Minnesota Legislature grapples with police accountability


ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota House was preparing to debate police accountability as part of a broader public safety budget bill that the state’s divided Legislature must enact before late Wednesday to avoid a partial state government shutdown.

The debate Tuesday came on the heels of last week’s sentencing of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin to 22 1/2 years for murder in the death of George Floyd. But it wasn’t clear ahead of the debate whether leaders of the slim House Democratic majority had enough votes to pass the compromise and send it to the Republican-controlled Senate for final approval.

The bill contains limits on no-knock warrants and on the use of informants. It follows on a police accountability package passed last summer that included a statewide ban on the use of chokeholds. Lawmakers with the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus said at a news conference Monday that the new bill didn’t go nearly far enough, while stopping short of saying they would vote against it.

“It’s time for the Senate majority to get serious. To get serious about defending the constitutional rights of each and every human being in Minnesota, and that includes Black men and women,” said Democratic Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul, chairman of the House public safety committee and one of the top negotiators on the bill.

Senate Republicans resisted stronger measures for months, saying they couldn’t support anything they regarded as anti-police. They put a higher priority on passing a $52 billion, two-year state government budget to replace the current budget, which runs out Wednesday night. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has signed several of the big budget bills, but the public safety package was one of a few still needing approval ahead of the looming deadline.

All sides braced for a lengthy debate. Republicans and Democrats alike filed more than 20 amendments in advance. Some Democrats hoped to add back stronger provisions passed by the House before time ran out on the regular session last month, but that were set aside in closed-door talks during the current special session among top leaders in hopes of finishing the budget.

Walz imposed some changes via executive order on Monday, including $15 million for violence prevention programs and allowing families of people killed by officers from state law enforcement agencies such as the State Patrol to view the body camera video within five days

More than a dozen protesters gathered in the Capitol rotunda ahead of the debate to urge the House to reject the compromise and pass tougher measures. They included Courteney Ross, who was Floyd’s girlfriend and testified in Chauvin’s trial.

“We want the House to reject it and try again,” said protest organizer Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence. “We are in a state of emergency. This isn’t a situation where we can wait another year so more people can end up dead.”

Garraway’s fiancé, Justin Teigen, a Black man, was found dead in a recycling bin after fleeing from St. Paul police in 2009, in circumstances that remain in dispute. She said in an interview that activists’ priorities for additions included lifting the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits against police and mandating that families of people killed in confrontations with police get to see body camera video within 24 to 48 hours. She warned that another police killing could lead to the kind of unrest and destruction that erupted after Floyd’s death.

“We need to understand that if police don’t start being held accountable for their actions, and the hurt and the harm that they’ve committed against the community, if the state doesn’t start holding these officers accountable, it’s going to get bad for everybody because people can only take so much pain,” Garraway said.

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