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I ‘could have been clearer’ in comments about officer’s stun-gun incident

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Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said Monday night that he “could have been clearer,” but he did not intentionally mislead the public in statements regarding the hire of an officer accused of a violent assault that was caught on body-worn camera video in a previous job.

Speaking at a news conference, O’Hara acknowledged that he knew months ago that officer Tyler Timberlake had been involved in a “critical incident” in the past. O’Hara also confirmed that he’d been present during the interview process for Timberlake, whose employment with Minneapolis was terminated last week. When the chief released a statement months after signing off on the hire saying he was “extremely concerned” based on what he’d “just learned” about Timberlake, he meant to convey he’d just seen the body camera footage for the first time, he told reporters Monday.

“I had a very visceral reaction to the behavior that I saw on that video,” O’Hara said. “I was shocked and I gave a statement to the media very quickly, and the statement could have been clearer.”

O’Hara vowed to “fix the hiring process so that we do not simply hire people who meet the minimum qualifications, but that we screen in individuals who reflect the values of this community and of this department.” He said the background check for Timberlake took place before he became chief, and he would not have signed off on Timberlake’s hire if he’d first seen the video.

“I accept responsibility for not being clear enough in my initial comments and for not following up to clarify,” O’Hara said. “But again, I had not seen the video.”

O’Hara’s remarks come in response to sharp critiques over the past five days from the police union and law enforcement watchdogs on his handling of Timberlake. Timberlake was charged and later acquitted of assault and battery for repeatedly shooting a stun-gun at a man who appeared to need medical attention in June 2020, when he worked as an officer in Fairfax, VA. The video appeared in national news coverage.

After the Star Tribune first reported on Timberlake’s termination last week, Minneapolis police union president Sherral Schmidt said that O’Hara was pandering to critics when he told reporters back in April that he’d “just learned” of the incident. Schmidt said O’Hara knew about the officer’s past before a story published by the Minnesota Reformer drew attention to it, and that O’Hara had told Timberlake “he would be OK, if he did good work.”

The Star Tribune obtained internal emails that showed Timberlake had informed the department about the stun-gun incident and criminal charges in September 2022 — seven months before O’Hara said he’d just learned about it. A month after the Reformer story, Timberlake sent an email to Mayor Jacob Frey, City Attorney Kristyn Anderson and Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander accusing the chief of defaming him and asking for city officials to look into the matter.

“Chief O’Hara’s recent statements regarding my employment with MPD are factually false and can be proven as such,” wrote Timberlake in the May 15 email. “These statements have been harmful to my reputation by, among other things, implying that the chief had no knowledge of my prior work history or my hiring at MPD when, in fact, he was involved in my hiring.”

In the news conference Monday, O’Hara said he was limited in what he could address because of data laws pertaining to personnel matters. Anderson was present and stopped O’Hara from answering a question about who else in the city was involved in the hire.

O’Hara said he was only an “observer” — not a participant — in Timberlake’s interview, which took place on a “whirlwind” second day on the job.

When pressed on whether he told Timberlake in the interview that he would “be OK, if he did good work,” O’Hara claimed he didn’t recall the specifics of their conversation.

“I was meeting literally hundreds of people in my initial days here,” he said.

O’Hara said he knew Timberlake “was involved in a critical incident.” But, he said, “quite frankly that is unremarkable. Anyone who has been a police officer in a major city, if they’ve been working on the street, they have been active — it would be unusual if you had not been.”

Asked about the union’s defense of Timberlake, O’Hara said “it is disturbing to me that any member of this department could observe the behavior in that video and think that is what we need in this city at this time.”

O’Hara was sworn in as Minneapolis’ 54th police chief last November on the ambitious promise to reduce the surge in violent crime while also rebuilding community trust in the department. Frey hailed O’Hara, a veteran enforcement officer from New Jersey, as a “change-maker” — someone who could navigate the city and its police into a new era.

In his short time in Minneapolis, O’Hara has won praise from some in the department for changing a policy that stopped officers from pursuing suspects — and by appearing in a body camera video chasing down and helping arrest alleged shooters. He’s also positioned himself as capable of stewarding Minneapolis through a complicated federal consent decree, having recently served as a liaison between the Newark Police Department and Justice Department for a similar agreement there.

“I came here to fix problems,” he said Monday. “I became aware of the problems in this hiring process in April and I have been working ever since to address them.”



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Star Tribune

Trump, GOP weaponize Minnesota Freedom Fund in attacks on Kamala Harris

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What began as a small charitable nonprofit founded by a University of Minnesota business school student has again become ammunition for attacks against Kamala Harris’s record on crime.

A day after Joe Biden bowed out from the presidential race, as Donald Trump’s campaign recalibrated its attacks on Harris as the Democrat frontrunner, Minnesota Trump Campaign Chair and U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer posted on X that Harris once supported “a bail fund for Minnesota criminals who should have stayed behind bars. One convict she sprung from prison killed a man after Kamala helped release him.”

Fox News followed with a headline saying the “Kamala Harris-backed” organization has “put murderers, rapists back on streets.”

And on Tuesday, Trump’s official war room account posted a photo of Harris to X alongside a mugshot of Jaleel Stallings, a Minneapolis man the account describes as being “charged with the attempted murder of two police officers” in 2020.

“[Harris] raised money to bail Stallings out of jail,” read the caption. “Kamala Harris is radically liberal and dangerously incompetent.”

The post fails to mention Stallings was found not guilty by a jury — or that one of the arresting officers was convicted of assault for beating him up.

These political attacks—some misleading or false—stem from a Harris social media post four years ago. After George Floyd’s murder, the Vice President encouraged her followers to help arrested protestors by donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that pays criminal and immigration bonds for people in Twin Cities jails and detention facilities.

The Freedom Fund was started in fall 2016 by Simon Cecil, then a graduate student completing dual master’s degrees in business and public policy. In the beginning, Cecil had a meager $10,000, half from a University of Minnesota grant program and the rest from an ideas competition. Cecil paid bails capped at $1,000 in the early days—some as low as $50—for people accused of committing low-level crimes.

The fund has since ballooned into a multi-million-dollar organization, largely after a deluge of donations in 2020, and become perennial fodder for attacks on Harris and other Democrats.

Since its inception, the Freedom Fund has posted criminal bail for 2,537 people who were charged and awaiting trial in jail, and another 463 immigration bonds, according to data provided by organization as of May 2024. The bail fund’s staff describe its mission as a way to level the playing field in the system of cash bail in America, where impoverished people sit in jail when they are presumed innocent because they can’t pay nominal fees.

“That’s one of our core beliefs that motivates our work: everyone, regardless of wealth, is entitled to this presumption of innocence,” said Freedom Fund spokesperson Noble Frank.

Harris’s tweet from 2020 is the extent of her support for the organization, said Frank. “We’ve had no connection with her other than that.”

Some of the people bailed out by the Freedom Fund have gone on to commit violent crimes while on release, such as George Howard, who was convicted in a deadly road rage shooting after the organization helped secure his release.

Frank said these cases are rare, and critics mischaracterize the bail fund’s role in the system to link it to Harris. Contrary to Emmer’s tweet, the Freedom Fund does not—and could not—arrange the release of people who have been found guilty of a crime and are serving prison sentences. Bail is only available to people who are awaiting trial for pending charges, and who have been granted the opportunity for bail by a judge.

Emmer did not respond to a request for an interview about his remarks.

Frank said the organization now places limits on who it will bail out, such as not paying for the same person in a year period. Staff also evaluates court appearance history, criminal past and factors like mental illness or risk of losing employment and housing in determining whether to post a person’s bond.

Frank said about one-third of the people bailed out by the Freedom Fund have ultimately been exonerated. That includes Stallings.

In 2020, a jury exonerated Stallings after body-camera video showed Minneapolis officers firing projectiles at him without warning from an unmarked vehicle five days after Floyd’s murder. Stallings, who was standing in a parking lot, returned fire with a licensed gun in what he later described as an act of self defense. The officers brutally beat and arrested him.

Then-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said later that police “grossly misled” his office on the evidence. The city paid $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit with Stallings.

Bail in the United States dates back the nation’s founding, and so do bail funds.

The first was started by Declaration of Independence-signer Benjamin Rush, who helped people navigate the bail system so they didn’t have to linger in jail awaiting trial, said Kellen Funk, a legal historian who teaches a seminar on bail at Columbia Law School.

Throughout the 19th Century, charitable groups often raised money to pay bail for what they believed were unjust charges. Funk cited examples of abolitionists collecting funds to bail out an operator of the Underground Railroad in Maryland. After the Civil War, he said, a group raised $100,000 to bail out Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.

“This political trick has a long history,” said Funk. “But it’s always been the case that the law of bail is rather indifferent to the source.”

Back then, bail usually did not have money attached to it; in most cases, it was simply a pledge to return to court, said Funk. In the 20th Century, courts in the United States began using money more broadly as an incentive for people to appear. If they did return to court, the money was returned in full. This led to the rise of the commercial bondsman, a for-profit enterprise that charges a fee for posting cash bail.

As the criminal justice system has changed over the centuries, this is where bail reformers say it has gone very wrong. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits “excessive” bail. Yet 34 percent of Americans charged with crimes linger in jail pretrial for no other reason than they can’t afford to pay, according to a 2016 report by the Harvard Law School.

“Many low-level offenders are being held simply because they cannot afford the money amount up front,” Funk said. “They’re presumed innocent. No evidence has come in. Very often the evidence is exonerating when it comes in, but people will even plead guilty for crimes they did not commit just to end their pretrial detention.”

Modern-era bail funds have emerged as a Band-Aid to close this gap, said Funk. Some municipalities, including New York City and the state of New Jersey, have dramatically curtailed the use of cash bail.

In recent years, lack of transparency around Minnesota’s bail system has fueled criticisms across the criminal spectrum.

The Trump campaign first attacked the Freedom Fund in 2020 for its role in bailing out people arrested after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd, leading to Minnesota Republicans pushing a bill that would require more publicly available information as to who is posting the bond. Months later, when an anonymous benefactor paid Chauvin’s bail, hundreds marched down Minneapolis streets in protest of his release.

This week, MAGA Inc., a Trump super PAC, posted to X that a person arrested for rioting in 2020 was bailed out by the Freedom Fund and charged with murder. The Freedom Fund said they have no record of such a case.

Frank said the Freedom Fund has been inundated with unwanted attention as the attacks are revived on the national stage.

“The work that we do is unpopular,” Frank said, “especially during an election cycle.”



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Rapidan Dam Store to move to new location in downtown Mankato

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The Rapidan Dam Store, a restaurant southwest of Mankato that was demolished after flooding in June overran the nearby dam, may soon have a new home.

The Hruska family that has owned the store since 1972 is in the final stages of talks that would reopen the restaurant temporarily in a location in downtown Mankato, the family and a local realtor said.

The deal is finalized but still needs approvals from the city, said David Hruska, co-owner of the restaurant. The restaurant, known for its burgers and pies, would reopen on South Front Street, at the former location of the Wagon Wheel café.

“It’s close, but it’s got a couple steps to go before that’s done,” said Hruska, who owns the store along with his sister Jenny Barnes.

The Rapidan Dam Store was demolished in June by Blue Earth County officials as a safety measure following flooding on the Blue Earth River. The flooding, the second worst measured on the river, overran the nearby dam and swept away the Hruska family’s home, along with a playground, trees and other debris.

The family received approximately $40,000 for the building and still owns the land, which has shrunk due to the flood scouring away the bedrock near the river.

The final terms for the Rapidan Dam Store to move into the new location have been signed as of Tuesday afternoon, said Dain Fisher, a Mankato realtor and friend of the Hruskas who has been helping them relocate.

“It’s going to be exciting for the Dam Store to be in the heart of Mankato,” Fisher said Tuesday. The remaining steps involve approval by the city, he added.

A spokesman for Mankato city government confirmed the Hruska family is going through approval processes to move their business. The next steps are a planning commission meeting Wednesday and a city council meeting on Aug. 12, said Paul David, communications director for Mankato.

Use of the old Wagon Wheel location would be donated to the family for $1 for four months, said Kyle Smith of the Tailwind Group, which owns the building.

The family would have to pay their own expenses at the space, which has been vacant for several years, Smith said Tuesday.

The Wagon Wheel location will probably need a new floor and replacement ceiling tiles, as well as a professional cleaning, Hruska said.

The Rapidan Dam Store could reopen by the end of August at the earliest, Hruska said, adding that September is more likely.



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Pedestrian struck and killed by Metro Transit train in St. Paul

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A pedestrian was struck and killed by a Metro Transit Green Line light-rail train in St. Paul on Tuesday.

The incident occurred shortly after 3:30 p.m. near the intersection of University Avenue and Syndicate Street N., just east of Hamline Avenue, according to Nikki Muehlhausen, a spokesperson for the Metro Transit Police Department.

The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene, she said, and an investigation is underway.

No other information was available.

Buses were replacing trains between the Fairview Avenue and Western Avenue stations while the scene was being cleared, Muehlhausen said.



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