Friday, July 19, 2013

Corruption in the Crystal Police Department?

In the past few weeks, allegations of corruption and a cover up in the Crystal Police Department have been heating up.  A group called Communities United Against Police Brutality (CAUPB) has been blanketing the city with flyers, trying to drum up support for their cause.

I was present at a recent Crystal City Council work session where this issue was discussed extensively.  I will try to first present you the facts of the case, and I’ll weigh in with my commentary at the end.

The allegations in this case go back to July 2008, when a man named Norberto Ramirez was arrested and later deported after an interaction with the Minnesota Gang Strike Force (MGSF).  After the MGSF made the arrest of Ramirez and his son, Ramirez’s sister Martha went to try to retrieve some belongings from the apartment Norberto was living in.  She was unable to gain access to the apartment.  The reason for this is disputed.

While Martha was attempting to obtain access to the apartment, the police were called by the apartment caretaker.  The police officers who responded determined that they were encountering a landlord-tenant dispute and that no criminal activity was taking place.

Eventually, the belongings in the apartment disappeared.  Where they went is disputed.

In September, 2008, the Ramirez family filed a lawsuit against their landlord for an unlawful lockout of their rental unit. The Ramirez family later settled with the landlord’s insurance company for $20,000, as compensation for their lost property.

On the same day as the lawsuit was filed against the former landlord, Martha Ramirez filed a theft report with the Crystal Police Department.  At the time, she provided a copy of her lawsuit against the landlord.  The officer who took the police report felt again that this was a civil matter and that there was no criminal activity that could be proven.  The case was closed administratively, and there was never a criminal investigation into the alleged theft of the family’s property.

I should also note that in 2012, 10 members of the Ramirez family were awarded $3,000 each by the US District Court as a result of finding of wrongdoing by the MGSF.

There seems to be no dispute that the Ramirez family was not treated properly by their landlord and the MGSF.

The lack of investigation into the theft of their property seems to be the main conflict in this whole affair, and brings us to the next chapter of the saga.

Now there are two Crystal police officers who are claiming that they are being retaliated against by the Crystal Police Chief (who, incidentally was not the chief at the time of the incident in 2008) for speaking out about the Ramirez case.

The claim is that these officers recently raised red flags about the department’s handling of the Ramirez case, and are now, several years later, being forced out of their jobs because of this.

I won’t claim to have all of the facts related to this case. I don’t believe that anyone does at this point.  But I do find the claims of the officers to be less than credible.  I also find their association with Communities United Against Police Brutality, a group that seems to have a hard time telling the truth, troubling.  (The propaganda being produced by CAUPB contains demonstrably false statements.)

The Ramirez family has already been compensated for both the “theft” of their belongings, and the actions taken against them by the MGSF.  The MGSF has been disbanded.  The Ramirez family has even moved back into Crystal- an odd development considering they claim the police department is corrupt.

I don’t know why, more than five years after the event, the police chief who wasn’t the chief at the time would retaliate against two police officers for speaking out.

I don’t know if the two officers who have been disciplined were disciplined appropriately or not.  They claim to have filed complaints with the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) about the alleged illegal retaliation against them. I do know that there is a process for these types of disputes to be worked out.

That process does not include distributing misleading flyers or having your niece speak on your behalf at a city council meeting, as one of the officers did.

Based on the information I have seen, I do not believe there was any wrongdoing by the Crystal Police Department in their handling of the Ramirez case.  Therefore, I find it highly unlikely that the Police Chief retaliated against someone for exposing wrongdoing that doesn’t exist.

What I find more likely is that there are some members of the Crystal Police Department who are just not happy with the new Police Chief. 

As I mentioned earlier, there is a process in place to mediate disputes between Police Management and Police Officers, and I trust that this system will work.  If the officers involved are found to have been improperly disciplined, then the city council and city management should deal with that issue at that time, swiftly and decisively.

Until then, it’s important that everyone focuses on the relevant facts, and tries to filter out the noise and misinformation.

You can visit a website put up by CUAPB here.  This website includes statements by both officers (1 | 2), the report produced by an independent investigator hired by the city, and CUAPB’s refutation of that report.