Police lieutenant sues mayor for defamation

Former union head claims mayor’s texts damaged his reputation

Minneapolis Police Lieutenant John Delmonico filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging Mayor Betsy Hodges made defamatory statements in text messages with former Chief Janeé Harteau that were made public this summer.

The complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court refers to a text message exchange that took place in April after Harteau appointed Delmonico inspector of the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis. The complaint highlights portions of the exchange where Hodges, who ultimately blocked the move, pushes back against Harteau’s choice, typing, “we can’t trust John” and “they also remember lots of racist stuff he has done.”

The texts were released in mid-July in response to a records request filed by the Star Tribune. Harteau resigned her post about a week later, after a Minneapolis officer shot and killed Justine Damond, a Fulton-neighborhood woman who had called 911 to report an assault.

The complaint alleges Hodges’ texts defamed Delmonico as untrustworthy and racist. The lawsuit is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages.

Hodges responded Friday in a public statement:

“As mayor, I have been doing tough, transformational work to earn and build trust between the Police Department and community, especially in the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis. This is why in April, I overruled then-Chief Harteau when she appointed Lt. John Delmonico to lead the 4th Precinct. I said at the time that while I appreciated Lt. Delmonico’s many years of service, and believed that there were many leadership roles for which he could be a good fit, he was not the right fit for the 4th Precinct.

“I will continue to make tough decisions in order to do what is right to build public safety and community trust for all our residents. I will not be stopped either by the police union or by a patently baseless lawsuit that is obviously intended to influence the election.

“Leadership requires making choices and standing by them: I stand by mine.”

Hodges is currently seeking re-election to a second term.

Delmonico’s attorney, Kyle Hart, did not immediately respond to an interview request.

The complaint alleges Hodge’s statements “were intentionally or recklessly made with malice, hatred, and ill-will toward Delmonico and with a desire to injure him.” It goes on to state that the strained relationship between the two was the result of “among other things, prior disputes over union pensions benefits” when Hodges represented the 13th Ward on the City Council and the so-called “Pointergate” episode of 2014. That was when Delmonico, while serving as head of the police union, claimed in a KSTP news report that Hodges flashed a gang sign in a photo with Navell Gordon, a Neighborhoods Organizing for Change canvasser. Hodges maintained that the two were simply pointing at one another.

In response to a Star Tribune reporter’s posting about the lawsuit on Twitter, Harteau’s account tweeted, “Not surprised!”