Report on Minneapolis response to George Floyd protests: 'There was a void'

The protests and riots in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis have been a divisive topic in Minnesota, but one thing people of all political stripes have largely agreed on is the city didn't get its response right, from the loss of the third precinct and the failure to protect small business on Lake Street, to the hundreds of peaceful protesters who were injured by police projectiles.    

Tuesday, the Minneapolis City Council received an after-action report on the city's response conducted by an independent firm with deep law enforcement experience that confirmed for many the extent of the city's failure and also pointed to its causes.

Here are three key takeaways:

1. A breakdown in the chain of command

During the more than two-hour-long meeting, the reports two presenters, Chad McGinty and Bob Boehmer, both retired veteran officers who now work for the consulting firm Jensen Hughes, returned again and again to a common theme: the breakdown in internal communication and the chain of command that occurred within the city and the police department as officials struggled to respond to the unprecedented level of protests, and eventually riots, that overtook the city.

In a dispassionate tone, McGinty and Boehmer described how officers in the field became disconnected from command staff and left without clear guidance, while city leaders failed to update their staff or the community as the situation worsened.

In the Q&A section, Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison pressed for detail.  

"Did they (officers) get conflicting orders from people in leadership, and that's what led to miscommunication? Were there times when they literally couldn't get in touch with someone who was supposed to be directing them?

McGinty replied: "I'm not trying to be curt, but all of the above."

Ellison then pressed the presenters for a more definite conclusion:

"I don't mean to put you guys on the spot, but is it fair to say that at various times, whether accidental or purposeful, the chain of command quite frankly got broken in those ten days?

"Madam Chair to the council member, yes," McGinty responded." There was an absence of effective communication, again, from command staff in the command center to the rank and file. Now, I don't know if broken... there was a void. There was absolutely a void."

2. No clear rules of engagement

After reviewing over 30 hours of body-cam footage and conducting interviews with dozens of offices, McGinty and Bob Boehmer's concluded that rank and file officers responding to the unrest not only lacked clear orders or communication from command staff, they also "were not provided with consistent rules of engagement or control," especially as it concerned the use of "less-lethal" rounds and chemical munitions.

"We found that the officers that were supervising the individuals that had those weapons hadn't been provided with rules of engagement, i.e. when you can and can't use that weapon, when you should and shouldn't. That information was not provided to them. As a result, they couldn't provide that information to their subordinates," McGinty said.

In their review of body-cam footage, Boehmer said they found incidents when officers' use of force had been appropriate and other cases when it had not been consistent with MPD policy. He suggested that the lack of clear communication from command staff was a contributing factor.

"Again, the patrol officer out there standing in front is waiting on some guidance and not getting any; they'll start making decisions that they think are most appropriate."

3. No plan and no accountability

Not only did Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and then-Police Chief Medaria Arradondo not understand the protocol required to call for the Minnesota National Guard, but the police department also lacked an action plan for soldiers, the report found.

That lack of understanding delayed by one day Gov. Tim Walz's decision to activate the Guard. Then, when the military arrived on city streets, the Guard refused requests to use soldiers until Minneapolis Police could provide specific details on their mission, the third-party investigators said.

The report lays most of the blame on city officials and largely spares state government, though it criticizes Walz and Frey for their public dispute over the delayed Guard deployment.

"Several interviewees blamed the mayor and governor for their public disagreements about the response to the protests and expressed that this was unproductive," the evaluators wrote.

Investigators said they tried to connect with the National Guard and Minnesota State Patrol to ask about the city's requests, but no one at either agency got back to them. A spokeswoman for the National Guard said it had no record of the third-party evaluator reaching out for comment. A spokesman for the State Patrol did not respond to FOX 9's questions about the alleged lack of communication.

Walz's spokeswoman said investigators did not ask to interview anyone from the governor's office for the review.

The governor, speaking with reporters earlier in the day, said he did not feel a sense of vindication over the report's contents.

"I think this is a healthy thing that we should be doing, not for vindication or not to point fingers," Walz said. "They just are a way that we can all figure out how we do things better when these situations arise."

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is scheduled to make public its own after-action report soon. Asked for his preliminary thoughts, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said the state's decision to take command of the multi-agency response was "a really key moment."

Harrington said one takeaway from the report was to immediately involve fire officials and community leaders in future responses.

McGinty and Boehmer, the outside evaluators, answered questions about the National Guard deployment from City Council members on Tuesday.

"The Guard has some very real concerns and some requirements before they put a soldier into a civilian environment. They have to know how that soldier is going to be tasked with and what the accountability measures are going to be. And unfortunately, in the early requests, that information was not satisfactorily provided," they said.

McGinty and Boehmer also argued that the lack of structure and planning in the city's response also meant that another key thing was often missing: accountability.

"We found that measures of accountability throughout the department were not consistently applied," McGinty said.

Later he put it a different way; "There's a disconnect in what the chief and leadership say and what they want as opposed to what the actual line the rank and file are held accountable to."

Mayor Jacob Frey responds 

In response to the report, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said that the city was already working to implement its findings.

"The recommendations highlighted in today's presentation will be put to use, and I've already directed staff to implement a plan for improving our emergency response processes across the enterprise," his statement read.

He added:

"Rebuilding trust between community and local government relies on us taking concrete actions informed by this review's recommendations. As we dig into the findings, I remain grateful to City Staff who worked around the clock, navigating a global pandemic, during one of the most challenging and traumatic times for Minneapolis as a city."