St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Friday asked the city's Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission to do a full review of a January incident in a downtown skyway. It ended when police used a Taser on a father who was picking up his children from preschool.
KSTP reports the incident involves Christopher Lollie, 28, who is black. At least two of the St. Paul police officers who questioned him are white. At the time, Lollie was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of the legal process. All charges were dismissed in July.
The Star Tribune notes a 5-minute cellphone video of the incident that Lollie recorded was uploaded on YouTube on Tuesday and has been widely viewed. By noon on Saturday, it had more than 660,000 hits.
The incident started when Lollie was in a seating area inside the First National Bank in downtown St. Paul. A security guard there called police about him. When police arrived, they all moved into the skyway. Officers asked Lollie his name and he declined to give it. Police said he pulled away and resisted officers. They used force to take him into custody.
In an interview with MPR News, Lollie said he is convinced that the officers questioned and arrested him because he is black. Lollie said he tried to talk to the officers, but it "it was just color of my skin that made them want to escalate" the situation.
FOX 9 reported that Lollie's attorney called Lollie a victim of unlawful search and seizure and racial profiling.
“It seems police consider it to be trespassing or loitering if it's a black man, but if it were a white man like myself they may get treated very different,” attorney Andrew Irlbeck said. “People are in the skyway all day around the lunch hour and don't get told to move along and don't get investigated for trespassing when they're taking their kids to daycare.”
On Thursday, St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith defended the officers’ actions, saying they feared Lollie might run or fight. Police alleged in reports that Lollie was uncooperative.
“As is often the case, the video does not show the totality of the circumstances,” Smith said.
The St. Paul Police Federation also issued a statement in defense of the three officers. It read, in part:
"The officers involved acted responsibly, respectfully and in accordance with the high professional standards we expect from our members. “We do not choose what calls we respond to, and we do not have the luxury of having all of the information prior to arrival. The three very experienced and decorated officers responding to this call repeatedly attempted to determine the level of threat presented by Mr. Lollie and to deescalate the situation. The outcome of this arrest was determined by Mr. Lollie himself. He refused numerous lawful orders for an extended period of time. The only person who brought race into this situation was Mr. Lollie.”
Mayor Coleman said there will be a formal meeting to discuss the case on Monday, with the NAACP, the African American Leadership Council, the St. Paul Black Ministerial Alliance, and St. Paul police officials in attendance. The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident, which it called “disturbing.”
The Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission reviews citizen complaints, then recommends a final disposition on investigations. It also makes a recommendation to the police chief when disciplinary action is warranted. According to its 2013 report, the commission reviewed 52 cases last year, according to the Star Tribune story.
After the investigation is complete, Lollie's attorney said he plans to file a civil rights case in federal court.