitioners, told Fox News, his clients are long-time Minneapolis residents who are deeply engaged in the community. Seaton said that the claims in the lawsuit, which he believes represent the beliefs of the wider community, are not a denial that police reform is necessary:

“Although we support certain reforms of the police, we are absolutely opposed to defunding the police and reducing their numbers.”

“That’s the last thing this community needs and wants. And the violence that’s been occurring in these neighborhoods is a result of very detrimental policies espoused by certain city council members.

“Those policies must be stopped, must be ended. And we hope our case is the beginning of the means of doing that.”

Many consider Minneapolis the starting point of the “Defund the Police” movement after the death of Floyd in the city. The city has been rocked by continued violent protests and riots even after Chauvin was convicted.

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After cutting the police budget amid a rush of officers resigning or taking early retirement, the city recently reversed course reacting to resident demands for more police and a rising crime rate.

In February, The Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a $6.4 million increase to the police budget they had previously cut. The department said it began 2020 with 817 officers but ended the year with 638 officers.

Don and Sondra Samuels, listed among the lawsuit petitioners, said they lived in Minneapolis for over two decades and had watch the city deteriorate in the last year. Don Samuels, a former city council member, said:

“When the announcement was made to defund the police … that just opened the doors to a level of mayhem where taboos were erased, standards were no longer acknowledged because only the cops could be wrong – a citizen couldn’t be wrong. And so, the naiveté of the leadership to not understand how the lawless community would exploit their announcement was maddening.

“Our mantra is not ‘either/or,’ but ‘both/and. Most of the protesters are young. They’re college students. They’re younger than college students. And they have a pretty limited framework for understanding how complex issues are.”

He continued that the people protesting could use their time and effort for more important activities to bring needed change to the city:

“If those people who are saying, ‘get rid of the police,’ would say, ‘you know what, we’re going to come in and we’re going to become a part of this community. We’re going to give our hard-earned income to shop in this community. We’re going to mentor kids in this community,’ now you’re talking.

“But you can’t just say, let’s get rid of the police and then live these other social deficiencies or problems in place.” 

Sondra said that the focus is in the wrong place, mentioning children who have been killed by gun violence in the city without rallies or protests:

‘If you are a black mother and your son is going to get murdered and you have a choice of a police officer killing your child or somebody from the community, you better choose a police officer because then people will march and rally.

 ‘They’ll say his name, he’ll be on T-shirts, and they’ll demand justice. Nobody’s demanded justice for Trinity [Ottoson-Smith] for LaDavionne [Garrett Jr] for Aniya [Allen]. It’s just not happening.”

Attorney Seaton said he expects a ruling on the lawsuit from the court later this month.

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