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'Police Misconduct Is Costly': An Examination Of Settlements In Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Police misconduct allegations have cost taxpayers in the state's largest city tens of millions of dollars in the last decade alone.

Just this year, Minneapolis paid a record settlement to the family of George Floyd. WCCO-TV has added up the costs, and spoke to experts about what the payouts reveal about policing in the city.

"I've had several incidents with law enforcement," Al Flowers said.

Flowers is just one of the hundreds of people the city of Minneapolis has paid over police officer conduct.

"It was all about saying that 'I have rights,'" Flowers said.

The city settled with him twice, most recently for $25,000 in 2017. In that case, officers arrested Flowers. He wasn't charged. He was banged up, he says, from police misconduct.

"If they were being fair to the people, then they wouldn't have to pay out those settlements," Flowers said.

The city assumes no liability with a settlement. Officer conduct payouts range from hundreds of dollars to millions of dollars.

Attorney Bob Bennett said his first case against Minneapolis police was in 1980. He has represented numerous clients who felt wronged by police, and settled.

"It's been a series of rinse and repeats sort of afterwards. We were suing out use-of-force cases, what type of force varied," Bennett said.

Duy Ngo was shot in the line of duty by a fellow officer in 2003. He was awarded $4.5 million, the largest settlement of its kind at the time. He died by suicide less than three years later.

In 2010, David Smith died during an arrest. He was handcuffed and held down. Minneapolis paid $3 million to settle.

Madelyn Milton needed seven staples in her head after she says she was pushed to the ground by an officer in 2014. Her payout: $82,000.

Most notably, Bennett secured a $20 million settlement for the 2017 police killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

"All of these cases involve people who are affected, often profoundly affected, by the breach of trust," Bennett said.

Rachel Moran is an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

"People should know that police misconduct is costly," Moran said. "The city of Minneapolis is self-insured, and so it is literally taxpayer money that goes to pay these enormous settlements."

And Moran says the numbers reflect the department.

"This is what happens when you have a city that has police officers engaging in sufficient enough misconduct for there to be legal payouts about it," Moran said.

Compared to similar size cities, Minneapolis leads the pack in officer conduct payouts. A look at the average from 2010 to 2020 shows:

Wichita spends an average of $204,000 per year, with several years reporting no payouts. Oakland averages just above $2.7 million a year.
And Minneapolis pays out over $3.3 million per year, on average.

That does not include the $27 million settlement paid to George Floyd's family this year.

The city of Minneapolis told WCCO it doesn't track which officer conduct payouts also resulted in discipline for an officer involved.

"The officer who shot Duy Ngo didn't have any discipline, the officers who killed David Smith didn't have any discipline," Bennett said.

And that's often what Bennett says clients are looking for.

"At their base level, you want to stop the conduct from ever happening again," Bennett said.

Flowers says history shows it's change that's overdue in Minneapolis.

"Some kind of way, we got to work these things out, cause nobody wants a settlement, nobody wants to be beat by the police," Flowers said.

The city currently faces several lawsuits connected to police conduct during last year's riots. Bennett also says he plans to file suit for a 2017 case in which Derek Chauvin was federally charged.

Click here for a closer look at Office Conduct Payouts in Minneapolis.

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