Chief Olson
Minneapolis Police Department
City Hall
Minneapolis, MN 55401

- Hand Delivery and Fax -
May 1, 2000

Dear Chief Olson,

The Minnesota Chapter of National Lawyers Guild is sending this formal,public letter of protest regarding the numerous illegal arrests; the use of excessive force and unnecessarily aggressive tactics; and, the use of intimidation tactics to chill the exercise of first amendment rights, that were committed by members of your department during the peaceful demonstration in downtown Minneapolis today. Your officers also illegally arrested a clearly identified "legal observer" from the National Lawyers Guild, who has been kept in jail for more than 10 hours, for the "crime" of writing down the badge numbers of your officers.

Although the press has reported the demonstration was peaceful, as indeed it was, there were more than 40 people arrested by your officers on charges that are likely to be dismissed, and many of which are clearly unfounded and pretextual. The actions of the demonstrators did not justify any of the arrests that occurred during the four hour demonstration. In many cases, it was only the restraint of the demonstrators, and their willingness to accept the provocative use of force by your officers (while you were present at the scene), that kept the peace.

Other NLG legal observers, who were not arrested, have accumulated evidence that:

(1) command officers at the demonstration were approached by NLG legal observers with an offer to negotiate any difficult situations that might arise during the afternoon. On several occasions, when excessively aggressive police action was brought to their attention by legal observers, the officers in command refused to talk to the lawyers involved and threatened them with arrest;

(2) undercover police systematically went into the crowd and arrested several individuals who had not committed ANY offenses, but who must have been targeted as activists. There are photos and eye-witness accounts of undercover officers acting as "agents provocateur" who, without provocation, violently seized innocent people in the crowd, and began violent scuffles with those around them;

(3) peaceful individuals, who were providing no resistance whatsoever, were aggressively pushed and poked with batons, were struck about the head and face, suffered a maliciously inflicted broken wrist, had eyeglasses broken and were threatened with arrest and beating. This occurred to several of the legal observers, and we have evidence of this happening to many of the demonstrators;

(4) the arrests were without any justification and were carried out in an unnecessarily brutal and aggressive manner. Non-violent protesters, who had not been warned to disperse, and who were not breaking any law at the time of their arrest, were pushed to the ground; stepped on; beaten with batons; kicked and kneed in vital organs; and bodily dragged to the waiting police buses, where they were kept for up to 6 hours before being taken to jail;

(5) individuals who were arrested and wished to post bail, including the legal observer illegally arrested, were kept in holding cells until late at night, as of the writing of this letter on Monday at 10:00 pm, have still not been released;

(6) in addition to the undercover agents provocateur mentioned earlier, police officers, some of whom had assumed undercover disguises, ordered legal observers not to take pictures of them, and threatened to seize and destroy cameras of those who were legally making a photographic record of the police conduct. As you know, the MPD had many photographers taking pictures of the demonstration, as well.

In addition, your officers arrested as many as a dozen more people, in addition to the 24 arrested during the demonstration, who had peacefully gathered in front of the Hennepin County Jail to wait for arrestees to be released. In two illegal "police sweeps" of the sidewalk in front of the Hennepin County Jail, which occurred long after the demonstrators had dispersed from Loring Park, and the media and legal observers were no longer present, your officers even arrested people who were obeying police orders and were trying to leave the scene.

The National Lawyers Guild condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the illegal arrest of one of our members, who was clearly identified as a "legal observer" at the time of his arrest. When he was arrested, he was observing the treatment of a female demonstrator by police. He was taking notes about the event without in any way interfering with the arrest process, as is his absolute right, and that of all people.

The officer that arrested him stated, "He is from the NLG. He has been taking numbers. He's a problem. Get him!"

It is true that he was taking badge numbers, and he was writing down names of police officers. These have never been, and are not now, crimes in Minnesota, or elsewhere in our nation. However, when this arrest is combined with: (a) the threat of arrest directed at our members who attempted to speak with commanders at the scene of police violence; (b) the threat of beating and violence against our members who were observing police tactics in the crowd and the use of batons against peaceful protesters; (c) the order not to take photos of police officers; and, (d) the threat to confiscate or destroy cameras, it is quite clear that members of your department have little respect for the law or the constitution, which they are bound to uphold.

If, as occurred today, a completely peaceful demonstration results in nearly 40 illegal arrests, and many of which were made with excessive force, what would have occurred, if the demonstrators had responded to police aggression with similar tactics? The aggressive crowd control, infiltration of peaceful groups by undercover officers and agent provocateur tactics that were employed today, do not bode well for continued peaceful first amendment activity in Minneapolis.

When even clearly identified legal observers from a well known legal organization are threatened, struck, and arrested, not to mention the dozens of demonstrators who were also mistreated, your department is creating a "chilling effect" on peaceful protest. Your tactics are sending the message that political activists can be arrested on the street for no reason, because that is what happened today. Your tactics are sending the message that anyone who peacefully exercises the constitutional right of protest will be arrested for no reason, and may be beaten and locked up for many hours.

In light of the foregoing, the National Lawyers Guild demands that charges against all those arrested without probable cause, during the demonstration and at the jail, be released immediately and the charges dropped. Anyone arrested with probable cause should be released immediately on their own recognizance and without money bond. All property seized must be returned immediately, including any cameras or film.

Further, we demand that first amendment rights be fully respected by your department in the future; that the MPD initiate an internal investigation regarding the use of excessive force and violations of first amendment rights that occurred today. Finally, we respectfully request a letter from you describing the policy of your department regarding the arrest of legal observers and an apology for the illegal arrest of the National Lawyers Guild legal observer today.

We await your immediate reply.

Peter Nickitas, Esq. (Mn. Bar. 212313) 3501 Lake Ave. So. Duluth, MN 55802
(715) 392-4955 .President, Minnesota Chapter, National Lawyers Guild