St. Anthony police hunker into 2-year DOJ review


From left, St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey, Police Chief Jon Mangseth, Mayor Jerry Faust and Ronald Davis, director of the Department of Justice’s COPS office, at a press conference Dec. 15 in downtown Minneapolis, announcing the St. Anthony Police Department will undergo a comprehensive review conducted by COPS.

Audit a result of  Castile shooting

After making a formal request to the U.S. Department of Justice, St. Anthony Village has been granted a federal review of its police department and is preparing for a lengthy and transparent process.

The comprehensive review comes more than five months after the fatal shooting of Philando Castile at the hands of a St. Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights, and just weeks after that officer, Jeronimo Yanez, received criminal charges. Called the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance, the audit will be conducted by the DOJ’s Washington D.C.-based Community Oriented Policing Services – COPS.

The July 6 death of Castile, a 32-year-old African American man, ignited an outcry by many community members who subsequently formed groups and organized protests pressing for reform within the department that polices St. Anthony, as well as Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, which both contract for police service with the suburb.

Initially announced by the office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger on Dec. 14, Luger held a follow-up press conference providing further details on Dec. 15 in downtown Minneapolis; among others, Luger was accompanied by Ronald Davis, director of COPS, St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust and St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth.

Davis said the two-year review process will work to identify and implement recommendations for possible internal departmental reform — much to the satisfaction of groups like St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action, one of a handful of citizen groups pushing for police reform in the wake of Castile’s death and attempting to shine light on racial disparities in community-police relations.

In a statement, the group called the announcement “an important step forward.”

“I now feel very hopeful for our community,” attorney and St. Anthony resident Kristine Lizdas said in the same statement.

During the Thursday afternoon presser, Davis said the fact that St. Anthony officials reached out, seeking this guidance and partnership with the DOJ, is a sign of “strong leadership.”

Mangseth said the initiative will help “us to serve our communities better.”

Davis emphasized that the review is not an investigation into the Castile case nor any other anecdotal traffic stop or use of force incident, but instead a process that is “independent, objective and critical” for making the department a model for others across the nation.  

According to Davis, the comprehensive review is expected to take up to 10 months to complete. COPS will then spend about 18 months advising and meeting with St. Anthony city and police officials in regards to acting upon the recommendations.

Davis called the process “transparent” and said it would be up to the citizens and the media to hold the department accountable in sticking with the changes after they are implemented.

St. Anthony is the 16th and smallest city to participate in the COPS initiative. Davis named Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and San Francisco as cities that are or have participated in the program, along with 11 others scattered across the United States. Once the review was completed in San Francisco, Davis noted, officials there had a 300 page review to work with.

Though this decision may have been sparked by the fatal shooting of Castile, a popular cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, COPS will be looking at all available data, basing the process “on science, not anecdotes, and facts, not emotions,” Davis said.

Yanez, who, according to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, shot Castile seven times due to unreasonable fear during the Larpenteur Avenue traffic stop, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. He fired his handgun into Castile’s car, which was also occupied by Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter. Choi characterized the charges as the “highest provable.”

Yanez had his second court appearance on Monday, Dec. 19.

In January, COPS will hold three listening sessions open to both the press and public, looking for “perspectives, concerns, and suggestions.” They are:

 

• Monday, Jan. 9

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Falcon Heights Elementary School gym

1393 Garden Ave.

Falcon Heights

 

• Tuesday, Jan. 10

6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

St. Anthony Village High School auditorium

3303 33rd Ave. NE

St. Anthony

 

• Wednesday, Jan. 11

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Lauderdale City Hall

1891 Walnut Street

Lauderdale

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

 

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