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Golden Valley Police Department investigation reveals culture of racism, leads to officer departures

A widespread internal investigation revealed a culture of racism within the Golden Valley Police Department and resistance to anti-racism efforts among forces that saw the firing and departure of at least six other officers during the investigation.

The investigation commissioned by law firm Greene Espel at the request of Mayor Shep Harris into allegations of racism and officer misconduct was launched nine months ago. It focused on eight officers who allegedly created a “toxic and inappropriate work culture,” according to a human resources complaint. Only one of these officers remains with the ministry.

Harris called for the inquiry in March when he was in the process of hiring the city’s first black chief and the department was already facing a shortage of officers and an ongoing dispute over anti-racism efforts described in the survey. The more than 100-page redacted reports were posted on the city’s website late Wednesday, the latest development in a clash between some officers and city leaders championing police reform and diversity efforts , Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

“The independent investigation was necessary to clarify allegations of misconduct, hold employees accountable and better understand systemic issues that undermine community confidence in the police,” City Manager Tim Cruikshank wrote in a statement while refusing interview requests.

One of the eight officers was fired for a slew of racist comments, as well as data breaches that violated the department’s Professional Conduct Policy, the city’s Respectful Workplace Policy and the Data Practices Act of the Minnesota government.

Following “harmful communications uncovered during the investigation,” the city is hosting a Friday night Listening and Healing Circle led by trained community facilitators “to discuss their thoughts and feelings and process results of the investigation,” according to a statement from the city.

The union representing the officers did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.

culture of racism

Greene Espel shared with city officials her first investigative memorandum July 28 regarding Officer Kristin Hoefling, who was fired in August.

Hoefling’s actions “all exhibited an unreliability that would tend to discredit her” and, according to the report, include: multiple racist statements, sharing of illegally recorded staff meetings, and use “of a pseudonym [Roni Macready] to engage in unauthorized discussions with members of the public regarding the hiring process for the city’s chief of police. »

The police union said Hoefling declined to comment. She also refused to cooperate with the investigation.

He revealed that Hoefling repeatedly laughed during a staff meeting while discussing the inequitable health outcomes of black women who are more likely to die during childbirth.

“Is it more of a biological issue than a racist issue? I mean it seems hard to put racism in it,” she said in a recording of the meeting, according to the report.

Later in the reunion, she said black people “don’t work” while watching a video about racial wealth disparities and was shown swearing at the moderator while he was mute.

During an April 2021 meeting between officers and Kiarra Zackery, the city’s equity and inclusion coordinator, Hoefling illegally recorded and shared it outside of the Safe Work Network. She shared it from her work emails for “retention purposes” according to a copy of the email, and she wrote that she was getting very upset and swearing several times in the recording.

Zackery previously told the Star Tribune that at the meeting she defined racialized violence and systemic racism in policing “as the disparity or over-representation of people of color experiencing all types of harm that can occur during encounters with the police.

He was asked at the meeting if using force with a person of color was still considered racialized violence. Zackery said yes, and she added in an email to the Star Tribune that “some officers disagreed.”

During the meeting, Hoefling said “I will [expletive] resign,” according to the report.

During that same meeting, an unidentified officer typed a message suggesting that systemic racism does not exist.

“The statement was offensive and racist because it suggested that the experience of all black people could be generalized based on the privileges the officer believed only one specific black person had experienced,” Greene Espel wrote.

Following the April 2021 murder of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer, Deputy City Manager Kirsten Santelices sent an email offering self-care seminars and group sessions to deal with violence racialized that “may be particularly triggering as we approach the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.”

An unidentified officer replied to everyone in the email saying, in part, that “race is not the issue here, non-compliance is… Please keep your opinions to yourselves.”

Greene Espel recommends the city reframe its DEI work to better engage with officers on anti-racism and structural inequality discussions. The law firm found that meetings about these initiatives were scheduled on a reactive basis and as listening sessions that were “ultimately counterproductive, appeared to build resistance to concepts regarding systemic racism, and provoked new reactions against the management of the city”.

“A different approach is needed to foster a more courteous and productive dialogue regarding the city’s DEI work and to work toward eliminating any racial disparity in policing.”

Scott Nadeau, a seasoned police chief who served as acting chief of Golden Valley, previously told the Star Tribune that the way city staff present and implement DEI’s work in the department “n’t was not particularly helpful”.

Nadeau was a finalist for the permanent chief job, but withdrew his candidacy the day after Harris requested the investigation, alleging the hiring process involved an intimidation tactic after officers hand-delivered a letter approving Nadeau.

Instead, the city hired the other finalist, Virgil Green, who had already been fired from his last two chieftainships. Hoefling used his work computer and database access to find court records for Green’s lawsuits in the two dismissals and shared that information with the media, city staff and on Facebook using the pseudonym.

The city said in a statement it would “continue ongoing work to eliminate racist beliefs, attitudes and behaviors,” including the work of the Commission for Jobs, Accountability, and Community Engagement (PEACE). ) of the newly created police, and work on the program Reinventing Public Safety: Reducing Harm Through Collaborative Solutions funded by a grant from the Pohlad Foundation.

Greene Espel also recommends the city implement a slew of training on proper social media use and Minnesota government data practice to prevent future data breaches.

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