In response to a lawsuit over riot damage, Minneapolis city government pins the blame on Gov. Walz

Yesterday, MPR News reported:

The owners of a Minneapolis restaurant have filed the first lawsuit against the city over property damage caused by the civil unrest stemming from the police killing of George Floyd.

The Town Talk Diner and Gastropub was burned down during the riots that took place after Floyd died May 25 under a police officer’s knee. In a lawsuit filed this week in federal court, owners Kacey White and Charles Stotts say Mayor Jacob Frey was fully aware of the seriousness of the protests that turned violent, but that Frey and other city leaders failed to quell several nights of rioting or protect small businesses along Lake Street.

The complaint said that when the business owners called the police before the building burned down, they were simply told to get out — and offered no other assistance.

The lawsuit faces headwinds – the threshold for sovereign immunity is high – but that it is being brought at all is a measure of the desperation of small business owners in Minneapolis. They pay heavy taxes, like the rest of us, to support a government which fails to provide even the most basic service it is meant to provide: the protection of life and property.

Frey vs Walz – Round Three

Also interesting is the response of Minneapolis’ city government:

In a statement, City Attorney Jim Rowader disputed the lawsuit and said that Frey acted swiftly.

“Mayor Frey took quick and decisive action, requesting the support from the Minnesota National Guard immediately upon the police chief’s request to do so and as soon as there was any discernible risk of civil unrest and damage to neighborhoods and businesses,” Rowader said. “That same evening the Minneapolis Police Department submitted a detailed request outlining scope of the need and a mission plan for the additional support. The city has provided plaintiffs with these documents, and we are hopeful that they will amend their complaint given this clear and documented evidence.”

In other words, “We did what we could, but Gov. Walz let us down as well.”

This is the third round in a tussle which has been going on between Mayor Frey and Gov. Walz since May. As we wrote in Thinking Minnesota last fall, Round One came on May 29, as Minneapolis was still burning:

At the time, Governor Walz placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. At a press conference on the morning of Friday, May 29, after the Third Precinct had been surrendered to rioters the previous night, Walz launched a stinging attack on Frey’s “abject failure” in handling the crisis. Asked why the Guard hadn’t been deployed, he explained that he deferred to local officials, stressing his fears that the sight of the Guard — soldiers with Humvees in combat fatigues — might further inflame the situation. But the fall of the Third Precinct “was the turning point,” Walz explained, “where we were prepared, and that’s where we moved in, and we did not believe the Third should be given up and that area was taken back.” He went on: “If this would have been executed correctly, the state would not lead on this.”

Round Two came a month later:

It took about a month for Frey to respond, as reporters used the open public records law to retrieve hundreds of pages of text messages, emails, documents, and briefing notes from the City of Minneapolis. This information reveals that at 6:28 p.m. on the evening of Wednesday, May 27, Frey’s Communications Director Mychal Vlatkovich texted other senior advisers, “Mayor just came out and said the chief wants him to call in the National Guard for help at Third Precinct. Mayor appears intent on doing.” At 9:11 p.m., Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo sent a plan to Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, asking for “immediate assistance” from the Guard. “The MPD has expended all available resources,” he wrote, “as well as all available law enforcement assistance from our neighboring jurisdictions.” The email specifically requested 600 Guard soldiers for a four-pronged mission that included area security, transportation assistance, and logistical assistance for the overall operation. At 10:55 a.m. on Thursday morning, Frey sent a formal request for the Guard to Walz. 

For his part, Walz acknowledges that Frey and Arradondo first requested the Guard on May 27, but he says the Guard did not get a mission from the city with specific objectives. “I don’t think the mayor knew what he was asking for,” Walz explained. “He wanted the National Guard, and what does that mean? I think the mayor said, ‘I request the National Guard, whew, this is great. We’re going to have massively trained troops.’ No, you’re going to have 19 year olds who are cooks, in some cases.”

KSTP reported last week that 60 of those 19-year-old cooks were being deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

So, while the lawsuit might not accomplish anything in terms of restitution for the plaintiffs, by laying out the communications between the city and state authorities, it will enable Minnesotans to adjudicate who it was that dithered, allowing Minneapolis to burn, and is now lying about it: Frey or Walz.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.