Prattles

Ramblings of Anna Pratt, Twin Cities journalist

Metro Gang Strike Force: “Bad actions overshadow the good actions”

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Here’s a story I wrote for the TC Daily Planet about a legislative hearing centering on the Metro Gang Strike Force, which was recently shut down.

Metro Gang Strike Force: “Bad actions overshadow the good actions”

BY ANNA PRATT, TC DAILY PLANET

“It’s a deeply disappointing and disturbing story, in which the bad actions overshadow the good actions,” James Nobles, the legislative auditor who blew the whistle on the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force told a legislative hearing Wednesday.

MGSF, a multijurisdictional unit that formed in 2005, was shut down in June following a report from Nobles, detailing problems in the way the unit accounted for seized and forfeited property. He and other speakers at the August 26 hearing at the state capitol underscored the need for greater oversight to combat gang and drug activity and to protect citizens’ rights.

The strike force didn’t properly inventory or secure items that were confiscated. Cars that had been taken were transferred to a used car lot and put up for sale. “It was just plain sloppy. There were no records,” he said. “They weren’t properly identified and accounted for.”

A stump grinder and wood-chipper, among other things, are some of the more unusual items which were taken, and don’t seem to have a criminal connection. Out of 545 people who should’ve been notified about their property being seized, only 202 were informed. “Why did [officers] take so many flat-screen TVs? We were as befuddled as you,” said Nobles. “What went wrong here wasn’t just in bookkeeping but rights of citizens.”

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Gang and Drug Oversight Council and the unit’s advisory board “both fell down,” he said. Because the unit was multijurisdictional, there was no clear leadership, he said. It didn’t get enough financial support, though it’s unclear why the unit was so strapped for cash when it had $1 million sitting in the bank, he said.

More supervision, including collaboration with prosecuting attorneys, is needed to ensure that officers aren’t “going out and taking stuff because they want to,” he stressed.

Andy Luger, a former federal prosecutor who co-chaired a state panel that performed a deeper study into the unit’s wrongdoing, attributed some of the problems to a Depression-era mentality that stuck well after the 2003 round of budget cuts. Some officers engaged in activities that their home agencies would never put up with, he said.

When asked if there was criminal behavior involved, he said, “If you take something that’s not yours and take it home, then it’s a crime. I believe that went on here.”

In his report, he recommends against the use of standalone strike forces unless they have a more active board with an executive committee in charge. Forfeiture shouldn’t be used to fund the force, he urged, adding that statewide forfeiture policies need to be in place while some laws might need to be amended.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion, who first called for investigation into the unit, said MGSF was given too many second chances. However, the hearing wasn’t a time for laying blame on anyone, said representative Debra Hilstrom (district 46B), chair of the House Public Safety Policy Committee. She characterized the state of affairs as “serious, sensitive and volatile,” but legislators will try to figure out where to go from here.

Hilstrom explained that soon, a designated “special master” would be doing more digging into the strike force’s 5,000 files to determine what property needs to be returned. Secondly, a legislative working group will meet with authorities to develop additional recommendations while another investigation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI may be called for. “We want to make sure this never happens again,” she said.

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Written by annapratt

August 28, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. And meanwhile in Minnesota a slim 4-3 majority of the State Supreme Court said today that an innocent spouse forefeits the jointly owned family car when the other spouse screws up: http://wp.me/pAFjr-2N

    These laws should either be repealed, or severely reformed. They are an invitation to corruption.

    Thomas Gallagher

    December 17, 2009 at 5:55 pm


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