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Report: Cases alleging police misconduct cost St. Paul $1M in 2012

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The city of St. Paul paid out about $1 million in alleged police misconduct cases in 2012, the highest amount in the 17 years of records of settlements the city attorney had access to, the Pioneer Press reports.

The paper says the costs stem from eight cases alleging police misconduct that were settled last year. Six of the cases stem from claims made during current Chief Thomas Smith's tenure, which began in 2010, while two cases were from John Harrington's term as chief, from 2004 to 2010.

The claims in the cases under Smith's watch cost the city almost $800,000, while the Harrington-era cases cost about $230,000.

Among the largest cases settled in 2012 was an award of $400,000 to a woman was left with serious burns after St. Paul police used a flash-bang distraction device while executing a search warrant at her home.

City Attorney Sara Grewing told the paper that the largest payout went out to people with significant injuries, but larger conclusions shouldn't be drawn to settle recent cases. She said the decision to settle a lawsuit is based on "what's in the best interest of the city in terms of dollars and cents."

The St. Paul Police Federation also warns people not to make swift judgments about settlements, because "officers have seconds to decide life-and-death situations."

"Attorneys and city management who have very little concept of police tactics can sit back for months and months to debate what we did, and officers had the luxury of seconds," union president Dave Titus told the Pioneer Press.

Still, the president of the St. Paul NAACP wants officers held "accountable for what they do and not put their misdeeds on the backs of taxpayers of St. Paul."

Jeff Martin told the Pioneer Press that there has "to be some equity in the system -- if you're an officer who cost the city some money, you should be held to a higher standard, whether that's losing your job or maybe some of your pension."

Comparing settlements in officer conduct-related claims in the Twin Cities in 2012, the Pioneer Press found that the St. Paul averaged about $113,000 for its eight claims, while the city of Minneapolis averaged about $46,000 per case in its 16 settlements, or a total of approximately $736,000.

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