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Report finds flaws in Minnesota state law enforcement response to George Floyd protests in 2020

<i>Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>
AFP via Getty Images
Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images

By Omar Jimenez, CNN

An independent report commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety detailed multiple breakdowns in procedure and “inadequate coordination” at times during the protests and violence that followed the death of George Floyd in May 2020.

The report also found that state law enforcement used tactics that were often perceived as escalating the situation, law enforcement allegedly unlawfully arrested journalists, participating law enforcement agencies followed different training and rules of engagement that at times counteracted each other, and “on several occasions” law enforcement did not successfully differentiate between lawful and unlawful protestors.

The report was conducted by Wilder Research, a Minnesota-based research group contracted by the state to “conduct an independent, external review of the State’s response to the civil unrest and rioting.” The findings were publicly released in a 129-page report Thursday.

The purpose of the state-commissioned review was not only to find out “What the state did well and did not do well” during the unrest, but also to provide recommendations for how to better deal with similar circumstances in the future.

Miscommunication and escalation

In regard to working with the Minneapolis Police Department, a portion of the report read, “A state official recalled, ‘we would be trying to implement containment, and then they would come through and just disperse everybody. So we were basically working against each other.’ This resulted in a reluctance to share resources and work in a unified way to address public safety.”

The report continued, “A state official reported, ‘I recognized other behaviors that were concerning to me like the MPD’s use of chemical munitions. When they came to me and asked for additional chemical munitions, because they were running out, I told them no. I wasn’t willing to do that because I didn’t feel like their use of it was judicious and appropriate.'”

It was state law enforcement, however, that arrested the CNN crew reporting on the morning of May 29, 2020, in Minneapolis. In one area of improvement listed in the report, it said that “law enforcement allegedly unlawfully detained, arrested, or inappropriately used crowd dispersal methods on journalists.”

“There were several instances of journalists alleging they were being exposed to irritant or inflammatory agents, often referred to as tear gas, and other crowd dispersal methods and were wrongfully detained or arrested by law enforcement (it is unclear if it was state or local jurisdictions) despite displaying legitimate media credentials,” the report read.

One “media representative” cited as part of the report said, “They would arrest people who were clearly identified as established media. We’re not talking about fringe, blogger media. We’re talking about established [media outlets].”

Regarding coordination, part of the report read, “Both state-level officials and MPD representatives expressed frustration at the lack of communication between leadership at the MACC [Multi-Agency Command Center] and Minneapolis’ emergency operations center.”

“This led to several challenges, including the initial use of competing law enforcement strategies,” it continued.

Another major “area of improvement” named by the report was state tactics that were “often perceived as escalating.”

“The State Law Enforcement’s actions on the ground during the unrest were largely viewed as antagonistic, unhelpful, and counterproductive to bringing about calm and community safety,” according to “the majority of community members and business owners who participated in this review.”

The report contained several recommendations to improve the state’s response to future civil unrest. On the issue of escalation, part of the report read, “Riot gear and less lethal munitions should not be visible to protestors unless law enforcement officers are under imminent threat and intend to use these weapons against the crowd. DPS should discourage law enforcement from donning riot gear unless the safety of responders is in jeopardy.”

“A show of force by law enforcement can incite fear and aggression among protestors,” it continued.

Among all the recommendations, there were three deemed “critical”: strengthening multi-agency coordination systems, improving coordination and relationships with local jurisdictions and the media, and leading efforts to address tensions between law enforcement agencies and communities through intentional trust-building efforts, education, and police accountability and transformation.

The wide-ranging report also noted strengths in the response from the state to the unrest, including that the State Patrol, the Minnesota National Guard, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources mobilized quickly and worked with other agencies effectively to protect critical infrastructure and human life, included elected officials in briefings, enforced effective curfews “despite being controversial,” and more.

Agencies are reviewing report

In response to the report, Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington wrote a letter Wednesday to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz that read in part, “The Department of Public Safety is committed to a culture of continuous improvement. In addition to the findings of this report, other external reviews, and our internal after-action findings, we are committed to community discussions and meetings with Wilder to review the findings and continue to find ways to improve and build trust.”

Harrington also wrote that the department will “continue to push forward a community-based public safety approach in all our work as well as legislative proposals this session. Our work is not done.”

The City of Minneapolis is reviewing the report, Sarah McKenzie, a spokesperson for the City of Minneapolis, wrote to CNN.

“The City is also focused on implementing recommendations from the after-action report by Hillard Heintz, which was presented to the City Council earlier this month. The City hired the security risk management firm to review the City’s response to civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd,” it continued.

The report by security risk management firm Hillard Heintz — published on March 7 — found widespread chaos and poor communication among city leaders that contributed to an unorganized police response to the violent unrest that later spread across the country.

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