Police try to make false misconduct reports a crime

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April 12, 2004 // UPDATED 1:15 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis is backing state legislation that would make it a crime to falsely report police misconduct.

The Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority (CRA) board is asking the City Council to oppose it.

Sgt. John Delmonico, Police Federation president, said officers want people held accountable if they intentionally lie, alleging police misconduct.

"I don't think people realize what this does to an officer's spouse, to their kids, all of a sudden, their mom or dad is on the front page of the paper," Delmonico said.

Michael Friedman, CRA chair, said the law would discourage people from coming forward with a complaint. (The CRA investigates complaints against city police.)

"Minneapolis residents need to know that if they witness or feel victimized by an incident that seems to them police misconduct, they will not be slapped with a criminal charge if they are mistaken," he wrote City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward), chair of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

Benson delayed committee action on the CRA's request for a resolution opposing the legislation. He wanted to hear from the Police Federation representatives, who were not present at a March 30 meeting. The committee will discuss it again Tuesday, April 13, 9:30 a.m.

Sen. Mike McGinn, R-Eagan, is the chief author in the Senate and Rep. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester is carrying the bill in the House of Representatives.

Nelson called the bill "common sense," an effort to deter false accusations against police, either for revenge or to deflect investigators' attention from a crime. The House included it in its Omnibus Judiciary bill. It awaits a conference committee, she said.

The bill would make it a gross misdemeanor to knowingly and falsely accuse a police officer of a criminal act, and a misdemeanor to accuse and officer of noncriminal misconduct. A misdemeanor has a maximum fine of $750 and/or 90 days in jail, a gross misdemeanor has a maximum fine of $3,000 and/or a year in jail.

The bill allows the judge to require the guilty party to pay restitution for the investigation costs.

Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association initiated the bill, said Executive Director Bill Gillespie. "We need something to chill false complaints," he said.

Gillespie said it is very difficult for an officer to get back his or her reputation once someone makes a false accusation. He compared it to trying to retrieve a bag of feathers let loose in the wind.

Friedman, speaking for himself, not the CRA board, said before a formal CRA investigation starts, a person must sign a complaint under penalty of perjury, which offers one sanction for lying.

He is sympathetic to police concerns about damage to reputation, he said. "My wife is a doctor," he said. "She had a false complaint made against her. No one thinks that [accusing] person should be subject to a criminal penalty."

The way to restore an officer's reputation is not to create a new crime to punish a liar, but to open investigative records to public review, giving people confidence in the process and outcome, Friedman said.

Delmonico said the law would have helped in two recent high- profile cases. One involved Stephen Porter, a man who claimed police sexually assaulted him during an arrest. The second concerned an accusation that two officers urinated on Ronald Lee Johnson, a Native American man, near the Little Earth housing development.

Lt. Val Wurster, commander of internal affairs, said the FBI is handling the Porter case and has not issued a report. The Police Department also has an internal investigation of Porter's allegations, which should be completed shortly.

Both officers involved in the Johnson case have had their panel hearings, but they still have the opportunity to arbitrate any findings. Until a final resolution, the Department cannot comment, Wurster said.