Firings of police officers over Green Bay tirade upheld
By Tad Vezner
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS -- The commission responsible for overseeing city of Minneapolis personnel practices has upheld the firing of two police officers who were terminated after reportedly making racist and homophobic comments, including about their own police chief, during a weekend trip to Green Bay, Wis., last year.
Minneapolis officers Brian Thole and Shawn Powell were fired earlier this year as a result of their actions during the June 2013 trip. Thole and Powell, both white, got into an altercation with at least two black men while walking down the street after leaving a local bar, and they later argued with responding Green Bay officers.
According to the Minneapolis Civil Service Commission’s findings of fact, which were confirmed after a hearing on July 22:
A Green Bay police officer, responding to the altercation, heard Powell use the “n—” word multiple times and Thole say that the black men were “doing their little monkey thing.” Thole became upset when it became evident the Green Bay officer was going to write a report; the Minneapolis officer said he had a “lesbian (expletive) chief, who’s looking to fire people for any reason.”
Later, Thole pointed at a car with large chrome rims and said Green Bay was “too n— friendly.”
Later that evening, Powell went to the Green Bay police station and argued with a lieutenant about the report. The lieutenant noted Powell had used a racially charged term, and Powell replied that “it was a First Amendment right to use whatever language he wanted,” the findings stated.
The lieutenant replied, “No, it’s not. You can create a disturbance, you know, basically by using those words,” and added he didn’t think such words would ever come out of an officer’s mouth.
Another officer, hearing the exchange, told investigators that at the time, “I can’t believe I’m standing here having this conversation. … I felt like I needed to break out the giant crayons and draw it on the wall for them.”
Another lieutenant told Powell to leave the station or he would be arrested for disorderly conduct.
During interviews with the Minneapolis Police Department’s internal affairs unit, Thole denied using racial slurs and said his other comments were not meant to be racist or homophobic. The commission said his statements lacked credibility.
A disciplinary panel reviewing the results of an internal affairs investigation recommended that both Powell and Thole be terminated.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau, the city’s first female and openly gay police chief, agreed.
The findings noted that “she was concerned that public trust in the Department by communities of color and the GLBT community, in particular, was negatively affected by their conduct,” which she said was a “black eye on the law enforcement profession nationwide.”
Last week, in a letter dated July 22, the Civil Service Commission upheld the findings of fact after hearing oral arguments earlier in the day.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.