Report: Minneapolis police, FFs failed to follow emergency protocols during protests, riots

A risk management firm depicts a breakdown in planning and communications that left city employees confused about who was in charge


Liz Navratil, Andy Mannix
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Mayor Jacob Frey failed to implement the city's emergency protocols when responding to protests and riots that erupted across Minneapolis after George Floyd's murder, according to a long-anticipated report released on Tuesday.

The 86-page report by Maryland-based risk management firm Hillard Heintze, whose research staff includes former law enforcement officers, details a breakdown in communications and planning that left residents feeling abandoned and city employees — including police — confused about who was in charge.

Law enforcement officers were on scene to protect firefighters at Migizi, a Native American nonprofit in south Minneapolis, near the Minneapolis police Third Precinct on May 29, 2020.
Law enforcement officers were on scene to protect firefighters at Migizi, a Native American nonprofit in south Minneapolis, near the Minneapolis police Third Precinct on May 29, 2020. (Photo/Tribune News Service)

It paints a damning picture of the 10-day period in May of 2020 that continues to traumatize many residents and employees close to two years later: Some first responders, receiving little guidance from supervisors, traveled blindly into dangerous situations. Police made inconsistent decisions about when to use controversial munitions on crowds. Neighbors and business owners, frustrated by a lack of communication from city leaders, banded together to protect their homes and businesses.

Minneapolis has an emergency operations plan that is "well written, comprehensive and consistent with nationally recognized practices," the report said. But, it said, the mayor did not "ensure the appropriate implementation" of that plan, hampering the city's response.

The report said: "Even though the level of protest and violence was unprecedented, better planning, organization, communication and adherence to command-and-control principles by the MPD and city officials would have led to a better response."

Frey, in a statement Tuesday night, said he has asked city staff to create a plan for implementing the report's roughly two dozen recommendations. The report suggests a range of changes aimed at improving employees' wellness programs, strengthening emergency protocols and practicing them proactively, improving communications among city employees and boosting police trainings on controversial crowd control tactics.

"Trainings are underway, new structures are being put in place," the mayor said, "and we are in routine contact with multi-jurisdictional partners to enhance communications and operational preparedness."

The video of Floyd being fatally pinned at the neck by a Minneapolis police officer for more than 9 minutes on May 25, 2020, prompted global protests that were sometimes overcome by people looting and lighting fires. In the Twin Cities, at least two deaths were reported. More than 1,500 businesses reported an estimated $500 million in damages.

According to the report, unnamed "field personnel" believed that "in the first two days of the protest and unrest, MPD leadership, and presumably the City, attempted to keep the incident low profile and did not request additional resources." MPD leaders — whom the report did not name — declined requests for help and "as a result, officers lost faith and trust in leadership."

The day after Floyd's death, on May 26, police began using rubber bullets and "chemical irritants" on crowds gathered outside the Third Precinct. Poor communication, exacerbated by frustration with competency of command staff, resulted in an uneven police response that officers throughout the ranks agreed "did not go well."

"There was a vast, vast void in consistent rules of engagement and control" regarding use of chemical munitions and less-lethal rounds," Chad McGinty, one of the researchers, told council members in a public meeting Tuesday.

The report says researchers could not find clear evidence that officers made an announcement for people to disperse before firing. The report authors wrote that they could not accurately account for all the munitions used "due in large part to the lack of accountability and supervisory oversight for munitions and officer deployment, leaving the question of the early use of any impact rounds unanswered."

According to the report, the "first planned meeting of MPD leadership, including inspectors and commanders" happened at noon May 27 — a day and a half after Floyd's killing.

"Much to the dismay of some with whom we spoke, no plan or definitive actions were provided or discussed and, most importantly, no command structure was designated," the report said. "After having seen violence occur across the city the day before, command-level officers left the meeting on May 27 not knowing who was in command or the MPD's plan or objectives."

That night, after receiving a call from then-Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Frey has said he contacted Gov. Tim Walz to ask for assistance from the Minnesota National Guard. In the hours that followed, city and state leaders debated how much detail they needed to deploy troops. The city's initial requests, the report said, did not follow the typical protocols for requesting such assistance and didn't provide crucial details needed to get soldiers working.

"Had the Mayor or the MPD consulted the [city's Office of Emergency Management], the OEM could have assisted with a more detailed request and potentially minimized the delay in deployment," the report said.

The city ultimately asked many National Guard members to provide protection for firefighters and help protect swaths of the city that it deemed crucial. Early in the unrest, the city's fire department did not ask other agencies for assistance because unspecified leaders thought it would be "fruitless" since there was "insufficient protection to support the existing MFD personnel," according to the report.

The report said "executive leadership" tried to recall firefighters the first night but struggled to access their mass communication system "because of password issues."

"As an alternative, they established a manual call tree, but by the time they implemented the plan, it was getting close to shift change, so they discontinued the process."

Department leaders eventually used a "task force response model that was unfamiliar to many of the firefighters," resulting in uneven workloads and contributing to exhaustion, the report said. "Many MFD personnel sat in firehouses across the city, in some cases observing a nearby fire that they could engage, while the personnel assigned to the task force actively worked fires for most of their 24-hour shift."

The report — for which the city paid nearly $230,000 — is based on 2,400 documents, interviews with 90 government workers and community members and about 30 hours of body-camera footage. The report noted that "despite our best efforts and numerous requests, directly and through identified sources, we found few line officers and community or activist groups willing to speak with us directly."

Robert Boehmer, another researcher working on the report, said they also reached out to people working at other agencies, many of whom declined to participate because the response is "a really hot political topic." Walz told reporters Tuesday that he had not yet seen the report, but state level officials are working on their own, similar review.

The report's contents had been closely guarded — prompting complaints among some activists and council members — and were released for the first time Tuesday during a meeting of the Council's Committee of the Whole.

Interim City Coordinator Heather Johnston told council members staff are working to develop a plan for implementing the report's recommendations and plan to give a public update in roughly a month, with quarterly updates afterward.

"There is trauma. There is pain, and a lot of questions about what we will do next," said Council Member Jason Chavez, whose wards includes the intersection where police pinned Floyd and some of the swaths of Lake Street that were most heavily damaged.

Chavez added: "What we do next is what's going to matter at this point forward."

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Staff Writers Stephen Montemayor and Abby Simons contributed to this report.

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