Police officers are being physically assaulted by criminal suspects with increasing frequency, with at least seven violent encounters occurring in a 15-hour span this past weekend across the Twin Cities and many more incidents elsewhere in Minnesota this month.
Law enforcement agencies say that in 18 assaults in the state since May 5 their officers have been hit with objects, bitten, spat upon, kicked, put in a headlock, Maced, scratched and bruised by defiant suspects, some of whom are backing up their actions with verbal threats of serious injury or death.
One leading advocate for peace officers across the state sees a connection between the conviction of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last month in the death of George Floyd, a killing that the world saw unfold in a bystander's viral video.
"The people out there doing crimes right now know law enforcement is a little more apprehensive when doing their jobs," said Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Legal Services, Minnesota's largest public safety labor union. "They don't want to be the next YouTube sensation. They don't want to be prosecuted and sent to prison."
Accounts of assaults on law enforcement have been accumulating in the Twin Cities and surrounding communities going back to within days of the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in south Minneapolis. Floyd's death sparked widespread and at times violent civil unrest in the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the world saw in real time pitched anger toward police and other law enforcement agencies from many protesters.
Three of Sunday's seven assaults on law enforcement occurred within an hour or so in typically high-traffic areas of Minneapolis.
About 1 a.m., a group of drivers gathered near Hennepin and Lagoon avenues in Uptown for racing and "exhibition driving." Officers called to the scene to disperse the crowd were injured when objects were thrown at them. Two officers were taken to HCMC for treatment.
At the 2 a.m. bar closing downtown, fights broke out and a stabbing was reported. Police found two people with "substantial head wounds." Some of the bar patrons fought with police, including a person who used a large stick to hit an officer while another person sprayed chemical irritant at the officers, according to Elder.
"We are seeing more and more people that are being confrontational with law enforcement," Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said this week. "The fact of the matter is it's unlawful and it's criminal behavior, and people will be arrested as the opportunity arises."
Police have yet to find any suspects in the Uptown clash but made two quick arrests in separate downtown confrontations. Felony assault charges allege that Robert E. Ford, 21, of Minneapolis, was blocking an ambulance near S. Hennepin Avenue and N. 5th Street that was called to take an injured person to a hospital. An officer escorted Ford away from the ambulance, prompting Ford to "take a full swing … striking [the officer] over the head with the stick," the charges said.
In the same part of downtown and about the same time, Christopher Smith, 39, sprayed four or five officers with a chemical irritant, according to felony charges. The chemical irritant left some of the officers coughing and having difficulty seeing.
Less than 30 minutes later to the west in neighboring Robbinsdale, an officer was kicked repeatedly in the face and head by a 34-year-old suspected drunken driver who resisted arrest and would not follow orders. Cassandra Parker, of Minneapolis, at one point spit on the officer and said, " 'I hope you get COVID,' " according to felony charges filed Monday.
Robbinsdale police Capt. Mike Coleman said assaults on his department's rank and file are "not all that frequent, but officers certainly have expressed an increase in less compliant individuals during police contacts and criminal investigations."
The recent spate of civilian-on-officer attacks has defiance and verbal threats as common themes, according to charges filed against the suspects.
Smith, the suspect accused of macing Minneapolis officers, told police he would do it again if given the chance.
A 26-year-old Minneapolis man confronted Sunday afternoon by Metro Transit police in downtown St. Paul about a warrant for his arrest declared to officers, " 'I am not going to cooperate. Y'all are going to have to kill me!' "
He was taken to Regions Hospital, where he bit a Metro Transit officer's biceps Sunday afternoon at Regions Hospital St. Paul and threatened to kill him, charges against him read.
In Maple Grove early Sunday, a 31-year-old drunken driving suspect feigned knowing little English, purposely botched a preliminary breath test, physically resisted being led into his jail cell before putting an officer in a headlock. Theophilus Tartoe, of Mounds View, left the officer with several scratches on her hands and a sore throat, the charges read.
Police in Plymouth said they are seeing suspects increasingly resisting arrest and in recent months and weeks.
That includes during a domestic assault call about 3 a.m. Sunday, when a 26-year-old man "struggled against [officers'] efforts to handcuff and control him," then spit at one officer twice and left him with an eye injury, according to the felony criminal complaint.
"Although we don't specifically track this, we have approximately five [assaults on officers] a year on average," said police spokeswoman Karen Anderson.
Minneapolis authorities reinforced their pledge to get tough on people who rough up their officers and recently upgraded from gross misdemeanor to felony counts cases against two people who got into a shoving match with Minneapolis officers trying to clear a homeless encampment just west of downtown on March 18.
Police said 25 to 30 people were "actively challenging" officers and pushing against their line with one person attacking an officer and resisting arrest. During the melee, a woman jumped on the back of an officer and began to choke him, and others continued to surround the officers, police said.
Encampment suspects Shyanne M. Redlin, 24, of St. Paul, and Clayton A. Hill, 27, of Leon, Iowa, are among the 52 people charged so far this year in Hennepin County with assaulting officers.
Mortenson of Law Enforcement Legal Services said he received his share of assaults over his 32 years of policing, 29 of them on the St. Cloud force, and has this advice for criminal suspects.
"Listen to the officers' instructions, don't resist arrest," he said. "There is a time and place to resolve all the issues. Being defiant with police is not the place."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482