Park Board hires firms to review police stop of four black teens at Minnehaha Park

Third-party firms to review video of Minnehaha Park incident; no charges for 911 caller who claimed boys had weapons

The Park Board has hired independent firms to investigate whether park police followed the law when they handcuffed four black teenagers at Minnehaha Regional Park after a 911 caller reported they had weapons, including a gun.

Police with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said they were responding to a 911 call at about 7:30 p.m. on July 10 reporting four males holding knives and sticks and that one of them had a gun in his backpack. The 911 information was then updated that the suspects were assaulting the 911 caller’s boyfriend, according to a Park Board statement.

Officers arrived at the scene and quickly encountered the four boys, ages 13, 13, 14 and 16. One of the officers unholstered his firearm and pointed it in the teens’ general direction, according to the statement.

Officers held the four at the park but released three of them at the scene. The fourth teen was determined to be a missing child and taken to the Juvenile Supervision Center. All four were back with their families that evening, the board said. None of the detained teens had physical injuries.

Officers said they didn’t find any weapons on the four teens and, in the following weeks, investigated the validity of the 911 call. Witness accounts on the scene were inconsistent with the 911 caller’s account, officers said in a board statement.

Park police said they were unable to contact the 911 caller or the caller’s boyfriend at the scene or by phone.

A bystander partially captured the incident on video, which has been viewed more than 3 million times in the two weeks following the stop. It shows two of the teens handcuffed and sitting in front of a squad car. In the video and its accompanying post, bystanders allege an older white teen used racial slurs against the children and threatened them with a knife and a metal garbage can lid.

On July 20, park police submitted a criminal case regarding the 911 call to the city attorney’s office for review and possible criminal charges. The Park Board announced Wednesday that criminal charges will not be pursued due to what the city attorney’s office described as insufficient evidence in identifying the 911 caller.

Falsely reporting a crime in Minnesota is a misdemeanor offense.

“We believe reporting false information puts people’s lives in danger and any person reporting false information should be held accountable,” said interim park Superintendent Mary Merrill in a statement.

The city released a transcript of the 911 call Wednesday.

When asked by dispatch what weapons the teens allegedly had, the caller said, “They got sticks, knives, I don’t know.”

The caller later said one of them “keeps saying there’s a gun in his backpack.”

Three of the four Somali-American boys appeared at a press conference organized by the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) several days after the incident. Appearing at the event with their mothers, they said a white kid yelled racial slurs at them and threatened them. Then when park police officers arrived at the scene, they said law enforcement pointed weapons at them. They said the incident left them feeling discriminated against.

“I was scared. I thought that would be my last day in this world,” Abdijabar Ahmed, 13, said in a recording of the press conference posted by the CAIR chapter.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota CAIR chapter, credited witnesses who came forward with information for the response to the video.

“I don’t believe that if the witnesses did not come forward or the Facebook video was not shared I don’t believe this incident would not have had the type of response nor the care that we are seeing at the moment,” he said.


Outside firms to review park police actions

The officers had on body-worn cameras, which were activated during the encounter. Merrill and Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto have requested an independent investigation of the incident in order to review if officers followed park police procedure. The Park Board is reviewing how to release the video in compliance with state law.

The Park Board hired Minneapolis-based firms Bassford Remele and Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP to collectively conduct the investigation. Merrill said in a statement that she anticipates a report could be available within a week. Potential corrective actions may be considered following its release.

Following the incident, Merrill said representatives from the Park Board met with families of the teens on several occasions to apologize for “the experience and the trauma their children suffered that day and continue to experience as a result of their encounter with our officers.”

“Minneapolis parks are for all people, especially our children. Park commissioners, recreation staff and park police have worked to provide safe, welcoming experiences for youth for more than a century. We do not condone violence in the parks. What happened July 10 at Minnehaha Park does not reflect our organization’s mission and our obligation to serving youth and families. We know we have a lot of work to do if we want to rebuild trust, and we are committed to doing so,” she said in a statement.

Park Board President Brad Bourn (District 6) said in a July 11 interview that the images of the incident are “disturbing to watch, particularly in light of the recent police-involved shootings in Minneapolis and across the country.”

“The Minneapolis parks are and should be a safe place for everyone regardless of what corner of the city they live in, what their backgrounds are and their ages. They all deserve the right and expectation to feel safe,” he said.