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Minneapolis officer fired over racist Christmas tree decorations is back on force

Cop fired for racist Christmas tree reinstated
Minneappolis police officer fired over racist Christmas tree decorations is reinstated 01:36

A Minneapolis police officer fired for decorating a Christmas tree with racist items inside the department's fourth precinct in November 2018 has been reinstated, CBS Minnesota reported. An arbitrator overturned the department's decision to terminate the officer, Mark Bohnsack, ruling that he was wrongfully terminated.

Bohnsack will instead serve a 320-hour suspension, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. A department spokesman told the paper another officer fired over the incident, Brandy Steberg, has not been reinstated but did not provide further details.

The community demanded the officers be fired after an image posted on social media showed the tree decorated with racist items, including menthol cigarettes, a can of malt liquor and a cup from a fried chicken restaurant, CBS Minnesota reported. Advocates said the incident was indicative of racist attitudes of some officers who patrol predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city's north side, where the fourth precinct is located. 

The officers were placed on leave and eventually terminated in August 2019. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo apologized, saying the incident undermined trust between police and the community, and the precinct commander was demoted.

"When this happened, communities were really upset. People were ready to make some action happen and they did, right, we put the pressure on and they did," Chauntyll Allen, a community leader for Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, told CBS Minnesota. "Now two years later when they think no one's watching, they just welcome these racists back into the institution to come patrol our streets again, and that's just not okay."

Pushes for police reform in Minnesota in the wake of nationwide outrage over the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers have included calls to change the arbitration process. A June analysis by the Star-Tribune found that arbitrators had ordered cities to re-hire half of the 80 Minnesota officers who challenged their firings over a 20-year period.

Minneapolis police chief: Union must decide whether to be on right or wrong side of history 00:27

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Arradondo have both called on the state legislature to enact reforms that would reduce the power of arbitrators and disallow them from overturning firing decisions made by the chief. Arradondo has also pulled the department out of negotiations with the Minneapolis police union, which advocates have described as a significant barrier to reform. The union has maintained the arbitration process is an important way to ensure officers accused of misconduct receive due process.

Frey said in a statement to CBS Minnesota: "The facts of this case are clear. Chief Arradondo's decision to terminate or discipline should not be overturned. We need arbitration reforms that tackles an arbitrator's authority to reinstate in cases of established, egregious misconduct."

Community police reform activist Nekima Levy Armstrong told CBS Minnesota there needs to be more diversity amongst arbitrators, most of whom are White.

"They don't have a connection to the African American community or other communities of color, and they are not looking through a racial justice lens when deciding these cases," Armstrong said.

A package of police reforms passed by the Minnesota state legislature this year added some accountability measures to the arbitration process, but advocates argue it doesn't go far enough. The city has a right to appeal the arbitrator's decision, the paper reports.

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