10 more indicted in Feeding Our Future fraud

Ten more people were indicted Monday for misappropriating and laundering money they got through a federal child nutrition program prosecutors say was bilked out of more than $250 million in Minnesota.

That brings the total number of people indicted to 60. So far, six people have pleaded guilty.

The feds have seized $66.6 million in bank accounts, real estate and other property, including $4 million worth of vehicles. U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said the money was spent on fancy cars from Teslas to BMWs to luxe resort vacations, and even a deposit on an airplane.

One even laundered money by purchasing a laundromat, Luger said.

“The song of the Feeding Our Future scandal remains the same,” Luger said during a press conference.

Just like the first 50 people indicted, the defendants are charged with falsely claiming to have fed thousands of needy children daily, generating fake invoices to make it appear they were buying large amounts of food, but spending much of the money on themselves. They’re charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery.

And the investigation isn’t over.

Among those charged is a prominent woman in the Bloomington area, Ayan Farah Abukar, 41, who was lauded as an “outstanding refugee” in 2021 by the state Department of Human Services, the Reformer reported in October.

Abukar founded Action for East African People, which she enrolled in the federal child nutrition program under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future and another unnamed company. She’s charged with falsely claiming to serve up to 5,000 children a day at sites in Bloomington, Minneapolis, Savage, and St. Paul from October 2020 through 2022.

Abukar is charged with fraudulently receiving about $5.7 million in federal funds, paying over $330,000 in kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee and spending millions on real estate, including a 37-acre commercial property in Lakeville. She’s accused of using the money to deposit a quarter of a million dollars towards the purchase of an aircraft to be delivered to Nairobi, Kenya.

Luger said among the most brazen schemes he’s seen is that of Kawsar Jama, 41, of Eagan, who claimed to be feeding 2,560 meals per day to needy children in Pelican Rapids, which has a total population of about 2,500.

Luger said the names of the children she claimed to feed didn’t match school records, and she reached out to a friend to “help her invent names.”

Jama didn’t go to the trouble of renting a fake food distribution site, as most of the defendants did, but forged a phony lease instead, Luger said.

She’s charged with submitting $3.7 million in fraudulent claims for federal funds, some of which she spent on living expenses, real estate, and vehicles, including a Tesla Model X and Infiniti QX56 SUV.

Also charged are:

Abdikadir Kadiye, 51, of Minneapolis, was the president of Hobyo Health Care Foundation, and is charged with falsely claiming to have served at least 445,000 meals to children in Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Minneapolis throughout 2021. Kadiye submitted over $1.1 million in fraudulent claims for federal funds, some of which he spent on vehicles (including a $105,000 2022 BMW sport utility vehicle), airline tickets, real estate, and $20,000 towards the purchase of a laundromat.

Abdulkadir Awale, 50, of Bloomington, was the principal of Karmel Coffee, LLC and Sambusa King, Inc., and the CEO of Nawal Restaurant. All three of Awale’s businesses were enrolled in the federal program under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future and an unnamed company. Awale claimed to provide over 3.6 million meals from April 2020 to January 2022, submitting $11.8 million in claims. He’s accused of paying at least $83,000 in kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee and using some of the money to make mortgage payments and cash withdrawals and purchase vehicles, including a Freightliner Cascadia truck.

Khadra Abdi, 41, of Minneapolis, was the principal of Shafi’I Tutoring & Homework Help Center, which she enrolled under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. Abdi is charged with falsely claiming to have served 1.1 million meals to needy children at her site in Hopkins between April 2020 and December 2021, submitting over $3.4 million in claims. Abdi is accused of paying at least $17,000 in kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee and using some of the funds to make credit card payments, cash withdrawals and buy clothing.

Sade Osman Hashi, 45, of Minneapolis, was the principal of Great Lakes Inc. and Safari Express, which he enrolled in the program under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future and another company. Hashi is charged with claiming to have served up to 2,500 meals daily to children at his site in the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis between September 2020 through 2022, fraudulently receiving about $5.7 million in federal funds. The feds say Hashi paid over $150,000 in kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee and used some of the funds to make cash withdrawals and convert approximately $133,000 to cryptocurrency.

Sharon Denise Ross, 52, of Big Lake, was the executive director of House of Refuge Twin Cities, a non-profit which she enrolled in the federal program under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future and an unnamed company. Ross is charged with claiming to have served thousands of children daily, fraudulently receiving $2.8 million, some of which she spent on real estate, vehicles and payments to family members.

Luger said the following were charged and are expected to plead guilty soon are:

Mohamed Ali Hussein, 53, and Lul Bashir Ali, 57, both of Faribault, enrolled Somali American Faribault Education and Lido Restaurant in the program, under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. Hussein is charged with falsely claiming the SAFE site in Faribault served up to 2,500 children a day, seven days a week. Lul Ali is charged with falsely claiming Lido Restaurant in Faribault served up to 1,600 children a day, seven days a week. Hussein and Lul Ali received over $5 million in federal funds, and the feds say Hussein paid more than $100,000 in kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee.

Mulata Yusuf Ali, 38, of Minneapolis, is charged with theft of government funds involving the federal child nutrition program from December 2020 through January 2022.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Former Minneapolis police officer charged with assaulting Jaleel Stallings

The Minnesota attorney general filed an assault charge Wednesday against a former Minneapolis police officer, accusing him of beating Jaleel Stallings five days after George Floyd’s police murder.

The incident occurred after Stallings fired at a SWAT team that was driving around shooting 40mm marking rounds — or rubber bullets — at curfew violators from an unmarked van. Justin Stetson, who was part of the SWAT team that night, was charged with third-degree assault for the beating of Stallings, for which the maximum sentence is five years’ imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

The charges are just the latest fallout from the Stallings case, which also led to a $1.5 million city settlement to Stallings, whose eye socket was fractured in the beating.

Stetson, 34, is charged with repeatedly striking Stallings for nearly 30 seconds, even though Stallings had surrendered, was lying prone on the ground, “posed no imminent threat,” and didn’t resist arrest or Stetson’s use of force, according to the criminal complaint.

Former law enforcement officer Ian Adams completed a use-of-force review of the case, and concluded in a Dec. 16 report that Stetson’s use of force was “unreasonable, excessive, and contrary to generally accepted police practice.”

Stallings wound up hospitalized and charged with eight crimes.

Stetson no longer has an active peace officer’s license in Minnesota, according to the attorney general. Court documents say he lives in Nowthen, Minnesota.

The charge resulted from a state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation into the incident. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office referred the case to the Attorney General’s Office last spring, months after the Reformer reported on the incident. .

The charging document says shortly before 11 p.m. on May 30, 2020, the SWAT team was driving westbound on Lake Street in an unmarked van with the sliding door open, flanked by a parade of other police vehicles with no lights or sirens on.

Stallings and three others were standing in a parking lot between 14th and 15th Avenue South when the van came into view from behind a building. Almost immediately, the SWAT team — including Stetson — began firing on the civilians without warning.

Stallings was hit in the chest, and thought he’d been hit by a bullet, so he fired three rounds with his pistol in the direction of the van, purposely missing to try to scare the shooters off, he later testified. Stallings is an Army veteran who had a permit for the pistol and at the time was a truck driver. Stallings was acquitted by a jury after claiming self-defense.

Only when the officers yelled “shots fired!” and jumped out of the van and ran toward Stallings did he realize they were cops, he later testified. He tossed his gun and dropped to the ground, lying flat on the pavement with his arms outstretched.

Although Stalling was already down, Stetson grabbed his handgun and yelled at Stallings to get on the ground. Stetson said, “He’s down” and “he’s on the ground” while running toward Stallings, suggesting he knew that Stallings was down and not a threat.

Stetson kicked Stallings in the face and head about four times, punched his head some six times, lifted his head and slammed it down into the pavement once, and delivered about five knee strikes to his face while calling Stallings a “f***ing piece of s***,” according to the charging document.

All the while, Stetson gave Stallings no other verbal commands until he finally told him to put his hands behind his back. Bodycam videos show Stallings repeatedly trying to cooperate, saying “Listen, listen, sir, I’m trying to.”

After Sgt. Andrew Bittell grabbed Stallings’ hands and held them behind his back, Stetson continued to hit Stallings with his fists. After handcuffing Stallings, Bittell sat him up and kicked him in the ribs as Stetson continued hitting him in the head.

Even after his sergeant, Bittell, told Stetson to stop hitting Stallings, he continued. Bittell said, “That’s it; stop it,” but Stetson continued the beating until Bittell grabbed his wrist and said, “It’s OK.”

Stetson beat Stallings so badly he said his hands and feet hurt afterward, and wondered aloud whether he broke his hand, according to court documents.

Although Bittell has not been charged with a crime, body camera videos show he kneed and punched Stallings in the stomach, chest and back.

Bittell and Stetson later testified they used force because Stallings was resisting arrest and they feared he was armed, although neither frisked him before beating him.

Earlier that night, Bittell had told the SWAT team that if they saw any groups of people to “call it out” and “f*** ’em up, gas ’em, f*** ’em up.”

“The first f***ers we see, we’re just hammering ’em with 40s,” he said before the SWAT headed out on Lake Street that night, referring to 40 mm projectiles.

Stetson said during questioning in a court hearing that some members of the SWAT team enjoyed firing the marking rounds at civilians at times, but said they were trying to “gain back control of the city.”

“It was five nights of a complete riot where the city was burning down,” he said.

As Stallings’ case played out, key details emerged that often contradicted what officers told investigators after the incident. Stetson acknowledged in court that he never told the investigating officers he shot Stallings first, or that he beat him.

Asked why he continued to beat Stallings even after both his hands were behind his back, Stetson said Stallings wasn’t complying with him.

“Again, emotions were high, I just shot — got shot at. I thought I was going to die.”

Stetson could not be reached for comment, and Stallings and his attorney declined to comment.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman recently said he erred in prosecuting Stallings, but said MPD officers lied to prosecutors about the case.

Stetson had been employed with MPD since at least 2011, and underwent over 1,200 hours of training, including use of force and de-escalation training, according to the charging documents.

The officers also beat and repeatedly Tased a friend who was with Stallings, Virgil Lee Jackson Jr. Jackson sued the city and won a $645,000 settlement. No charges have been filed against those officers.

All five officers on the SWAT team that shot at Stallings had multiple complaints lodged against them when the incident happened, but almost all of them were closed with no discipline issued.

Prosecutors did not tell the defense — as constitutionally required — that Stetson had previously been reprimanded for failing to report his use of force. The FBI is also investigating the Stallings incident.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP candidate Tyler Kistner has repeatedly suggested he saw combat, but he didn’t

During his first bid for Congress in 2020, Republican candidate Tyler Kistner repeatedly suggested he saw combat while in the U.S. Marine Corps, despite military records that say otherwise.

A spokesman says Kistner was referring to the fact that he led combat missions, advising and assisting “partner forces” against violent extremist organizations in the non-combat region of North Africa.

If he saw combat, he would have received a combat action ribbon, and Kistner acknowledges he never earned one. The military considers combat to be engaging with the enemy on the ground in a combat zone.

Several local TV stations recently took down an ad saying Kistner had “four combat deployments” at the request of VoteVets, a progressive veterans organization supporting U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, who is in a tight rematch with Kistner in the 2nd Congressional District.

VoteVets asked KARE, KSTP, KMSP, WCCO and several streaming services to take down the ad. The group said Kistner served four overseas tours — not four combat deployments — in non-combat regions such as Japan and Korea. The ad, paid for by the GOP Super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, ran in various outlets Sept. 11-29, according to VoteVets.

Kistner’s military record was also a matter of debate when he ran in 2020, losing to Craig by 2 percentage points.

In the run-up to the 2020 GOP nominating convention, Kistner called himself “the most decorated military member” in the race. One of his Republican opponents, Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Erika Cashin, called on Kistner to release his DD214 form — military service records that would indicate whether he served in armed combat.

Initially, Kistner declined, citing the need for confidentiality, telling the Prior Lake American newspaper, “Even basic details could help foreign adversaries and put other service members at risk.”

After the newspaper itself requested the military records and additional candidates called on Kistner to release the records, Kistner relented. His DD214 shows he was honorably discharged at the rank of captain. Kistner shared the records in an email to supporters in 2020, writing that he had never claimed to be a combat veteran. That prompted Cashin to put out a press release outlining multiple times Kistner used language that would lead a listener to think he was a combat veteran:

During a January 2020 candidate forum, Kistner said he put his enemy “six feet under.”

In a March 2020 candidate forum, Kistner said “I’ve been on the wrong end of a loaded weapon.”

In an April 2020 virtual town hall with the Minnesota Young Republicans (41:45), Kistner referred to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and said, “I’ve been in such conflicts.”

She said she never saw combat in the Air Force, either, but said Kistner implied that he did, which she said influenced GOP delegates who went on to endorse him.

The Reformer has obtained additional examples of Kistner implying he saw combat action:

During a February 2020 candidate forum, Kistner said, “I’ve been in fights, I’ve been in combat. I know exactly what it’s gonna take.”

In October 2020, during a Voice of India Community Town Hall, Kistner said, “As a veteran, I deployed to the front lines six months at a time, and my family was back in this country.”

In a March 2020 candidate forum (48:40), Kistner said “I’ve had guns drawn on me overseas in defense of our nation.”

According to the Marine Corps awards manual, service members must engage the enemy, be under hostile fire, or be physically attacked by the enemy to be awarded a combat action ribbon. The manual says, “The principal eligibility criterion is that the individual must have rendered satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or surface combat engagement.”

Kistner campaign consultant Billy Grant said Kistner’s “six feet under” comment was a reference to Marine Special Operations combat missions Kistner led where the “partner force effectively killed more than eight violent extremist organizations in the North African region.”

As the commanding officer, it wasn’t Kistner’s job to fire his rifle, but he was in charge of the maneuvering and coordination of all personnel and support, Grant said. The “partner force” — referring to allied countries’ military forces — in three combat missions did exchange and receive fire, Grant said, and had seven casualties after an improvised explosive device exploded. Kistner facilitated the evacuation of seven injured allied personnel, he said.

Grant said Kistner’s comment about being on the “wrong end of a loaded weapon” and having guns drawn on him “while in defense of our nation” was a reference to when he got into an argument with one of the allied military commanders, who pulled a pistol on him.

“Ultimately, the argument was resolved and nobody was hurt,” Grant said. “No weapon was fired during this situation.”

Kistner’s comment about having been in “such conflicts” as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was a reference to his involvement in the broader war on violent extremists, in which American forces were battling some of the same foes as in Afghanistan and Iraq, Grant said.

In North Africa, Kistner dealt with foreign ISIS fighters returning to their home countries after the fall of the ISIS caliphate in Iraq, Grant said. Kistner led three combat missions against “these same ISIS fighters from Iraq,” he said.

Regarding Kistner’s comment that he’s been in “fights” and “combat,” Grant said Kistner received an award citation for leading three combat missions in North Africa, where he was responsible for command and control of U.S. and allied nation forces.

Kistner is not the first Republican of late to face questions about his service record. U.S. House candidate J.R. Majewski’s Ohio campaign went into a tailspin after the Air Force couldn’t corroborate his claim that he served in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Majewski’s military record was scrutinized after the Associated Press reported that Majewski never deployed to Afghanistan; he’d done a six-month stint helping load planes at a Qatar air base.

“It dishonors those who have served,” VoteVets Chair Jon Soltz said of Kistner’s statements. “It is also totally disqualifying. Voters should hold Kistner responsible for misrepresenting his service and allowing this lie to perpetuate.”

Cashin said while Kistner served with honor, she wants to make sure veterans are given “appropriate due” for their service.

“You always want to represent your service with honor and integrity,” she said.

She was in the military for 26 years, and sent people to deployment and received bodies back at Mortuary Affairs at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

“I understand the implications of trying to overstate what you’re doing,” she said. “Don’t misrepresent what your service means.”

Asked if she supports Kistner for Congress, Cashin said she no longer lives in Minnesota and hasn’t been paying attention to the race.

“He has served his country,” she said.

Anyone who serves, she said, “is definitely someone to be admired.”

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

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What you need to know about tomorrow's Minnesota primary

Minnesotans who haven’t voted in the primary election have a final chance Tuesday, with a number of high-profile races including a DFL primary challenge for U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar from former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels; a DFL primary challenge for U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum from progressive activist Amane Badhasso; a winnowing of the field to determine the next Hennepin County attorney; and, a special election in the 1st Congressional District to determine who will serve out the remainder of the late U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term.

Democratic and Republican voters will also help shape the future of their respective parties in legislative races, with a bevy of highly competitive primaries that will also weigh heavily on the November election.

Your primary questions, answered:

How do I vote?

Here’s where to find your polling place.

Use the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website to find your polling location, which candidates are on your ballot and even register to vote. Minnesotans can register online prior to Tuesday on the Secretary of State’s website or on-site on Election Day with identification.

Most polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Voters can only choose candidates from one political party.

Find more information about the election, registering to vote, what kind of identification is needed, and what candidates are on your ballot here.

How many Minnesotans have voted so far?

As of Friday, more than 107,000 absentee ballots have been accepted for the state primary election, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. This is far fewer absentee ballots compared to the 2020 primary election, in which nearly 544,000 ballots were accepted. Minnesotans were likely seeking more absentee ballots in the early months of 2020 because of COVID-19.

This year’s absentee ballot submissions appear to be on par with the last non-pandemic primary election, 2018, when almost 144,000 were accepted, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

What’s so special about CD1?

Voters in the 1st Congressional District, which covers much of southern Minnesota, have a bit of a confusing day: They’ll elect a new member of Congress to serve out Hagedorn’s term after he died in office earlier this year. That race features Republican Brad Finstad, who worked in the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the administration of former President Donald Trump, against DFL candidate Jeff Ettinger, the former CEO of Hormel Foods.

Voters in the 1st will also vote in a primary election. Finstad was endorsed by the GOP, but he faces state Rep. Jeremy Munson, who has received support from national figures like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

What are some high-profile races on the DFL side?

Omar is serving her second term in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, covering Minneapolis and its inner-ring suburbs. Samuels, currently CEO of MicroGrants — a nonprofit that gives small grants to low-income people — is challenging Omar. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has endorsed Samuels.

Samuels successfully campaigned last year against the amendment that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety; Omar supported the amendment.

In the DFL primary for Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District, covering St. Paul and eastern suburbs, longtime incumbent McCollum, who is serving her 11th term, is facing challenger Amane Badhasso.

McCollum is DFL-endorsed; Badhasso, born in Ethiopia, has worked for a number social justice causes.

Are there statewide races to watch?

The only major contest is on the Republican side, where the Republican primary for Minnesota attorney general is between candidates Jim Schultz and Doug Wardlow. Schultz, a Harvard Law School graduate, is GOP-endorsed. Wardlow was the 2018 GOP nominee. He has worked as general counsel for MyPillow, the Minnesota company founded by 2020 election denier and Trump loyalist Mike Lindell.

What are some DFL legislative races to watch?

House District 62A includes south Minneapolis neighborhoods like Stevens Square, Whittier and Lyndale, and is home to many immigrants and communities of color. DFL-endorsed Aisha Gomez is serving her second term in the House. Her opponent is Osman Ahmed, who previously worked as an outreach director for U.S. Sen. Tina Smith. State Rep. John Thompson in District 67A on the East Side of St. Paul was tossed out of the House DFL caucus after a series of controversies. He faces the DFL-endorsed Liz Lee, who worked on Capitol Hill in Washington. In Senate District 56, former Rep. Erin Maye Quade left the DFL endorsing convention because she was in labor. She faces Justin Emmerich, who has been a legislative assistant to Sen. Nick Frentz. In Senate District 62, DFL-endorsed incumbent Omar Fateh is running to keep his seat. A Senate ethics panel recently recommended he receive a minor sanction for not reporting a campaign expenditure. He’s being challenged by Shaun Laden, who is the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 Education Support Professionals and helped lead a union strike of Minneapolis teachers and support professionals in March.Next door in Senate District 63, the DFL-endorsed candidate is Zaynab Mohamed, who is Fateh’s sister-in-law. She faces attorney Todd Scott. In Senate District 65, longtime Sen. Sandy Pappas faces labor leader Sheigh Freeberg, in a race the Reformer featured recently as a generational contest.

How about legislative Republicans?

Republicans are hopeful they’ll take the Legislature in November, but first they have a series of intramural battles in which established candidates and incumbents face upstarts who want to push the party rightward. Many of the latter candidates are backed by a group called Action 4 Liberty. Here’s some of the races:

In her first run for public office, a Prior Lake woman nicknamed “Nurse Natalie” Barnes upset Sen. Eric Pratt to win the party’s endorsement for newly drawn Senate District 54. Action 4 Liberty candidate Tom Dippel was endorsed over Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, in the newly drawn Senate District 41.Mark Bishofsky, a Stillwater respiratory therapist who says he was terminated for refusing to get vaccinated, was endorsed by Republicans in House District 33B in Washington County over school board member Tina Riehle.Albert Lea bistro owner Lisa Hanson is challenging first-term Republican Sen. Gene Dornink in the new Senate District 23, even though Dornink was endorsed by the party. She defied a pandemic shutdown order to keep her restaurant open and went to jail over it.Bret Bussman of Browerville, who trains soldiers on how to operate military vehicles, was endorsed over Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, for the Senate in District 5 in central Minnesota. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, who was so dissatisfied with House Republicans that he co-founded his own far-right Republican caucus, was endorsed over Rep. Barb Haley, R-Red Wing, to fill Senate District 20 seat, vacated by Sen. Mike Goggin. In House District 20A, business groups are spending money to support Jesse Johnson of Cannon Falls over Pam Altendorf of Red Wing.

Hennepin County attorney race

Finally, the state’s largest collection of prosecutors sits in the Office of the Hennepin County Attorney. Current County Attorney Mike Freeman is leaving. Seven candidates in this nonpartisan race are vying for the job, and the two with the most votes will move on to November:

DFL-endorsed Mary Moriarty, former Hennepin County Chief Public DefenderMartha Holton Dimick, current Hennepin County judgeRyan Winkler, current House majority leaderTad Jude, former state senatorPaul Ostrow, former Minneapolis City Council member and an Anoka County assistant county attorney Jarvis Jones, a local attorneySaraswati Singh, a former assistant attorney general and current assistant Ramsey County attorney

How about school levies?

We’ll get a good idea about suburban voter sentiment toward education when south Washington County residents decide on a big school levy there. Voters will decide on a referendum pushing local per pupil spending up $350 per student. A second question will ask voters to spend more on school technology.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Top MN Republican candidate part of Cleta Mitchell's national push to recruit 'army' of activists to watch elections

Kim Crockett, Minnesota Republicans’ presumptive nominee for secretary of state, is part of a national right wing network recruiting an army of activists to become poll workers, stoking fear among Democratic voting rights activists that they’ll seek to intimidate voters.
The nationwide network is led by Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who tried to help former President Donald Trump flip the Georgia election results and has become a key figure during the recent hearings of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Mitchell was on the phone with Trump when he pressed the Georgia secretary of state to “find” enough votes to win the state — a special grand jury is now investigating their election interference.

Mitchell is a former Democratic Oklahoma lawmaker who is now a conservative election lawyer who resigned amid “concern” at her law firm about the Trump call.

Mitchell said in a March podcast interview that Republicans didn’t pay enough attention to the mechanics of elections — from campaign finance to election laws — until 2020, when they were “awakened,” presumably by Trump’s frequent false claims of fraud and attempt to overturn the election he lost.

Crockett said Mitchell isn’t new to her. “I’ve actually known her for quite some time,” she said of Mitchell in a YouTube interview with Max Rymer, president of Nativ3 Digital Marketing and a consultant to Crockett’s campaign. Crockett did not respond to a request for comment.

Crockett is part of the Election Integrity Network, or EIN, which is being run by the Conservative Partnership Institute, a think tank founded by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in 2017 to support conservatives on Capitol Hill. Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is a senior partner, and Mitchell is a senior legal fellow at CPI.

Crockett said EIN meets twice a week, with the Heritage Foundation leading one meeting, and Mitchell the other. She told Rymer the RNC knows it “missed the mark” in 2020, and she’s been “blown away” by the humility displayed by RNC leaders who “didn’t listen” in 2020.

Crockett and Mitchell think their group helped Republican Glenn Youngkin defeat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race last year.

In the runup to the Virginia governor’s race, Mitchell said she helped organize “task forces” and trained more than 4,000 poll workers and observers.

“I know a lot about the task force that won that state,” Crockett told Rymer. “And I said OK if they can do this, we can do that in Minnesota.”

(A more likely explanation for Youngkin’s victory: He received more votes, as often happens in off-year elections when the other party controls the White House. According to Reuters, Youngkin won due to a wave of red enthusiasm: the number of Republican votes grew by more than 40% compared to the 2017 gubernatorial contest while Democratic votes increased by about 10%.)

These activists researched election officials’ social media and political donations to see if they were Republicans or Democrats, Mitchell said.

“It’s like being a parent: You gotta be there, you gotta be watching,” she said on the podcast. “You gotta be in those election offices. You gotta learn how it works and be there. You gotta be in those nursing homes, and make sure they’re not stealing the votes of elderly voters in nursing homes and homeless people — the most vulnerable voters.”

Claims like these of widespread election fraud were repeatedly debunked after the 2020 election by dozens of judicial decisions, Republican election officials in states like Georgia, as well as then-Attorney General William Barr.

Crockett suggested she is close to the levers of power in the movement.

“I saw Gov. Youngkin win,” Crockett told Rymer. “They won and I saw how they did it.”

Crockett has been pushing an “Eyes on Every Ballot” initiative and is recruiting election judges and ballot board members as she campaigns across Minnesota.

Minnesota Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide race since 2006, have also been recruiting more Republican election judges.

Minnesota has about 30,000 paid and volunteer election judges who help administer elections. They greet voters, accept ballots and help voters who have questions at the polls. Although the major parties submit lists of election judge nominees to the secretary of state’s office, most are recruited by local election officials.

Local election officials — city and county employees — then train election judges and oversee them, while trying to ensure party balance among them, which can be challenging in heavily Republican or Democratic areas.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, hosted a training event in Buffalo that was advertised with a photo of Uncle Sam urging people to get involved, saying “Did you know that in the 2020 election there were 20,000 Democrat (sic) election judges in MN and only 3,000 Republican judges? Do your part to restore democracy.”

The DFL likely did recruit more poll workers than Republicans, but the office of Secretary of State Steve Simon couldn’t confirm those numbers.

Max Hailperin, a retired computer scientist who consults on election systems, has said Crockett and other conservatives seem to think putting eyes on every ballot — as opposed to persuading more voters to support their candidates — will foil election fraud and flip elections.

Hailperin said he fears if Republicans win due to typical mid-term dynamics, their victory will only bolster conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen.

Indeed, the New York Times reported that at the urging of the Election Integrity Network, conservative activists converged on Fairfax County, a Democratic stronghold, “combing through voter registration applications, undeliverable mail and other materials” and eating up county workers’ time with dozens of information requests and informal interrogations.

The Times report continued: “On Election Day, Republican poll watchers in 13 polling places were observed being disruptive, hovering too closely or taking photographs, according to reports that elections workers filed to the county.”

The Fairfax County Registrar Scott Konopasek resigned in part due to the bombardment, saying he’d never seen anything like it in 30 years.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Minnesota GOP fears the worst at upcoming convention – asks attendees not to bring zip-ties or flamethrowers

Minnesota Republicans may be confident going into the November election, but party officials are apparently expecting the worst at their state party convention this weekend in Rochester.

A flier that a longtime GOP activist posted to social media included a lengthy list of items Republicans have been asked to leave at home: sling shots, flamethrowers, potato guns, cowbells, radio jamming devices, large knives, animals, “excessive amounts” of zip-ties, irritant sprays (“unless personal”) and “hoards of insects.”

Although guns are allowed — obviously — the list of prohibited items illustrates the strange mood of the Republican Party, as 2,200 delegates meet to endorse candidates for constitutional offices, including governor, in an effort to break a statewide losing streak that is now 16 years on.

Republicans head into the convention buoyed by an opportunity to take over the Legislature and perhaps even the governor’s mansion, as inflation and the traditional mid-term advantage for the party out of power provide a stiff tailwind.

But it’s also a party still in the throes of the chaos unleashed by former President Donald Trump, with activists fighting about who is the authentic red hat, fights over process and rules, and candidates desperate to appeal to the party’s loudest — and often most extreme — voices.

Although intra-party fights are nothing new, this year’s convention season has featured a striking mistrust, bordering on paranoia.

That lack of trust has extended beyond the usual suspects — Democrats — to their own peers.

On Thursday, the state central committee voted to ban videotaping of its meeting, which GOP operative Jennifer DeJournett said she’d never encountered in 23 years of Republican politics.

After banning video, Republicans eliminated all affiliate groups, including the LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans, which was possibly the true target of the move.

After thirstily imbibing conspiracy theories about voting machines for the past 18 months — including from high-profile Minnesota pillow salesman Mike Lindell — some campaigns pushed for paper ballots rather than an electronic voting system at the convention. The party plans to use an electronic system, but said it will be prepared to use paper ballots “as a backup in an emergency.”

The party appears to be gearing up for a repeat of the disruptions at local GOP conventions this spring, when upstarts associated with Action 4 Liberty — a right-wing, anti-vaxx, anti-mask, “stop-the-steal” group on the fringes of the GOP — challenged establishment candidates.

The right-wingers had some success in winning or blocking endorsements in local conventions, and have become known for throwing sharp elbows: Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano, and Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, were forcibly removed from Action 4 Liberty caucus trainings.

The GOP previously announced plans to vet volunteers, charge campaigns for volunteers and bar people who “publicly attack” the party or its endorsed candidates from attending the state convention.

Former GOP operative Michael Brodkorb — who has chaired GOP conventions — called the move unprecedented.

The party also asked all statewide campaigns to submit a list of their volunteers one week before the convention and said it would charge campaigns up to $30 per volunteer to conduct criminal background checks on them.

Unprecedented, perhaps, but not necessarily irrational given the party’s recent entanglement with former top donor and operative Anton Lazzaro, who is set to go on trial after being charged last summer with sex trafficking of a minor.

David FitzSimmons, who is chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, told the Reformer last month that state party officials “have to be mindful” of the chaos created at some local conventions.

Police were twice called to the Morrison County Republican convention in Little Falls in March to deal with an “unruly crowd” after right-wing activists took over the convention floor.

GOP political consultant Amy Koch said while she likes grassroots movements and shaking up the status quo, Action 4 Liberty seems to be little more than a self-aggrandizing venture for its leaders.

“Everyone is the enemy,” she said. “It’s an easy message — which is, everyone is not conservative enough … and doesn’t put up a fight.”

Action 4 Liberty President Jake Duesenberg did not respond to a request for comment.

Based on what the group has accomplished during convention season, Koch said, the movement is “a bigger deal than people give it credit for.” The state convention will be a test of their true impact.

Clay County may have two sets of delegates

In addition to the 2,220 expected delegates, another 22 delegates from Clay County may show up uninvited after a power struggle divided the county party.

A faction of Clay County Republicans stood by former chair Edwin Hahn when he refused to step down after some members voted to remove him March 8.

They elected a new chair, Rod Johnson, who has said Hahn harassed delegates, bullied people and put his personal beliefs over the party platform, by opposing mask mandates at school board meetings, for example.

Hahn called it a coup d’état orchestrated by Calvin Benson, who is the son of former gubernatorial candidate Michelle Benson and does outreach for Fischbach.

Hahn has ignored the state party’s order that he “cease and desist” representing himself as chair, and continued to hold weekly meetings with his supporters.

The state party canceled the Clay County convention amid the power struggle, so the Hahn faction held its own convention in a Glyndon farmhouse, electing delegates they said would attend congressional and state conventions.

Which means two groups of Clay County delegates could show up at the state convention, a dilemma the credentialing committee will likely have to sort out.

Brodkorb said while every major party deals with some level of chaos in an election cycle, he’s never seen anything “quite like this” since he first attended a convention in 1996.

“It’s a little bit of a perfect storm for chaos,” he said, noting that legislative redistricting always causes disagreements, too. “There is a level of extremism inside the party that is very uncomfortable for me… extremism that I find so unsettling and unnerving these days.”

Suspicion, accusations and conspiracies began sprouting after the Feb. 1 precinct caucuses, where there were discrepancies between the number of people who attended the caucuses and the number who voted.

The new rules could add tension and drama to the convention, Brodkorb said. While it’s important to crown winners, it’s also important to make sure the people who lose don’t leave angry.

“I think they’re trying to do whatever they can administratively to have there be an orderly convention,” Brodkorb said.

The big question this weekend is whether the party can coalesce around its candidates for statewide office.

The major candidates for governor — who each hope to win the party endorsement with 60% of the delegates — include former state Sen. Scott Jensen, a family physician who rose to prominence making claims about COVID-19 and vaccines that medical authorities have rebuked. He was recently in the news for suggesting Secretary of State Steve Simon should be imprisoned.

State Sen. Paul Gazelka, who has roots in the religious right, has received the backing of a major statewide police organization and former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, though he faces mistrust from some in the grassroots due to years of legislative dealmaking with Democrats.

Former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek joined the race late and lost his own 2018 reelection.

Kendall Qualls was defeated by U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips in 2020, but has shown impressive fundraising skill.

Dr. Neil Shah is the favorite of the hard right like Action 4 Liberty, especially during debates.

Given the possibility of a chaotic convention or no endorsement, a competitive primary seems possible.

Party bigwigs like U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer have pleaded for unity, telling a crowd recently that he narrowly lost his campaign for governor in 2010 because “Republicans were splintered.”

“So I say to any candidate out there, if you think you’re going to undermine the credibility of the state convention, think again,” said Emmer, who leads the party’s congressional election effort in Washington.

FitzSimmons said he doesn’t think the far-right factions and new convention rules will make it harder for the party to unify afterward.

“The party always comes together for the most part,” he said. “Somehow we find a way to move on.”

Moving on is one thing, but winning is another.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

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A state senator was promoted by a nonprofit -- then proposed $500,000 in state funding for it

Four months after a nonprofit called Somali TV of Minnesota — a YouTube channel with 170,000 subscribers — endorsed his campaign, Sen. Omar Fateh introduced a bill that would give the nonprofit a half million dollars in state funding to provide arts and cultural programming.
Somali TV is a 501(c)(3) organization, a type of nonprofit that risks losing its tax-exempt status if it engages in political activity or endorses candidates.

In June and August 2020, Somali TV ran multiple ads encouraging viewers to vote for Fateh, including one with a website where people could volunteer to work on his campaign. Fateh was an upstart Democratic-Socialist running to unseat influential former DFL Sen. Jeff Hayden.

The station also provided free advertising for other candidates — most, but not all, with Somali backgrounds — including Minneapolis City Council candidate Abdi Warsame in 2013; state House candidate Mohamed Barre in 2019; and city council candidate Jamal Osman in 2021.

Somali TV President Siyad Salah said in an interview that Somali TV doesn’t endorse the candidates, but allows them to send in ads, which the channel runs free of charge.

He said Somali TV changed from a nonprofit to a limited liability corporation a few years ago, but secretary of state documents show the group has always been registered as a nonprofit. When asked about that discrepancy in a followup interview, Salah declined comment.

The IRS says 501(c)(3) nonprofits are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” They cannot contribute to political campaigns or make public statements for or against candidates, and violations can mean revocation of tax-exempt status.

Richard Schmalbeck, a Duke University law professor who specializes in nonprofits, said the law clearly prohibits nonprofits from encouraging people to vote for candidates, whether on websites or in pastoral letters.

The reason for the law is to prevent political groups from abusing the tax-free status afforded to churches, charities and other nonprofits.

IRS enforcement, however, “is not particularly strong in this area,” Schmalbeck said.

Emmett Robertson, a nonprofit attorney at Rubric Legal in Minneapolis, said this type of nonprofit can run advertising, but they must make it available to all candidates on the same terms and not show favoritism toward candidates.

“The facts really matter here,” he said. “A lot of organizations don’t really understand these rules, and, frankly, neither do most attorneys.”

As for Fateh’s bill, Salah said Somali TV has been doing this work in the community for free for 22 years, and Fateh approached him to see if the funding was something he’d be interested in. With state funding, Salah said, the channel could continue to distribute important information about things like COVID-19.

Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali population in North America, and the Minnesota Department of Health turned to Somali TV and other media in diverse communities to try to help overcome vaccine hesitancy. Between 2020 and 2022, Somali TV received nearly $241,000 to do pandemic outreach in a culturally appropriate way, according to MDH spokesperson Garry Bowman.

The Fateh bill (SF2238) would give Somali TV a $250,000 grant in 2022 and $250,000 grant in 2023 from the state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to create programming and expand coverage of Somali cultural heritage and history. The program uses sales tax revenue to promote the arts and preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage. No action has been taken on the bill since it was referred to a committee last year.

David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and political science professor at Hamline University, said Fateh seeking money for Somali TV after they aired the endorsement of him is — at the very least — a conflict of interest.

“You have the potential here for a quid pro quo,” he said.

Ads urging people to vote for candidates are a violation of federal tax law unless there are “a million disclaimers” on them, he said.

Fateh did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Fateh grew up in Virginia, where he ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2015, according to MinnPost, and moved to Minnesota later that year.

After an unsuccessful 2018 House race, the outspoken progressive won the DFL endorsement and primary election over Hayden in District 62, which comprises south Minneapolis.

Salah said he has a staff of four and was self-funded prior to the pandemic, when Somali TV began receiving state money through the Department of Health.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Fearing chaos, Minnesota Republican Party plans to ban critics from state convention

The Minnesota Republican Party plans to vet volunteers, charge campaigns for volunteers and bar people who “publicly attack” the party or its endorsed candidates from attending its state convention next month in Rochester.

The requirements would seem to anticipate a chaotic scene, as the ongoing struggle between mainstream and more radical factions of the party continues.

The party is also asking all statewide campaigns to submit a list of their volunteers one week before the convention, and will charge campaigns up to $30 per volunteer, according to party documents first reported by former GOP operative Michael Brodkorb.

Brodkorb suspects that’s designed to dissuade people from bringing in hoards of people to “run around the convention.”

GOP officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Republicans have been dealing with a chaotic convention season during the past few weeks.

Chaos erupted at some local conventions when candidates associated with Action 4 Liberty, a right-wing, anti-vaxx, anti-mask, “stop-the-steal” group on the fringes of the GOP, challenged establishment candidates. Action 4 Liberty is challenging what their leader calls “weak and feckless” Republicans.

They’ve had some success in winning or blocking endorsements in local conventions.

Action 4 Liberty is known for throwing sharp elbows: Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano, and Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, were forcibly removed from Action 4 Liberty caucus trainings.

David FitzSimmons, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, said charging campaigns more money could just be about paying for the convention.

Campaign finance data shows the state DFL party raised $2.3 million in the first quarter of 2022, while the GOP raised less than $46,000.

As for the restriction on groups attacking the GOP, FitzSimmons noted that the police have had to be called to some local conventions. “You always have to be mindful of that,” he said.

Police were twice called to the Morrison County Republican convention in Little Falls in March to deal with an “unruly crowd” after right-wing activists took over the convention floor.

GOP political consultant Amy Koch said she’s heard from multiple campaigns about the new costs — she heard they’re charging $10 for a kid to stand onstage — which she attributes to the party’s need to cover its costs, and make some money.

“They don’t have any money in the bank,” she said. “There’s no wiggle room.”

The party also plans to bar “groups or individuals publicly attacking the” party and its endorsed candidates from attending the state convention.

That seems to be aimed at Clay County, where the county Republican party is divided amid a power struggle that has two men claiming to be chairman and two groups of delegates planning to go to the state convention.

Edwin Hahn of Moorhead refused to step down as chair after some members of the county party voted to remove him March 8.

Charging for volunteers forces campaigns to be serious about who attends the convention, Brodkorb said.

“Is someone gonna pay $30 to just kinda run around and create chaos?” he said.

If two groups of Clay County delegates show up, the credentialing committee will sort that out.

The party is entitled to prevent people from disrupting the convention and grinding work to a halt, Brodkorb said. “The party has a right to run their convention.”

Koch said the ban on dissenters is unusual. When she chaired the 2008 state convention in Rochester, an influx of new people showed up wanting to let presidential candidate Ron Paul speak.

“The state party can overreach,” she said. “In 2008 they were going a little harder than they needed to.”

Trying to police the party will bring tension and drama to the convention, Brodkorb said. The best way to deal with these factions is to be transparent about the rules, be prepared and enforce them.

“What that will lead to is a very rambunctious, wild convention that won’t bring people together,” Brodkorb said. “Every activist should feel good about the process… even if their candidate lost.”

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Minnesota Republican asks supporters for money after saying Delta Airlines banned him for life

State Rep. Erik Mortensen, R-Shakopee, says he’s been banned for life from Delta Air Lines for refusing to wear a mask on a flight from Colorado to Minnesota Monday.

Hours after a federal judge in Florida struck down the two-year-old national mask mandate for airplane passengers, Mortensen said he argued with flight attendants who asked him to wear a mask on his flight.

Mortensen told the whole story in a Tuesday fundraising email to his supporters, saying “leftists on a power trip at Delta” insisted he wear a mask despite his protests that the mandate had been overturned that morning.

After the plane landed, a flight attendant told Mortensen he was banned for life, Mortensen said. Mortensen said he laughed and replied, “Delta doesn’t need to ban me, I’m banning Delta!”

Mortensen used the incident as an opportunity to raise funds, asking people to send $12.86 because he was on flight 1286.

Mortensen, who has spent much of his first term decrying COVID-19 vaccines and pulling stunts to get media attention, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Police called after right-wing activists ignite chaos at GOP convention in Minnesota

Police were called to the recent Morrison County Republican convention in Little Falls — twice — to deal with an “unruly crowd” after right-wing activists took over the convention floor.

The convention had already been postponed due to claims of irregularities with the results of the February precinct caucus, with allegations leveled at the county chair, who is also a staffer for GOP gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Paul Gazelka.

Action 4 Liberty is a right-wing group on the fringes of the GOP that has been training people to attend caucuses and run for office and get rid of so-called RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. At least eight people affiliated with the group are running for office statewide, many of them challenging Republicans and alleging fraud and cheating in the caucuses and now, convention. They have mocked elected Republican lawmakers as ‘weak and feckless’ and some have been kicked out of Action 4 Liberty events.

The incident threatens to undermine the Republican case that the party is focused on vote integrity and competent election administration, after nearly two years in which the GOP has wrongly claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent.

By all accounts, the March 12 convention was heated. Activists from Action 4 Liberty pressed the convention chair, arguing over rules, motions and points of order.

Police were called to the convention twice, staying for hours — along with a sheriff’s deputy — after a report of an unruly crowd.

Police were called to the school by Morrison County Republican Party Chair Mandy Heffron, 29, who has been under fire since the Feb. 1 precinct caucuses, during which voting discrepancies prompted some state Republican candidates to call for audits and postponement of conventions.

Last month, gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah, a favorite of Action 4 Liberty, accused Heffron of deliberately deleting delegates and adding people to the delegate list who didn’t attend the caucus.

Because of all the controversy over the caucus, state Republican Party officials took over a review of the election of delegates.

Apparently no arrests were made the day of the convention, but the following day, Jennifer Wesenberg, 38, of Little Falls called to report an assault. The report is unclear about who was accused, and Little Falls police refused comment, but the report mentions Nathanial Wesenberg, 39, a Little Falls man who is running for the Senate in District 10 and is affiliated with Action 4 Liberty.

The “subject” of the report was Loren Heffron, 61. Loren and Joyce Heffron, 64, have been elected delegates for Morrison County in the past. They have the same address as Mandy Heffron, the Gazelka staffer and party chair.

According to a post on Action 4 Liberty’s website by President Jake Duesenberg, one of the delegates who was improperly added to the roster after the Feb. 1 caucus was the wife of state Rep. Ron Kresha. Kresha did not return a call seeking comment. The group says Nathanial Wesenberg — the candidate listed on the police report — demanded delegate lists but didn’t get them for nearly a month.

Action 4 Liberty, which opposes Gazelka’s campaign for governor because they view him as too moderate, claimed on its website that rather than fix the errors before the convention, Gazelka-aligned county GOP officials tried to fix the convention in their favor. Conservative activists, activated by the Wesenberg for Senate campaign, showed up at the convention in force.

Chaos ensued.

Action 4 Liberty supporters say convention chair Justin Krych wouldn’t allow a new chair to be elected, refused to acknowledge motions and points of order, and at one point threatened to shut down the convention and remove delegates.

Wesenberg’s supporters, as well as those of gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah , won 17 of the 22 delegate positions, while Gazelka delegates won five, according to Action 4 Liberty.

Gazelka has declined to comment on the precinct caucus fracas, saying he’ll let the state party sort it out. In a March 1 email, he called for unity. “Those that call the state party, volunteers, and virtually every GOP legislator the swamp, it’s time to band together and say enough!” he wrote.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer made a similar plea for unity during the Wright County Republican convention in Buffalo on Feb. 19, urging people to support incumbent Rep. Joe McDonald, who was being challenged by Action 4 Liberty activist Joe Crawford.

Emmer said Republicans narrowly lost the governor’s race in 2010 — not due to “shenanigans in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” but because “Republicans were splintered.”

“That was the real reason, because people started fighting about their candidate versus someone else’s candidate. And when we had an endorsed candidate, we didn’t all come together and push it across the line. So I say to any candidate out there, if you think you’re going to undermine the credibility of the state convention, think again.”

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Minnesota investigation into 'Storm the Capitol' rally was closed within a week

Last year, the speaker of the Minnesota House promised a broad investigation into a rally at the Capitol in St. Paul where pro-Trump activists lodged violent rhetoric and alleged widespread voter fraud.

But the investigation called for by House Speaker Melissa Hortman petered out within a week, public documents show. Documents obtained through a public records request show the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s cyber crime unit investigated the complaint — tracking down additional comments on social media and calling one person who made questionable statements — and closed the case a week later.

The Brooklyn Park Democrat called for an investigation into the “Storm the Capitol” rally after some speakers talked about “casualties,” civil war and made veiled threats toward the governor. The rally was held on the same day that a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., briefly delaying the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Hortman said the investigation could lead to criminal charges and would be led by the BCA, which did look into comments made by Alley Waterbury, a Republican Party leader from Plymouth. She warned of casualties and said “I will be the first casualty. I don’t care.”

Waterbury also warned Gov. Tim Walz “we will come for you” and “do whatever we need to do” because “we have nothing else to lose.”

Five days into the investigation, a BCA agent and State Patrol sergeant interviewed Waterbury on the phone, and she told them her comments about Walz weren’t advocating violence but were made out of frustration about businesses being closed.

“Waterbury stated she had called everything off,” the BCA report said.

A 59-year-old man named Raul Javier Estrada — address unknown — was also named as being the person who made comments about being on the “threshold of a civil war” because the country is being choked off by “weeds” of communism, socialism and “leftist liberals.” But the report doesn’t indicate the agents talked to him because BCA Investigator Joe Murphy wrote that Estrada’s comments didn’t contain a threat and were political speech.

The case was closed on Jan. 21 because it didn’t meet the threshold for charges, after the BCA consulted with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. At the time, Hortman released a statement saying the First Amendment permits speech that is “false, misleading, and hateful, and it is a high bar for an individual’s speech to cross the line and to constitute criminal activity.”

“The BCA concluded that bar was not met in this case,” she wrote. “Nevertheless, false, misleading, and hateful speech has consequences. It creates an environment of fear and division, can cause harm to individuals targeted by such speech, and it makes it more difficult for us to work together and solve problems.”

Six House lawmakers attended or spoke at the rally: Susan Ackland of St. Peter; Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa; Mary Franson of Alexandria; Glenn Gruenhagen of Glencoe; Eric Lucero of Dayton; and Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

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Lawyers lay out opposing views of police shooting that killed Daunte Wright

Prosecutors said Kimberly Potter failed at her primary duty as a police officer, to protect the sanctity of life, and violated many years of training when she fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center.

“We trust them not to use those weapons rashly or recklessly and we expect not to be shot dead on the street for no reason,” said Erin Eldridge, an assistant attorney general for Minnesota. “We trust them to know wrong from right, and left from right.”

Potter’s attorney said she fired her gun by mistake, thinking it was her Taser, as she was trying to prevent Wright from driving off and possibly injuring or killing her fellow officers who were restraining him.

Defense attorney Paul Engh said all Wright had to do was surrender, and Potter thought if Wright drove off, her sergeant — who was holding the gear shift — would have been dragged “dangling” from the car.

“She can’t let him leave because he’s gonna kill her partner,” Engh said.

In opening statements in the trial of Potter on Wednesday, each side laid out their version of what led up to the fatal shooting on April 11.

Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for seven years for first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree manslaughter, but prosecutors have said they would seek a longer sentence.

Wright was killed during the trial of former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, who became the first officer in Minnesota to be convicted of murder for an on-duty killing.

Wright’s death reignited protests and riots over police brutality against Black people in the small suburban city north of Minneapolis and renewed calls for police reform at city hall and the state Capitol.

The traffic stop

The day he was killed, Wright was on his way to get a car wash with his girlfriend, Alayna Albrecht-Payton.

Potter was with the new officer she was training, Anthony Luckey, when he noticed Wright’s blinker signaling a right turn even though he was in the left turning lane. He said he also noticed the air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, which is technically against the law, and that the car’s registration tab had expired.

Luckey, who grew up in adjacent Brooklyn Park, testified that “intuition” prompted him to call for backup right away, and he estimated about 40% of residents have guns in their cars.

After he approached the vehicle, he noticed the odor of marijuana and saw marijuana residue in the car. He said Wright did not have a driver’s license or proof of car insurance.

While Luckey went back to the squad car, Wright called his mother, Katie Bryant.

Through tears, Bryant testified that her son told her he was pulled over for the air freshener and asked about insurance.

She told him to hand the phone to the cop so she could explain that they hadn’t added the car to her policy yet.

“He just sounded really nervous, but I reassured him that it would be OK,” Bryant testified.

In the squad car, Potter and Luckey learned there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest for failing to appear on a gross misdemeanor weapons violation. So they and Sgt. Mike Johnson, who had arrived on scene, returned to the car to arrest Wright.

Body and dash camera footage showed as Luckey was trying to handcuff Wright, he jerked away.

“Don’t do it bro,” Luckey warned Wright.

But Wright got away, jumped back in the car and tried to leave. From the passenger side, Johnson grabbed the gear shift to prevent Wright from driving off.

As Luckey tried to wrest Wright away from the ignition and steering wheel, he heard Potter warn Wright that she would “tase” him and then yell “Taser! Taser!” before firing her gun.

“At this point he has to be stopped. He can’t just drive away,” said Engh, one of Potter’s attorneys. Potter saw Johnson on the other side of the car, Engh said, and thought, “if this guy drives away, he’s dead.”

That’s when Potter shot Wright in the chest.

The aftermath

Prosecutors also played videos showing Potter after she realized she’d shot him with her weapon.

“S***! I just shot him! I grabbed the wrong f****** gun. I shot him. Oh my God!” she said, collapsing onto the curb and saying “Oh my God” over and over. As the videos played in the courtroom, Potter wiped away tears, and rejected a box of tissues offered by her attorney.

“I’m going to go to prison,” she said at one point. “I killed a boy.”

“No you’re not,” Luckey replied on the video.

Johnson tells Potter in the video that Wright was trying to take off with him in the car.

Wright’s car traveled about a block before crashing into an oncoming car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bryant connected with Wright’s passenger through Facetime, and, screaming, she panned the video to show Wright’s lifeless body.

“He looked dead,” Bryant testified.

She eventually found out where the incident happened, and went to the scene, where she was stopped by cops from getting close to a body that was lying in the street, covered with a sheet.

She said she kept biting the inside of her cheeks, hoping to wake herself up from a nightmare. She said she still has scars inside her cheeks from it.

“I knew, but I didn’t wanna know,” Bryant said, crying.

But she could see her son’s shoes.

“I didn’t wanna believe that was my son lying there on the ground but I could tell it was him because it was his tennis shoes,” Bryant said, breaking down.

She stayed on the scene for hours, not wanting to leave until her son’s body was taken away. She was not allowed to approach him.

“I wanted to go comfort my baby,” she said, sobbing. “I wanted to hold him. I wanted to protect him because that’s what mothers do. You make sure that they’re safe.”

Eldridge said Potter “didn’t do anything to help” Wright after the shooting. The videos showed Wright distraught, on the ground.

“She intervened and she interfered,” Eldridge said. “It was her job to show Officer Luckey how it’s done. And what did she show him? She showed him how to kill someone.”

Almost 10 minutes later, a “small army” of officers — unaware of exactly what had happened — approached Wright’s crashed car with guns drawn and dragged Wright’s “dead body out of the car at gunpoint,” Eldridge said.

Luckey testified that both he and Johnson were in vulnerable positions — halfway in the car — and could have been hurt or killed if Wright took off. He said he would’ve used his Taser in that moment, too, if he could have, because Wright wasn’t in control of the vehicle.

Engh told jurors the case is not about an air freshener, but a bench warrant and a guy with a warrant for his arrest.

Engh said Officer Colleen Fricke will testify that Potter’s “grief and regret was inconsolable” after the shooting, and video shows her huddled in a corner at the Brooklyn Center police station.

“She realizes what has happened, much to her everlasting and unending regret,” he said. “She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being. But she had to do what you had to do to prevent a death to a fellow officer.”

The arguments

Eldridge said Potter went against training in multiple ways by firing at an unarmed driver, firing into a vehicle or even using a Taser on a fleeing suspect.

And she pointed out that Potter had firearm and Taser training annually, including about a month before the incident.

She said Potter carried her Glock on her right side, because she’s right-handed, and the Taser on her left.

Eldridge said nobody will contend Potter intended to shoot and kill Wright; she isn’t charged with intentional murder. She said it’s about the reckless handling of a firearm and disregard of known risks.

She said officers are trained not to use firearms during pursuits or Tasers to control a fleeing suspect and to aim Tasers away from the chest. She also highlighted the differences in color and weight of a gun and Taser and their holsters. Tasers have a display screen and flashlight that lights up and green lights that appear on the target.

Engh said former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Timothy Gannon will testify that it was consistent with Potter’s training for her to fire a Taser or gun at Wright to protect Johnson. And he said experts will testify about the use of Tasers and “action errors” during chaotic times.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP lawmaker 'likes' tweet saying 'retweet if you're pureblood'

The assistant majority leader for the Minnesota Senate recently “liked" a tweet by a British right-wing radio host that said, “Retweet if you're pureblood."

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, liked a post by Paul Joseph Watson, a far-right conspiracy theorist and radio host who was permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for violating hate speech policies. Watson gained prominence after working for Alex Jones and his website, InfoWars.

It's not clear whether Chamberlain liked the post because he's into pure bloodlines, or because he's an anti-vaxxer: Some anti-vaxxers have begun referring to themselves as “purebloods" because they refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It's a reference to the Harry Potter series, in which wizards and witches from magical families are “purebloods," whereas witches and wizards born to one magical parent and one non-magical parent are called “mudbloods."

Chamberlain has previously publicly displayed a penchant for white supremacy, following a number of neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Twitter and last year tweeting a compliment at an author who thinks white men are the rightful rulers of the world.

Earlier this year, Chamberlain was accused by some Democrats of using a hand gesture — a sort of upside-down OK sign — during a Senate floor debate that has come to be used as an expression of white supremacy, according to the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization.

Chamberlain did not respond to requests for comment.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

Second Minneapolis officer disciplined for conduct during George Floyd unrest

A second Minneapolis police officer has been disciplined for misconduct in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. This one for failing to report his use of force — hitting two people with rubber bullets — three days after Floyd died.

The officer, Oscar Macias, was issued a written reprimand, the lowest level of discipline.

The case underscores how slow and inconsistent discipline is in the Minneapolis Police Department, even as the mayor and police chief promise swift, transformational change.

So far, the only other officer to be disciplined for their behavior in the days after Floyd's killing is Colleen Ryan, a female officer who spoke anonymously to a journalist about what she described as a toxic culture in the department.

Meanwhile, the city currently faces over a dozen lawsuits alleging police brutality and misconduct during the protests and riots of 2020, including one by a woman who says Macias shot her in the face with a rubber bullet just two days after the incident that led to him receiving a letter of reprimand.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo's Oct. 9 disciplinary decision is heavily redacted, but indicates three allegations were lodged against Macias, and one sustained. Under state law, records of complaints against cops are only public if they result in discipline.

Officers are required by MPD policy to document their use of force, including after firing rubber bullets, and while several officers documented firing rubber bullets during what Arradondo dubbed an “event," Macias did not.

Macias said he recalled writing reports each day at the end of his shifts, but wasn't able to find this report, which he attributed to “computer issues," according to Arradondo's disciplinary report.

MPD policy says officers should warn people before using rubber bullets, which shouldn't be aimed at the head, neck, throat or chest “unless deadly force is justified" because they could cause “permanent physical or mental incapacity or possible death."

After MPD violated its own policies while using such less-lethal weapons on protesters after the 2015 police killing of Jamar Clark and did not document their use, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended MPD strengthen its use-of-force policy and better train officers on it.

But it was an issue again after Floyd's killing, as police struggled to gain control of the city as protests, riots, looting and arson spread across the metro area. In the aftermath, the city's Office of Police Conduct Review was swamped with police complaints, going from an average of 288 complaints per year since 2013 to 435 in 2020. But police misconduct complaints rarely result in discipline in Minneapolis.

Last year the city was hit with an avalanche of legal claims that could ultimately cost the city more than $111 million, the bulk of which can be traced back to 13 officer misconduct claims of $2 million or more each in the 15 days after Floyd's killing.

Arradondo, however, wrote in his decision that context is important in the Macias case.

“I recognize that the civil unrest events taking place during this time placed extraordinary demands on officers who worked long hours over the course of many days under difficult and dangerous circumstances," he wrote.

And, he added, Macias “has a history of being recognized for exemplary work and a lack of prior discipline."

That echoes Arradondo's recent reaction to the release of bodycam video showing his officers beating a man after he fired back at an unmarked van carrying MPD officers after they hit him with a rubber bullet without warning.

After Jaleel Stallings was acquitted, the chief released a statement saying “context is important," given the officers had just been through four days of rioting and the burning of the Third Precinct.

Arradondo wrote that he doesn't think Macias was trying to obscure his conduct, since he had his body-worn camera on during the incident and described his actions and reasoning “without apparent hesitation" during the investigation.

“This supports transparency and accountability which are critical for building and maintaining trust with the communities we serve," Arradondo wrote.

But two days later, on May 30, Macias allegedly hit a Minneapolis woman in the eye with a rubber bullet and his body camera was not on, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the woman against the city, Arradondo and Macias.

Samantha Wright was protesting near East Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue when she was hit several times with rubber bullets, including in her left eye, without warning.

According to her lawsuit, she got stitches on her eyebrow, her left eye's orbital socket was shattered, she had bleeding in her eyeball and had a metal plate inserted in her face. Her pupil is now dilated permanently.

Her attorney, Timothy Phillips, said Macias's bodycam video wasn't on at the time he fired, but other video footage captured the incident.

Macias' LinkedIn page says he's worked for MPD since 2005, and city records show he had 13 prior complaints lodged against him, all closed with no discipline — which can mean coaching, verbal correction or that no misconduct was found.

The ACLU has alleged in a lawsuit that MPD intentionally “coaches" cops for serious violations instead of disciplining them, which allows the records to be kept private. The city is fighting the release of coaching records.

Macias was also one of six Minneapolis police officers along with Derek Chauvin cleared of wrongdoing in the 2006 shooting death of Wayne Reyes. They responded to a report of a stabbing outside a pharmacy, a car chase ensued, and Reyes allegedly got out of his vehicle with a shotgun and was shot 23 times, according to media reports.

Wright's lawsuit alleges MPD has a “code of silence" that makes it highly unlikely officers will be disciplined for using excessive force on protesters. In another lawsuit from 2012, a judge found Macias violated a man's Fourth Amendment rights by making an unlawful seizure and used excessive force, and the city settled the lawsuit, but Macias wasn't disciplined.

The MPD spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

With cops down and shootings up, Minneapolis residents frustrated by police inaction

When two men started firing guns outside his north Minneapolis house one afternoon, Mike Rhodes dropped to the floor and called the cops.

The shooters were gone by the time the police arrived, but Rhodes saw them back in his yard hours later. But when Rhodes called 911 to alert them, he said the cops never returned.

Over the next couple of days, Rhodes sought answers from the police department and heard the same thing again and again: Call the mayor and ask for more police funding.

Rhodes' story illustrates how short-staffed the police department is — down about 300 officers after a wave of retirements and disability leave following the murder of George Floyd — and the kind of pressure police can put on a community when they're feeling aggrieved, unappreciated or just peeved.

A Minneapolis police officer recently told a local Indigenous leader MPD has taken a “hands-off" approach to crime control, including out-in-the-open drug dealing. After the Floyd protests, many residents began reporting slow responses or no response to their calls for help, leading City Council members to openly question whether the police were deliberately pulling back.

Some council members felt their wards were targeted because they supported defunding or restructuring the police department. Council President Lisa Bender said last year police were telling residents some version of, “We're not coming." A lawsuit was filed accusing police of slow responses in the Phillips neighborhood.

Rhodes was working from home at about 3 p.m. on May 12 when he noticed a shadow pass by his window. That wasn't unusual; he doesn't have a fence, so people often walk through his north Minneapolis yard.

About a minute later, he heard gunshots. That's not unusual either, but this time, they were closer than he's ever heard them.

He popped his head up, looked out the window and saw two young men — one in a black sweatshirt and one in a red sweatshirt — fleeing from his backyard to the front and holding pistols.

He dropped to the floor and yelled at his 15-year-old son upstairs to do the same.

“I didn't know what else was gonna be happening," Rhodes said.

He didn't leave his house until he saw police in his backyard. Nobody was hit in the alleyway shooting behind Rhodes' house.

After gathering some bullet casings, the police told Rhodes where he could upload his security camera footage, which shows the two young men walking through his yard to the alley, followed by two other young men.

About 7 o'clock that evening, Rhodes noticed the two young men who had followed the shooters walk through his yard and cross the street to hang out in front of a house. He called police to report that two witnesses were back. Nobody came.

Later, the two men he had seen brandishing pistols earlier joined them in front of the house, so he called 911 again. Nobody came.

He called 15 minutes later and was told by the dispatcher that there were not enough police to respond.

At 7:46 p.m., his security camera showed a young man in a black sweatshirt enter his yard. He walked back to where the shots had been fired and kicked around dirt as if looking for shell casings. He was followed by the man in the red sweatshirt and the two other young men.

Rhodes called 911 again and was told no one was available and they would respond as soon as they could.

At 7:51 p.m., he noticed all four were back in the front yard on Girard Avenue North in a group of about 10 people.

After hours waiting and multiple 911 calls, nobody came. Finally Rhodes walked across the street and confronted the suspects for “shooting up the neighborhood." They denied involvement.

Rhodes eventually called the Fourth Precinct to complain about the lack of response. The person who answered the phone “whined" about how understaffed police were, Rhodes said.

“He told me that if I wanted the police to be more responsive in my neighborhood then I needed to call the mayor's office and ask for more money to fund them," Rhodes said.

He got the same response the next day from a Fourth Precinct supervisor and Sgt. Jarrod Roering, he said.

“Literally, all three gave me nearly verbatim statements," he said.

Even when someone is injured in a shooting, the police rarely make an arrest, according to a recent Reformer analysis. Rhodes and his neighbors in north Minneapolis have also experienced the worst of the uptick in shootings, with about 30% of all reported violent crimes happening in the Fourth Precinct, according to the Star Tribune.

Professor Thomas Coghlan, a retired New York Police Department detective and professor of clinical psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said police unions sometimes stage “sickouts" or encourage cops to “go dead," meaning they stop writing tickets and making arrests and take their time on calls to “discipline" the police department or community.

Rhodes sent a complaint to the Police Conduct Review Office, with times and names.

“What if these were the people that shot the kid on Morgan Avenue North the other day? What if they had hurt a kid getting off the bus yesterday? And no one bothered to do anything," he wrote in his complaint.

He also emailed Fourth Precinct Inspector Charles Adams, but never got a response. He filed a complaint with Internal Affairs and contacted Mayor Jacob Frey and his City Council member, Phillipe Cunningham.

Cunningham confirmed that since taking office in 2018, he's frequently had constituents tell him when they call the Fourth Precinct to complain about response times or asked responding officers what took so long, their response has been, “Call your council member and say we need more officers" or “Call your council member and say we need more funding." Sometimes they were even referred to Cunningham for things like drug houses or gun violence, he said.

“Police officers were showing up to calls and telling constituents that I cut the amount of officers and that's why it took them so long," Cunningham said.

Three months after filing his complaint, Rhodes received an email saying it was reviewed by joint supervisors in the Office of Police Conduct Review and the office decided not to proceed with the complaint after an “appropriate investigation" was done.

“Although we cannot provide you with further information, the results of the investigation will remain on file with the OPCR for several years and may be referenced if future complaints are received," the email said.

The Minneapolis Police Department spokesman declined to comment, saying only, “A record of this incident does exist. You may make a data request through the Minneapolis Police Records Unit."

“It is unacceptable that people are just shooting up the neighborhood with impunity, and it is also completely unacceptable that the police completely bungled an opportunity to do something about it and then lied about it," Rhodes wrote to the precinct inspector. The inspector did not reply.

Rhodes said that the shots fired in his yard occurred minutes before children were getting off a school bus nearby and other young children were passing through his yard.

Just weeks earlier, a child was hospitalized after being shot in the head a few blocks from where Rhodes lives.

“I did not like calling the police because if they had shown up and shot somebody… I would not have forgiven myself but… what if these guns had been involved in something else?" said Rhodes, who is white. “What if these kids had been involved in other shootings? We can't have this stuff."

Rhodes said he's only lived in north Minneapolis for a year, but he's lived in Minneapolis for more than two decades and is accustomed to occasionally hearing gunshots.

“I'm not trying to be some alarmist white dude," he said. “I've lived in the city for a long time. I try to acknowledge who I am and where I am."

Rhodes said he got an email from the mayor's office saying they would look into it. And Cunningham, Rhodes said, was very sympathetic, saying he's heard these stories “all too often." Cunningham did not respond to a request for comment.

“I was like they have their talking points worked out," Rhodes said. “Three police in a row telling me that tells me that they coordinated that they're just not gonna show up and they're gonna teach us a lesson."

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to add Cunningham's comment.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.