By Steve Karnowski
MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings great Carl Eller sued the Minneapolis Police Department on Monday, alleging officers violated his civil rights, used excessive force and concealed videotape evidence when they subdued him during an arrest last April.
The Hall of Fame player was arrested after he allegedly drove through a stop sign and narrowly missed hitting a squad car. Officers followed him home, where they say he became combative. He was charged with fourth-degree assault and making terroristic threats, which are felonies, and driving while impaired and refusing to take a chemical test for alcohol, which are gross misdemeanors.
Police dismisssed the lawsuit as baseless. The suit, filed in federal court, seeks damages of more than $75,000, plus punitive damages.
"All of this truly could have been prevented if Carl had stopped at the initial interaction with police," said Sgt. Jesse Garcia, a police spokesman.
Eller is to go on trial on the criminal charges this week in Hennepin County District Court. Prosecutors have said that if he's convicted, he'll likely face some combination of up to a year in jail and probation.
The 66-year-old former defensive end has acknowledged his struggles with substance abuse. He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2006. He became a treatment counselor and has spoken publicly to groups about the problems of chemical dependency.
The lawsuit alleges that officers used excessive force when they struck Eller on the head three times with a large flashlight, used a choke hold and shocked him multiple times with two Taser stun guns, even after he had lost consciousness.
The suit contends that officers "maliciously and/or recklessly" assaulted Eller because he is black, and did so as part of a "tacit agreement or conspiracy" to violate the rights of African-Americans in Minneapolis.
The actions were "malicious, unjustified and unreasonable, and so outrageous as to be none endurable in a civilized society," the lawsuit says.
Police put Eller at risk of great bodily harm and did not seek or provide him with medical treatment, the lawsuit adds.
All of the squad cars involved had videotaping equipment and a deputy chief ordered that the tapes be retrieved following Eller's arrest, the lawsuit claims.
But it says the tapes turned over to the defense don't show what happened, and alleges the officers "acted or may have acted separately or in concert, to conceal, divert or destroy potential evidence of the excessive force."
Garcia described the lawsuit's claims as tactics to "distort the facts."
"Carl had been drinking, driving erratically, and he attacked two officers," he said.
Garcia said that while some squad cars responding were equipped with cameras, the car belonging to the first officers on the scene did not.
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Eller was one of the Vikings' celebrated "Purple People Eaters" in his 15 years with Minnesota from 1964-78. He played in six Pro Bowls and all four of the Vikings' Super Bowl appearances. He finished his career in 1979 with Seattle. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.