MINNEAPOLIS (March 10, 2015) A Minneapolis police officer today filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court against the city of Minneapolis, alleging that city and police officials sabotaged his career after he disputed a decision to end a criminal investigation involving a suspect who later emerged as a key player in the city’s notorious “Pointergate” incident.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Sgt. Jesse Garcia III by Minneapolis-based law firm Halunen Law, seeks unspecified financial damages from the city for malicious actions that harmed Garcia’s career, reputation and emotional well-being.
“Our case is clear,” says Clayton Halunen, an attorney with Halunen Law. “Our client was just doing his job as a police officer when he ran afoul of a misguided political situation at city hall. As stated in the complaint, rather than backing up their officer, a distinguished 25-year veteran of the force, certain officials at city hall chose political expediency over the law – and when our client bucked the process, they retaliated maliciously and illegally against him.”
Garcia alleges that MPD officials quashed an investigation into an attempted armed robbery on the city’s Northside last summer after learning that one of the suspects – identified as “NG” in the complaint – was also a central character in the infamous “Pointergate” incident last fall. The complaint says that NG was the man seen in news coverage exchanging controversial hand gestures with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges during a “get out the vote” event on Nov. 6. The incident sparked a viral media furor when news reports surfaced suggesting that Hodges and NG might have exchanged gang- or gun-related hand signals.
The man in the Pointergate video was one of five individuals arrested on Aug. 2, 2014, in connection to an attempted robbery at Broadway Ave. W. and Penn Ave. N. A Glock pistol, closely resembling that of a picture of a handgun posted on the suspect’s Instagram account, was found at the arrest scene. Subsequent DNA testing of the gun revealed potential DNA contact by the suspect, according to the complaint. When the Pointergate incident erupted in a viral storm of news and social media coverage in early November, Garcia – the MPD investigating officer – made what he thought was a responsible decision. He alerted the mayor’s office to NG’s status as a suspect in a violent crime.
Garcia’s reward for dutifully informing the mayor of his suspicions was his swift removal from the case on Nov. 13 by MPD Commander Catherine Johnson, the complaint alleges. She then told him the criminal investigation was closed, with no charges filed, the complaint alleges. Garcia declared to Johnson his objection to the decision, complaining formally that closing the investigation prematurely was an obstruction of justice. As a police officer, he could not close his eyes to what he believed was a violation of the law, according to the complaint.
Next, Johnson told Garcia he was the subject of an internal affairs investigation, on unspecified grounds, the complaint says. On Dec. 3, he learned that his pending transfer to the high profile Violent Offenders Task Unit was off. Comm. Johnson re-assigned him to the Third Precinct Property Crimes Unit, a lesser position that “was further retaliation for Plaintiff’s report of illegal activity,” according to the complaint.
“Minnesota Whistleblower law makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who make good-faith reports of violations of the law,” says Halunen. “Sgt. Garcia refused to turn a blind eye to what he perceived to be political meddling that stymied an ongoing investigation into a violent street crime to which he was assigned. When he called it for what he alleges it was – obstruction of justice – his superiors shoved him and his complaint aside in what we believe the court will find was a punitive, retaliatory measure designed to silence him.”
About Halunen Law
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