St. Paul mayor orders IA review of viral skyway arrest
The arrest of Christopher Lollie, 28, which Lollie video-recorded on his cellphone, has drawn national attention
By Richard Chin and Mara H. Gottfried
Pioneer Press, St. Paul
ST PAUL — St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said Friday that he will order an internal affairs review of the arrest and tasing of a black man in January in a downtown skyway.
The arrest of Christopher Lollie, 28, which Lollie video-recorded on his cellphone, has drawn national attention. On Friday, a national Islamic civil rights group said it was a case of racial profiling and called for a federal investigation.
"In the last several days, a video of an arrest of an African-American man has led some to question the tactics and reputation of the St. Paul Police Department," according to a statement from Coleman.
"While the incident occurred over eight months ago, the video raises a great deal of concern, especially given this summer's shooting death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo."
The mayor was referring to the police shooting of a black, unarmed 18-year-old, whose death Aug. 9 ignited more than a week of protests in the St. Louis surburb.
Coleman said he was ordering a "full review" of the Lollie arrest by the city's Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission.
Lollie had planned to file his own complaint with police, which is how internal affairs complaints are normally initiated, but his lawyer, Andrew Irlbeck, advised against it Friday.
"In my experience, internal affairs is not there to actually address problems," Irlbeck said. "It's there to provide a facade of transparency."
They plan to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, Irlbeck said.
"The video speaks for itself," he said. "He was there to pick up his children and bring them to day care and when I do it as a white man, that's what it gets called. When a black man does it, it's loitering and trespassing, and he gets arrested and force used against him by police."
Lollie, reached by phone Friday evening, said his arrest is part of a bigger problem. He said he hopes his lawsuit will help to continue a national conversation about race and police practices, which he said was "steamrolling right now."
"It's tough being a black man in this society," he said. "But one thing I do know, the picture that's already painted of me and every other black man in this country, if I acquiesce to that picture, I'm not going to be able to say that's not who I am.
"I'm an open book right now. I know people are going to be digging into who I am and my background, but I'm a stand-up guy."
Coleman said Friday that he has contacted leaders in the African-American community "to discuss this incident.
There will be a formal meeting Monday with the NAACP, the African American Leadership Council, and the St. Paul Black Ministerial Alliance and the leadership in the St. Paul Police Department.
"I hope we can have a candid conversation about this particular incident -- but more importantly, I hope that we can build upon the longstanding relationships that exist, and map out further work that we can do to continue to build trust between our community and the police," Coleman said in the statement.
Tyrone Terrill, president of the African-American Leadership Council, said of the video, "It's very concerning to us. We'll do our due diligence and talk on Monday."
The mayor's spokeswoman, Tonya Tennessen, said Coleman did not plan to attend the meeting.
St. Paul police approached Lollie on Jan. 31 after a security guard at First National Bank told him he was sitting in a private area in the downtown skyway and had to move, according to police reports. Lollie has said the area was not posted as private.
In the cellphone video that Lollie took, he can be heard saying, "The problem is I'm black. That's the problem. No, it really is, because I didn't do anything wrong."
The case ignited fury on social media this week after the Twin Cities Daily Planet wrote about it and posted the video Wednesday. Lollie's YouTube video had been viewed about 280,000 times as of Friday afternoon.
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus called the mayor's statement inflammatory.
"We do not choose what calls we respond to, and we do not have the luxury of all of the information prior to arrival," he said.
"The outcome of this arrest was determined by Mr. Lollie. He refused numerous lawful orders for an extended period of time. ... The only person who brought race into this situation was Mr. Lollie."
Lollie was charged with three misdemeanors: trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing legal process. Those charges were dismissed July 31.
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Lollie was tased and arrested "apparently for just being black in a public area."
"We believe this disturbing incident would not have unfolded as it did had the individual in question been white," Hooper said in a statement.
"The Department of Justice should investigate this case just as it is investigating the shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri and other cases of allegedly racially motivated police brutality."
A Justice Department spokesman could not be contacted Friday for comment.
Howie Padilla, a St. Paul police spokesman, said Lollie's arrest was not a case of racial profiling. He said police went to the scene in response to a call of a trespassing incident and responded due to the individual's behavior, not his race.
The officers involved in the case were Michael Johnson, Bruce Schmidt and Lori Hayne.
Johnson has been a St. Paul officer since 1990 and assigned to downtown for most of his career. His personnel record shows no disciplinary action and 40 commendations, thank-you letters or other recognition.
Schmidt became a St. Paul officer in 1989 and has worked downtown since 2007. He received an oral reprimand in 1992 and 1998 for preventable accidents. He has 28 recognitions noted in his file.
Hayne retired at the end of June after working as a St. Paul officer for nearly 18 years. She had no disciplinary action and 14 recognitions in her personnel file.
The Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission consists of five community members and two police officers, according to a city website.
It reviews citizen complaints of excessive force, discrimination and improper procedures and any other complaint referred to it by the mayor or chief of police.
The police chief makes the final decision on discipline.
Copyright 2014 the Pioneer Press