Park Board Pays $170K to Somali Youth Detained After Bogus 911 Call

Minneapolis, MN – A settlement of $170,000 has been reached between the Minneapolis Park Board and four Somali teens who were wrongfully detained at gunpoint in a Minneapolis park in 2018.

The teens were stopped in Minnehaha Park in south Minneapolis, detained, and later released by park police without an apology. From the settlement, $40,000 will go to the family of each teen, while the remaining $10,000 will be paid to Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) for attorney’s fees.

The incident stemmed from false information reported in a 911 call, where the caller alleged the youth had weapons and were assaulting the caller’s boyfriend. A series of unfounded 911 calls took place in the US over the summer of 2018, leading police to harass and arrest people of color.

We spoke with Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Londel French about the incident, the settlement, and the park police.

I think our officers didn’t act in an appropriate way. I think these kids are damaged in some type of way, and so we on the Board decided to compensate their families.” — Londel French, Park Board Commissioner

After a bystander’s video captured parts of the incident, a clip of the teens being detained went viral; it has since been taken down from Facebook but some of it can be seen here. A small crowd in the park who witnessed the incident also surrounded the scene and pushed for the police to let the teens go.

CAIR-MN held a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the settlement. Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR-MN, referred to the faulty 911 call that prompted the police actions as a “racial attack.”

Live Press Conference at CAIR-MN re Announcement of Minneapolis Park Police Settlement with Four Local Somali Youth and their Families

Posted by CAIR-Minnesota (CAIR-MN) on Wednesday, January 22, 2020

They’re still dealing with some shock. They’re not fully recovered.” — Halimo Isse, mother of detained teen

Almost two years after the incident, the teens are “still traumatized,” Hussein said during the press conference.

Three of those youth spoke out in a previous press conference just days after the incident. One of the victims, a 14-year-old, said that he was “just trying to have a good day with my friends and this white kid came up to us saying racial slurs towards us. And when the cops came, they just pulled guns to our faces.”

Civil rights attorney Ellen Longfellow, and two of the teens’ mothers — Sirat Guffe and Halimo Isse — also spoke during Wednesday’s press conference. They all thanked those who had filmed and come to the support of Guffe and Isse’s children.

Longfellow said that when the families came to CAIR-MN for support, they requested the police report at that time, which the park police did not release until a year later.

We’re very concerned with how the Park Board handles public data,” Longfellow added, after mentioning that no records exist from a separate 2017 investigation into an incident involving park police. Park Board Commissioner Londel French cited state laws not allowing certain “personnel [and disciplinary] issues” to become public as reasons for withholding data.

The Park Board investigated the incident in which the teens were detained. Matthew Ryan was disciplined as the main officer involved. They gave a two-day suspension and an extra training course on deescalation to Ryan, who has been with the park police since 2013.

After the Park Board investigation concluded, Longfellow said once they’d received the records they “filed discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.” It was then that the Park Board “wanted to talk to us about resolving this case,” Longfellow said.

$6 million of the ~$120 million parks budget goes to the park police, who have 32 sworn-in park police officers with authority over Minneapolis’ 180 park properties. “That’s a lot of money,” said French, who added that the Park Board held off on some new budget measures proposed by the park police and that the Board seeks to “possibly put some of that money into other places in our parks.”

Unicorn Riot asked if there was a viable solution to replace the park police. French said the idea of moving forward without park police does not have political will at the moment.

There’s a sense of nostalgia and tradition that the park police have to old-school park employees. I ask them, ‘Do you see of value in having the police?’ For the most part they all say yes … for whatever reason, our park folks would like to keep a police department.” — Londel French

However, French looked to the future and stressed that in the decade of 2020, the Minneapolis park police “really need to figure out what our police force is going to look like. That’s going to take a lot of input from the public and our park users.”

In the summer of 2018, Unicorn Riot published a report, Record Numbers of Complaints Against Minneapolis Police Amidst Ketamine and Killings, that touched on the park police’s detainment of the teens amongst a slew of police misconduct incidents.

The relationship between the police and “certain communities of color” continues to be “super adversarial,” said French.

I think if folks understood that most Black and Brown folks just want to walk down the street and enjoy their day like everybody else…. We don’t want to be harassed and asked where we’re going and what we’re doing because we look a different way or others feel we don’t belong in certain areas.” — Londel French

The Minneapolis Park Board released the body camera footage of both officers involved on Wednesday. See below.

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