Author: Mathew Meyer   

Has the City abused its police powers to further its campaign to dissolve SPUC?

 

The City apparently violated the law against campaigning on ballot issues. See our “Just Cause for Complaint”: Part 1 blog post, But I believe the abuse of power doesn’t stop there. The City may also be abusing its control over the police powers of the municipality.

After the City Administrator’s allegations that SPU violated non-criminal statutes, such as the open meeting law, salary cap and public data laws, the State Auditor responded to SPUC’s request for guidance by stating that its interpretation of the salary statute was different, but that the Auditor’s office was not giving SPUC a legal interpretation upon which it could rely.

In fact, the Attorney General’s office completely ignored the City Administrator’s accusations, most likely because there were no criminal statutes implicated. SPUC then retained outside counsel to investigate the allegations. The outside counsel concluded that although there were violations, there was no evidence of any intentional or willful violations. Indeed, there was no evidence suggesting a criminal statute had been violated. Therefore, there was no disciplinary action against Mr. Crooks. However, SPUC immediately took corrective action to remedy the issues counsel identified.

Someone was apparently unsatisfied with these results. Around the time that the City voted to put the referendum on the ballot, the very same allegations contained in the City Administrator’s letter to the Attorney General, and which were completely ignored by their office, were used to open a criminal investigation by the Shakopee Police Department. This investigation of non-criminal violations of law resulted in the investigating detective’s demand that I and other past and present commissioners submit to in-person interviews at police headquarters.

Is there such a thing as a “non-criminal” criminal investigation?

I am not a criminal law attorney—my practice is focused on business/real estate law and commercial litigation. So, I consulted with a criminal law attorney/assistant professor of criminal justice at a local university. He was shocked to learn about this criminal investigation. Three issues of concern were identified:

  1. A “non-criminal” criminal investigation. The allegations are solely violations of non-criminal statutes, e.g. the “open meeting laws,” salary cap law, and public data law. Nothing in the letter from the City Administrator touches upon or identifies any violation of criminal statutes. So, is this an issue that should take up so much time and resources of our police department?
  2. A conflict of interest. Most significantly, there is the obvious “conflict of interest” in having the Shakopee Police Department investigating allegations made by the City Administrator, the person who has administrative authority over the very Police Department investigating the allegations. Typically, in situations where the independence of a criminal investigation could be questioned, that investigation is handled by another law enforcement agency. Indeed, prosecution of any matters arising from that investigation would be seriously compromised, if not impossible. When I asked the investigating detective why this complaint was being handled by Shakopee PD, his only response was that he was ordered to do it, and the “conflict of interest” issue was a matter for his superiors. And which superior would that be? The City Administrator?
  3. A timing “coincidence.” Why was a criminal investigation opened into alleged violations of non-criminal statutes at the very same time the City voted to put the dissolution of SPUC on the November ballot? This investigation involves numerous in-person interviews of past and present commissioners and SPU employees. This during a time when virtually all business is being conducted remotely via video conferencing because of the risks of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Yet we were asked to go to the Police Department to be interviewed. Was this criminal investigation opened in order to intimidate those commissioners and employees who may want to oppose the City’s referendum? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if this investigation suddenly ended November 4.

Another concerning aspect of this investigation are the careless and misleading statements made by City officials stating that there is a “criminal investigation” pending, suggesting criminal behavior. Was this investigation opened in order to further the City’s illegal campaign in favor of the referendum? Was the investigation opened in order to be able to make reference to it to suggest SPUC and its employees have engaged in criminal behavior? Statements and suggestions that criminal activity occurred are already on social media – when NO criminal activity occurred.

Here are some more tough questions we should be asking:

  1. Who opened the criminal investigation at Shakopee PD into non-criminal violations of Minnesota statutes?
  2. Why wasn’t this investigation referred to another law enforcement agency given the obvious conflict-of-interest in having Shakopee PD investigate?
  3. Was the decision to have the Shakopee PD pursue the criminal investigation motivated by the effect such an investigation would have on the pending vote on the Referendum?
  4. Why did the investigation involve numerous in-person interviews of past and present Commissioners and SPU staff during a state of emergency declared by the Governor because of the COVID-19 Pandemic? Was it an attempt to harass or intimidate those who may want to oppose the City’s Referendum?

You probably now have even more questions of your own for the City. Please don’t hesitate to ask them. 

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