An investigation into the culture of the Golden Valley Police Department uncovered "racist and offensive statements" made by officers and various alleged violations of the state's data practices law, according to new documents shared by the city.
The Golden Valley City Council hired Greene Espel Law Firm in March to investigate allegations of a "toxic workplace culture" within the police department. The move came amid talks of potential interference with the city's police chief hiring process.
The City of Golden Valley on Wednesday published the redacted findings of the nine-month investigation and an investigative summary prepared for the council.
Eight officers were investigated for complaints regarding alleged violations of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and city policies.
One officer, Kristen Hoefling, was terminated in August and six of the other officers are no longer employed with the city.
“The independent investigation was necessary to bring clarity to the allegations of misconduct, hold employees accountable, and have a better understanding of the systemic issues that harm community trust in policing,” City Manager Tim Cruikshank shared in a statement.
The findings allege Hoefling violated state law and city policy when she made surreptitious recordings of three staff meetings last year.
Hoefling later disseminated the recordings to some, but not all, of her coworkers to "advance her own personal views," the report states.
At the time, the report found, there was conflict between some officers and city administration over diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
In an April 14, 2021 email, Deputy City Manager Kirsten Santelices shared self-care resources and invited city employees to participate in facilitated small-group conversations in light of the police killing of Daunte Wright, the trial of Derek Chauvin, and the approaching one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.
In an emailed response, one police officer — whose name is redacted from the report — took issue with city administration referring to Floyd’s death as a "murder" or "killing" and suggested the city begin “educating the public on complying with simple instructions given by police.”
“Race is not the issue here, noncompliance is,” the officer wrote.
'Racist or offensive comments'
The investigation alleges Hoefling committed serious policy violations, including making "racist and offensive statements."
These comments were captured in Hoefling's own recordings of internal virtual meetings, according to the report.
In one example, Hoefling can be heard laughing during a discussion of inequitable health outcomes for Black women, including higher rates of death during childbirth.
"Is this more of a biological issue than a racist issue? I mean, it seems hard-pressed to put racism on it," she said in a recording of the meeting, according to the report.
Later during the meeting, Hoefling said "because they don't work" when shown a video regarding the country's racial wealth gap.
Greene Espel wrote that comment was "particularly egregious" and concluded Hoefling's comments were "racist, derogatory toward Black Americans, and offensive."
Hoefling declined to participate in an interview, which the city required, as part of the investigation, according to the report.
In another instance noted in the report, an officer wrote a comment into a chat window suggesting systemic racism does not exist.
“The officer suggested that because a particular Black individual seemingly had a comfortable life and had enjoyed certain privileges, that Black people in the aggregate are not in fact disadvantaged by any systemic inequities,” the report detailed.
On Friday, the city will host two gatherings for community members to share their thoughts and process their feelings about the investigation.
The "listening and healing circles" will be held at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the Brookview Valley Room.
“We believe all forms of discrimination negatively impact everyone, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color," Golden Valley Police Chief Virgil Green, whose swearing-in took place in September, shared in a statement. "We will continue to pursue meaningful changes to transform our police department so that all our community members are seen, safe, and respected."
Looking ahead, Greene Espel recommends city leaders reframe DEI work with the police department.
The report found the city’s past efforts to engage police officers in conversations about antiracism and structural inequities were often scheduled on a “reactive basis” and “ultimately counterproductive."
So-called “listening sessions” with officers “seemed to enhance resistance to concepts regarding systemic racism, and caused further backlash against City management," the firm wrote, suggesting the city should instead implement specific policy changes to meet data-driven goals.
“A different approach is needed to foster a more courteous, productive dialogue regarding the City’s DEI work and to work toward the elimination of any racial disparities in policing," the report stated.