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Minneapolis council member releases privileged memo on council's authority to limit 'less lethal' weapons

It says quite directly that the city council doesn't have the authority to restrict their use.

A Minneapolis City Council member who has pushed for limits on the police department's use of "less lethal" weapons released a previously privileged memo  regarding the city council's authority to implement such a policy.

Cam Gordon, who represents Ward 2, shared the city attorney's May 14 memo Wednesday, nearly two weeks after the city council voted to waive attorney-client privilege and make the document public.

The memo states, quite plainly, that the city council has no authority to prohibit the police department's use of "less lethal" weapons such as rubber bullets, tear gas or bean bags. That's because under the city charter, the mayor has "complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the police department."

An ordinance passed by the city council to restrict certain equipment would be "an encroachment on the Mayor’s authority," and "exceed the powers provided to the City Council and violate the Charter," the memo reads.

The memo was crafted at the request of the city council, which on April 16 directed the city attorney to provide a legal analysis on options council members could take to limit the use of "less lethal" weapons.

At the same time, the council voted 11-1 to formally state it opposed the uses of these weapons as a means of crowd control during protests and demonstrations. This resolution carried no legal authority, and did not change police policy — it simply made the majority of the council's stance clear.

Mayor Jacob Frey, speaking to the Star Tribune in April, described the conversation around these weapons as "bickering," while Police Chief Medaria Arradondo called the resolution "both unhelpful and uninformed."

The move came in the wake of two key events. 

One, the protests following the police killing of Daunte Wright, during which rubber bullets and tear gas were used by law enforcement responding to the scene.

Two, the release of a study by the University of Minnesota that catalogued a bevy of serious injuries individuals suffered from the use of less lethal weapons during the George Floyd unrest. People suffered eye trauma and traumatic brain injuries as a result of less lethal projectiles, and some required surgery.

Some journalists have filed lawsuits over their injuries, including a Tennessee reporter blinded by a foam bullet. The ACLU of Minnesota sued on behalf of protesters.

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Gordon has talked about the "harm" he said these "less lethal" options have caused, but on Wednesday made the case council members' hands are tied.

"The Council has expressed its view, via the resolution I authored, that we should put much more stringent limits on the use of these weapons - but cannot do anything more about it until and unless the Charter is changed," he wrote.

Minneapolis residents in November will vote on a charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a department of public safety. It would be led by a commissioner appointed by the mayor, but the mayor would not have "complete power" over the department or its operations.

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