St. Paul police shootings will be investigated by other agency, department says

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The St. Paul Police Department will no longer use its Homicide Unit to investigate incidents that result in the death or serious injury of a person.

The department detailed the new policy in a news release Monday morning, saying the decision came after months of discussion.

Under the new guidelines, any time an incident involving an officer results in the death or serious injury of a person (referred to as "critical incidents"), it will be investigated by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

“Our priorities are to safeguard the integrity of the investigation, protect the rights of everyone involved and ensure that the public trusts its police department,” Chief of Police Thomas Smith said in the release, saying he's "confident" this is the right way to go.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said in the release he applauds the steps taken.

Last fall, a report by the University of Minnesota outlined suggestions for how the department should handle allegations of misconduct. It included (among other things) having every excessive force or inappropriate use of firearms complaint trigger an automatic, independent investigation.

Looking toward federal standards

The department says the move also brings the St. Paul force in line with at least one recommendation made by the U.S. Department of Justice, as part of the president's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Obama requested the 21st Century Policing report in December of 2014, following incidents that showed a "rift" between police and the communities they serve, the report says.

Arguably the highest profile of those – the shooting of Michael Brown, and subsequent demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, occurred in August of that year.

The report recommends mandated "external and independent" criminal investigations when police force (including the use of a weapon) results in injury or death, or in-custody deaths.

One of the ways to do that, the report says, is to refer cases to nearby jurisdictions or higher-up government agencies.

ACLU-Minnesota statement

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, in a statement sent to BringMeTheNews, said it's "glad" the St. Paul Police Department is looking at officer-related deaths, but believes "neither the BCA nor the Hennepin County Sherriff’s office are the right departments to conduct truly independent investigations."

Instead, ACLU-MN suggests the U.S. Department of Justice be charged with a review – or an independent state review authority be set up, tasked with investigating (and, if necessary, prosecuting) incidents.

"We hope that the St. Paul Police Department continues to take an active approach into investigating deaths at the hands of its officers," the statement says.

Officer-involved deaths

The Pioneer Press has a database of officer-involved shootings in Minnesota dating back to 2004.

In 2015, St. Paul police were involved in three fatal shootings:

  • Marcus Golden, a 24-year-old who was fatally shot after police say he drove his SUV at an officer in a parking lot. They'd been called to the scene on reports of a man making death threats.
  • Justin Tolkinen, a 28-year-old police say was wearing an armored vest and displaying a rifle on the deck of his home.
  • And Philip Quinn, a 30-year-old who police say was suicidal and brandishing a screwdriver, then lunged himself at police, the Pioneer Press says.

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