It started as an exercise to see how long it would take to get a dash cam video involving a Minneapolis Police Department car crash that I witnessed.
The answer: 28 months.
Under Minnesota law, police video footage is mostly prohibited from the public. Only the victims and the people who appear in the video have the legal right to see it. The exception is if the video has been used in disciplinary precedent – and only if the officer is sanctioned.
This is the result of the crash of June 28, 2019 that I witnessed. Without using any lights or siren, the patrol car drove through a North Loop stop sign and collided with a Lexus SUV passing through the intersection. The impact spun the SUV around before it finally came to a stop near a sidewalk where diners were seated at outdoor tables.
It was around 6:15 pm and I, my wife and one of our daughters had left a brewery and were walking back to our apartment. We had just crossed 6th Avenue North and were about to cross North 4th Street when the team passed to the left of another car pulled over at the stop sign and passed through the intersection, where they came across. hit the SUV, driven by Judge Niko Feldman.
This is revealed by the footage finally given to me by MPD (there was no audio on the file shared by the MPD), before showing the hood of the patrol car and steam. escaping from the engine for another 25 minutes and people passing the car occasionally. (This excerpt shows here only the approach of the patrol car to the intersection, the accident and the immediate consequences.)
After witnessing the crash, we made sure the officers were okay and I spoke with Feldman briefly, giving him my phone number. At that point, the officer who was in the passenger seat at the time of the crash was out of the team and appeared to be in control, so we left. Later, Feldman and the two officers were taken to area hospitals, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.
The accident happened on a Friday. That Monday, I submitted a request for documents and video to MPD under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, the law on open state files.
Reports started pouring in from the city, including the incident report and later the “case report with stories”. It was this report which contained information about the patrol car video and crash data recovery system data, which showed that the patrol car was moving at 35 km / h and that the lights and sirens had not been activated at the time of the accident. .
But a year later, I still did not have access to a report from an accident review board, and was told that MPD’s internal affairs had not yet completed their review of the incident. Despite this, the city shut down my requests, determining that – at least at the time – there was no more data to release.
Finally, after learning from the lawyer for the accident victim that the disciplinary action against the officer driving the patrol car was over, I renewed my request for the dash camera video. I received it on October 8 with a document describing the discipline for the officer, signed by the police chief Medaria Arradondo.
According to to documents – which are also posted on the MPD webpage – this officer, Mohamud Jama, was not directly sanctioned for what he did to the Lexus. Or to endanger pedestrians and other drivers. Instead, he was sanctioned for violating three departmental policies governing the use of seat belts and for “normal and emergency vehicle operations”.
Jama admitted during the investigation that he removed his seatbelt before reaching the intersection and that he had turned off his lights and sirens more than a block away. By suspending him for 20 hours, Arradondo wrote that he decided on the suspension after reviewing the investigation and “Jama’s statement that he could have used lights and sirens or been more thorough when he went. cleared the intersection “.
Arradondo’s disciplinary letter does not appear to sanction Jama for the accident itself, although one of the policies set out in the list of violations is that an “officer performing emergency driving must exercise caution. and consideration for the safety of the public “.
While another policy allows officers to turn off their lights and sirens “if an intervening agent determines that the incident warrants an unannounced approach,” it goes on to say that if those lights and sirens are turned off, “the officer must sound the siren or display at least one authorized service has a red light on the front in the event of exceeding the speed limit or exceeding a red or stop signal or stop sign .
Jama told investigators he turned off emergency lights and sirens because he was called on a “fire assistance / rider call” which was three blocks from the crash site . He said he didn’t want to “alarm or distract the potential ‘jumper’,” according to the disciplinary report. The dashboard video, however, shows that other emergency vehicles were already on the scene and the emergency lights on those vehicles were on.
A year ago, Jama was indicted and pleaded guilty to not stopping at stop signs. He paid a fine of $ 178 for what is considered a minor offense.
But the city of Minneapolis is contesting a civil action filed in the name of Feldman, the driver overthrown by Jama. According to Feldman’s lawyer, the city denies that Jama acted negligently or was responsible for Feldman’s injuries or damage to his car.
State law governing body-worn video cameras was intended to protect victims and witnesses who might be recorded at their homes or other places where there is an expectation of confidentiality. There was no exception in the law for videos taken in outdoor public spaces, where there is no expectation of privacy and where other video systems operate outside of body camera status.
The state law adopted in 2016, and signed by Governor Mark Dayton was accepted over objections from civil liberties and police watch groups. This classifies most police videos as non-public. Exceptions include images showing the discharge of a firearm (except during training and in cases where an animal is slaughtered); the use of force which results in serious bodily harm; or whether the video is on an officer’s public personnel file. Some members of the Legislative Assembly at the time also wanted images recorded in public places to be public, but the final version of the law did not make such a distinction.
A different state law makes public “the final disposition of any disciplinary action as well as the specific reasons for the action and the data documenting the basis of the action, excluding data which would identify confidential sources who are employees of the public body “.
This is the way my video request was met.
There is another way to police video to go public: If those affected by the data (i.e. those recorded in the images), including police officers, request that the data be made public, then law enforcement must remove the identities “non-consenting data subjects” and undercover agents.
But while Feldman’s lawyer, Brian Stofferahn, received the video – along with other documents related to the accident – he also agreed to a confidentiality agreement in order to expedite its dissemination. This agreement also prevents him from describing what is in the documents.
Because the city denies any guilt, the case must first establish that Jama was at fault and that the city is responsible for the damages, Stofferahn said. Only then can he attempt to win damages.
“I think I can clearly prove that it was Jama’s fault, that he was negligent in causing this accident, and that the City of Minneapolis policies and procedures were not followed by him and his partner.” , said Stofferahn.
A spokesperson for the Minneapolis city attorney’s office said he would not comment on the trial at this time.