Skip to main content

Minneapolis officer fired over offensive Christmas tree told arbitrator it was a 'joke' on colleague

The arbitrator found in favor of officer Mark Bohnsack, who is allowed to resume his job after a suspension.
Racist Christmas tree

The Minneapolis police officer who was fired over Christmas tree decorations that were denounced as racist told an arbitrator that it was a "joke" he was playing on a "clean freak" colleague.

The arbitrator's report into the appeal made by Officer Mark Bohnsack was released Tuesday. The arbitrator found that Bohnsack deserved punishment, but that firing him was too far. He has since been allowed back onto the force with a suspension.

The incident in late November 2018 saw Bohnsack and his partner, officer Brandy Steberg, decorate the 4th Police Precinct Christmas tree with pieces of trash, with a member of the public taking a picture while they were in the station and posting it to social media, where it went viral.

The "trash" in question includes empty packets of Takis and Funyans chips, a pack of menthol cigarettes, an empty can of malt liquor, a paper cup from Popeye's Chicken, and some police crime scene tape.

The choice of "decorations" was widely denounced as perpetuating stereotypes of the Black community, with the city firing Bohnsack and Steberg for actions "that can only be perceived as racist," as well as breaking the public's trust and "reigniting past trauma" in the Northside community, with the 4th Precinct having been the scene of a lengthy protest in late 2015 after the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by police.

But when interviewed about the incident, Bohnsack claimed that the trash was picked at random from the back seat of his and Steberg's squad car, and that they decorated the tree with trash as a "joke" upon their colleague, Officer Kris Thompson, who they described as a "clean freak."

The Police Federation of Minneapolis however argued that Bohnsack's firing was excessive and "unjust," noting that Bohnsack had "acquired a lengthy and impeccable work record over 20 years with the department."

It also argued that Bohnsack "acknowledged his wrongdoing" once he was able to "look back at it" and said that discipline should be "constructive and corrective," and not "punitive."

It also maintained that the City couldn't prove that Bohnsack knew the decorations were intended to be racist, or have a negative impact on the wider community.

Sign up for our BREAKING NEWS newsletters

What the arbitrator ruled

The arbitrator, Jay Fogelburg, said he was "satisfied that ...Bohnsack's conduct was not intended to have the adverse reaction that it did, and that he and his partner were ... seeking to play a joke that was only intended for one fellow officer."

He found that Bohnsack's actions were contrary to his training and he should have known better given his lengthy service in the 4th Precinct and Northside community, but found the City's decision to fire him a "rush to judgement."

He noted that Mayor Jacob Frey told Police Chief Medaria Arradondo he wanted the two officers to be "fired by noon" soon after the decorations came to light, with Arradondo issuing a news release in the days after that said he was "ashamed and appalled by their behavior." 

This news release was issued before Bohnsack and Steberg had been given the opportunity to tell their side, which didn't happen till almost two months later.

It also notes that the officers involved, including Thompson and then 4th Precinct Inspector Aaron Biard – who was subsequently demoted – were interviewed as part of the investigation, though Fogelburg does not that Arradondo and Frey were under intense political pressure to take action.

While he found that there was clear misconduct by the two officers, Bohnsack's "outstanding record ... weighed heavily on the decision to support here a reduced penalty."

It was reported last week that Steberg has not returned to the Minneapolis Police Department.

Next Up

nicolas blouin flickr fire hose

Fire departments decry drivers running over hoses, endangering crews

It happened in two separate Northland cities this week.

All Energy Solar - Bringing Panels to Roof

All Energy Solar reaches growth milestones with higher goals yet for 2022

Minnesota solar company continues to thrive through building a strong workforce

Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintoba crossing crop

Authorities ID family found frozen to death at MN-Canada border

They're still trying to unravel how they got there and who might have helped them.

covid

Mayo Clinic specialist: 'The omicron surge is not over'

Experts expect a rapid decline over the next month followed a period of calm.

police lights

Charges: Man in stolen Jeep leads police on 110 mph chase

He crashed into a light post near the Capitol and then fled on foot, the complaint says.

kua dog go fund me

Puppy in back of stolen Audi found, reunited with owner

The 4 1/2-month-old bullmastiff had been missing more than a week.

Fuzzy Gerdes Flickr Franks Diner Kenosha

WI's best 'hole-in-the-wall' diner is Guy Fieri-approved

Come for the "garbage pile," stay for ... even more breakfast food.

FKISmwPWUAYZJW6

Minnesota's pre-pro women's soccer team unveils name, logo

The new name and look was unveiled after community owners voted on a winner.

fentanyl DEA

21 people charged in connection to drug trafficking in northern MN

Police say the organization sold more than 10 pounds of heroin and fentanyl in northern Minnesota.

Band Box Diner Courtney Mault Flickr

MN's 'best hole-in-the-wall diner' is, sadly, currently closed

MSN recently published its pick for best diner in each state.

covid

Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Thursday, January 27

Cases remain very high but hospitalizations have been plateaued for the past week.

Related

Minneapolis police

Minneapolis officer fired over offensive Christmas tree is back on the force

The officer won his job back in arbitration, which has the mayor calling for change to the process.

Change of leadership at 4th Precinct after 'racist' tree incident

A new interim inspector has been appointed to run the precinct.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.40.34 AM

Photo of Minneapolis couple used in flyer warning of 'race-mixing'

The couple had their photos taken in Princeton, Minnesota.

Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 9.10.30 AM

Dispute over Minneapolis PD uniform rule change ahead of Trump rally

The ruling prevents officers appearing on camera at political events and advertisements.

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 11.50.19 PM

Minneapolis fire chief told of 3rd Precinct blaze by CNN's Don Lemon

Mayor Jacob Frey is also coming in for criticism for appearing on MSNBC.

Screen Shot 2020-11-01 at 7.29.23 AM

Police group issues complaint about book read to students in south metro

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association wants the book removed.