Park Board won’t make bodycam video of Minnehaha incident public

Park officials will not release footage captured by park officers’ body-worn cameras of a July 10 incident at Minnehaha Park when four black teenagers were detained after what the board says was an inaccurate 911 call.

Superintendent Mary Merrill said in an open letter that the video is considered private data and there are additional privacy concerns given the four detained individuals were minors.

A witness to the incident captured video of the boys, ages 13–16, handcuffed and sitting outside a squad car. The video, which was posted to Facebook, was viewed millions of times in the weeks following the incident and drew national attention in a time of increased examination into how police interact with the communities they serve.

Park police said they responded to a 911 call around 7:30 p.m. on July 10 reporting four males with weapons such as knives and sticks, as well as a gun stored in a backpack. When two officers arrived at the scene, one unholstered his firearm and pointed it at the direction of the teens. Police held the four at the park, but all were eventually released without injury. They didn’t find any weapons, and witness accounts were not consistent with information provided by the 911 caller, according to a board statement.

The board recently wrapped up an internal investigation into what led to the incident, though results won’t be publicly available until final discipline is imposed. Merrill said the results of the investigation are considered personnel matters and are not public, citing civil service rules and collective bargaining agreements covering City of Minneapolis and Park Board staff. The process may take “many months,” she said.

A board spokeswoman said two officers were involved in the incident and both are still employed by the board.

Merrill said in a statement that the board was unable to press criminal charges against the caller for falsely reporting a crime due to insufficient evidence. The offense is a misdemeanor.

Park commissioners approved a resolution at a Sept. 5 meeting to add language to the board’s 2019 draft legislative agenda supporting legislation to strengthen laws and penalties related to reporting inaccurate information to police.

Kendal Killian, the board’s new intergovernmental relations consultant, said one possibility of strengthening legal punishments for reporting false information would be to make it a felony. Another outcome of the resolution could be raising public awareness about conveying accurate information or increasing training for 911 operators, he told commissioners.

“We want this to be kind of open in terms of what strategies the lobbying team can follow in terms of addressing this problem,” he said.

President Brad Bourn said he and other commissioners were frustrated with the caller, who he said may have been someone trying to “use 911 to put people in our community intentionally in harm’s way.”

“We were very limited in our ability to bring that 911 caller to justice because of laws that are outside our control,” he said.

“This right here gives us some teeth in case this situation happens again,” added At-Large Commissioner Londel French.

Commissioners bypassed the board’s regular committee process, foregoing the typical week or two it takes a resolution to advance from committee to the full board, to add it to next year’s legislative agenda.

“It’s not fair for people who are trying to pay attention to what we’re doing,” Commissioner Steffanie Musich told her fellow commissioners.

The board also approved the formation of a Park Police Advisory Council, an initiative Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto has been working on since the beginning of the year.

The body will be comprised of six Minneapolis residents who will evaluate park police public safety initiatives, provide annual reports to the board and make recommendations for policy and programs.

An application period is expected to open this fall. The council could begin work later this year.