Whittier man files lawsuit alleging officer discrimination in Edina

Protesters marched Oct. 22 in Edina, calling for justice and police reform. Photo by Bruce Novotney

Whittier resident Larnie Thomas filed a lawsuit Oct. 28 alleging discriminatory treatment by an Edina police officer.

Edina has attracted national attention after an Oct. 12 confrontation at 60th & Xerxes between Lt. Tim Olson and Thomas.

Police said in an incident report that Thomas walked a third of the way into the southbound traffic lane of Xerxes Avenue, causing vehicles to slow to a walking pace and stack up behind him. Olson said in the report he believed Thomas was creating a safety risk.

A woman who pulled over and captured video of the incident countered that Thomas was walking on the white line of the shoulder of the street.

“There was construction and it was obvious that the sidewalk was not available right there so he was hugging the right side as far as he could go,” she said in the post.

The video has been viewed more than 750,000 times. The Minneapolis NAACP called Thomas’s treatment “dehumanizing and degrading,” and the incident prompted an Oct. 22 march called “I Am A MAN” that began at Edina City Hall.

Photo by Bruce Novotney
Photo by Bruce Novotney

Thomas was initially arrested, cited and released. Edina officials later dismissed citations for alleged disorderly conduct and failure to obey a traffic signal, saying they did so “in the public’s interest.”

The complaint filed by Thomas last week said racial discrimination is the probable explanation for the officer’s behavior, because his treatment of Thomas was “so at variance with what would reasonably be anticipated, absent racial discrimination.”

The complaint cites a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that detention after a stop must be reasonable in scope and duration.

Thomas is seeking a jury trial and damages exceeding $50,000.

An Edina spokeswoman said city officials do not comment on pending litigation.

“The officer involved was following established protocol,” Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said in a statement four days after the incident. “However, under the circumstances, the City will review that protocol and determine how to better approach this type of incident with greater sensitivity in the future.”

In response to public questions about whether race was a factor in the stop, the city of Edina issued a statement: “Anyone walking in a lane of traffic on a busy street would be stopped and asked to move to a safer place.”

The Minneapolis NAACP asked for an apology; Edina officials said in response that officers followed established protocol. They said Thomas could have easily used the sidewalk across the street. In explaining Olson’s decision to grab Thomas, officials cited the police “force continuum,” saying that Thomas refused to comply with verbal commands.

“When force beyond words is needed, the force continuum allows officers to take physical control,” said the statement.

Edina officials said they would give officers additional training in implicit and explicit bias.