Libertarian candidate’s arrest prompts apology from park police

Park Board Police Chief has apologized, launched investigation of incident

Holbrook arguing with an officer shortly before his arrest Credit: screenshot from Holbrook's Facebook video

*This post has been updated to include comments from Mr. Holbrook and Police Chief Ohotto


Chris Holbrook, a Libertarian candidate for governor, was erroneously arrested last night by Minneapolis Park Police at Lake Calhoun.

Holbrook was approached by four officers around 2:15 p.m., shortly after he parked near Thomas Beach. He was sorting through campaign literature in the trunk of his car and putting a plan together with volunteers for collecting signatures to earn a spot on the 2014 governor’s ballot. Holbrook needs to obtain 2,000 signatures between May 20 and June 3 to get a spot on the November ballot.

The officers told Holbrook he couldn’t pass out his campaign materials and asked him to leave the park, and later they called for backup.

Officer Brian Woodfill responded and arrived about 10 minutes later.

Three videos on Holbrook’s Facebook page document the stages of his confrontation with the Minneapolis Park Police. The first video shows Holbrook politely chatting with four younger officers, the second shows the confrontation heating up after Officer Woodfill arrives and the third shows him handcuffed and crying out in pain and later being put into the back of a police car.

“[Woodfill] got aggressive after we informed him we were with the Libertarian Party and we planning to collect signatures for our ballot access petition,” said Holbrook. “[Woodfill] pushed me up against the car and cuffed me behind my back. The first cuff on my right wrist was so tight it immediately cut off the circulation and I was in excruciating pain.”

According to Holbrook, he spent 20 to 30 minutes in the back of the squad car while Woodfill stepped in and out making phone calls.

Holbrook eventually was cited under Park Board Ordinance PB2-15, which states that no person can “sell, rent, or offer to sell or rent, any goods, services, or organizational memberships of any nature whatsoever, nor shall any person or entity solicit for donations, without a permit.”

Holbrook took his citation and left the park around 3:00 p.m.

Later that night Minneapolis Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto determined Officer Woodhill misapplied the ordinance, dismissed Holbrook’s citation and called Holbrook and apologized.

“At Thomas Beach and some other areas around the lakes it’s pretty common that companies will come in and do merchandising, hand things out, solicit feedback from people, try to sell stuff, hand out coupons or VIP tickets, and that is prohibited,” said Ohotto. “I think the officer just got off-track and had a singleminded thought that that’s what was happening, without doing a thorough investigation.”

Ohotto has initiated an internal affairs investigation regarding the incident. Rice, Michels and Walther, the law firm that handles Park Board legal issues and lobbying, will be performing the investigation.         

Ohotto said park police receive extensive First Amendment and legal training every year as part of in-service training.

“We’ve had some pretty significant First Amendment training, especially when the Republican National Convention was in town and with the issues surrounding the Pride Festival in Loring Park,” he said.

Last year the Park Board paid roughly $285,000 after it lost a court case to a man who was barred from handing out bibles at the Loring Park Pride Festival.

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // [email protected] // @johnsonbend