The city of Minneapolis will pay more than $200,000 to settle separate discrimination complaints filed by two former police officers, who were both disciplined after speaking out against the department’s internal policies and culture.
Former deputy chief Art Knight, who is black, was removed from his post in 2020 after criticizing the agency’s hiring practices in a newspaper article. He sued the city last year, saying the demotion was in retaliation for continuing to “tell the truth about hiring and recruiting policies that disparately impact minorities who want to become police officers.”
Former officer Colleen Ryan filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging that MPD leadership discriminated against her because she was a lesbian who advocated for “women and homosexual officers” in the workplace. She resigned last fall after more than six years on the job, enduring harassment in what she described as a misogynistic and homophobic culture – with a bigoted embrace of former President Donald Trump – deeply embedded in the department.
After a closed session on Thursday, nine city councils unanimously agreed to award $133,600 to Ryan and $70,000 to Knight. A Minneapolis police spokesperson provided the comments to the city attorney’s office, which declined to comment.
The settlements come at a particularly sensitive time for Minneapolis, which has already paid millions of dollars to settle allegations of police brutality over officer misconduct in the week following the killing of George Floyd, and remains under intense pressure to reform the police in the city.
Last month, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights released a report condemning the MPD for engaging in a race-based policing model that “results in officers needlessly multiplying encounters or use inappropriate levels of force”. He also found that Minneapolis police officers frequently use racist and sexist language, even when describing their colleagues.
‘White boys’ comment sparks backlash
After 30 years on the force, Knight has developed a reputation as an outspoken officer, always ready to be candid with politicians and community members.
But Knight’s comments in an October 2020 newspaper article about law enforcement efforts to attract and retain recruits of color sparked an internal backlash.
Former chief Medaria Arradondo, who is also black, removed Knight from his leadership position the same day the article appeared in the Star Tribune, in which Knight allegedly said that unless the MPD changed its tactics to recruit, train and promote, he would continue to “have the same old white boys”.
Some rank-and-file cops decried his language as unnecessarily divisive, while Knight supporters argued the backlash was rooted in “white fragility” around having uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations about race.
Nine months later, Knight filed a lawsuit with the city, alleging the demotion was part of a pattern of discrimination he faced as a vocal black officer. A return to his civil service rank of lieutenant would cost him his reputation and his role in police administration “where he had a chance to effect change in the department that murdered George Floyd and so desperately needs to better reflect the community he’s sworn to protect,” according to the suit.
Read more: In times of greatest need, Minneapolis struggles to recruit new police officers
Knight remained on unpaid sick leave while much of the case was pending. Following Thursday’s settlement agreement, his attorney released a statement saying Knight is ready to put this chapter behind him.
“For approximately three decades, Art Knight has served his community with bravery. And if you live in or near this city, you know as a black man he did it in a tough environment, to put it lightly,” said Minneapolis attorney Ben Kwan. “…He can now focus on healing work-related injuries and soon move on to civilian life. For that, he is grateful.
In his human rights complaint, Ryan alleged that police chiefs denied him a position as a field training officer because of his “gender and/or sexual orientation.” The complaint cited her discipline for giving an unauthorized and anonymous interview to GQ Magazine following the murder of George Floyd, in which she criticized a toxic, paramilitary police culture in Minneapolis that breeds dangerous officers like Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murdering Floyd. .
Read more: Only Minneapolis police officer formally disciplined for misconduct related to department’s riot response quit job
The department had recently promoted two heterosexual men on its shift with more recent and egregious misconduct, the complaint states. One violated the department’s search and seizure policy, Ryan said, and the other faced an open DWI case. When she raised the disparity, the sergeant said the police force could not risk Ryan putting his “personal agenda above the department while training new recruits on the streets,” according to the complaint. human rights.
Ryan declined to comment on the settlement, but in an interview with the Star Tribune last fall, she said she joined the Minneapolis Police Department to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, in the hope to change a macho culture historically dominated by men. inside.
Ryan, a staunch Democrat, said the department fell in love with Trump’s “Back the Blue” policy. Fellow officers turned on Ryan when they learned she supported Hillary Clinton – who they perceived as anti-cop – for president in 2016 and participated in the St. Paul Women’s March in 2017.
Other officers refused to partner with her and were reluctant to support her on dangerous calls, sometimes late at night in north Minneapolis, she said.
Ryan shared images of meme prints with the Star Tribune that started popping up near her locker after agents discovered she favored Clinton over Trump. One showed a photo of three women in police uniforms on a post touting the empowerment of learning to shoot and wearing body armor – “don’t wear [expletive] ridiculous pink hat and “protest”, a reference to the iconic pink hats worn during the Women’s March.
“He was very clearly targeted at me, because I was the only liberal officer on the compound,” Ryan said. “The sergeants, lieutenant, inspector – everyone knew about it.”
— Editor Liz Navratil contributed to this report.
This story is part of a collaboration with the Tribune of the Stars through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.