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Judge blocks Minnesota’s new, stricter use-of-force law

By Deanna Weniger

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — A Ramsey County judge on Monday blocked a new law that changed the standards for use of force by peace officers in Minnesota.

Leonardo Castro, the chief judge of the Second Judicial District, issued a temporary stay until a lawsuit, filed in protest by the state’s largest law enforcement groups, is settled. The old law will be used in the meantime.

In this June 5, 2021, file photo, Minneapolis police officers stand in formation after a vigil for Winston Boogie Smith Jr. in Minneapolis.

In this June 5, 2021, file photo, Minneapolis police officers stand in formation after a vigil for Winston Boogie Smith Jr. in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)

State Sen. Warren Limmer, R- Maple Grove, who chairs of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, applauded the stay.

“After hearing from Law Enforcement about their concerns with the new standards — which were repeatedly brought up and rebuffed by DFL leaders, I’m grateful for the court’s wisdom in this decision today,” he said in a statement Monday. “The new law also raised serious concern from border cities and neighboring states, which put our communities at risk.”

Even though many Republicans, including Limmer, expressed unease with the new law, their support was essential for the law to pass the Legislature, which is split between the two major parties.

Limmer voted for the final bill, part of a bipartisan compromise that arose from a July 2020 special session of the Legislature, that passed the Senate 60-7 and the House 102-29.

Democratic leaders who control the House could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

The law, titled Minn. Stat. 609.066, was borne out of the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. Ex-officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for Floyd’s murder. Three other officers are also charged. All four also face federal civil rights charges.

The law, which took effect in March, raised the burden for police use of deadly force, mandating, among other things, that an officer be able to “articulate” the need for deadly force.

The law was challenged in July by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, and Law Enforcement Labor Services.

These groups say the law violates officers’ rights to self-defense and unconstitutionally compels officers to forfeit their rights to refuse to testify against themselves in deadly force cases. Forcing a cop to articulate such a thing would violate the officer’s constitutional rights under Fifth Amendment, which protect everyone from self-incrimination.

They also allege that not enough officers have been trained on the new law — and that its constitutional uncertainty makes training impractical until the legal questions can be sorted out.

” Minnesota’s police organizations are committed to upholding the law and serving the communities they are sworn to protect,” said Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Bill Hutton. “In order to do so, however, all Minnesotans, including community members and police officers, require clarity in the law.”

The lack of the new law’s clarity has already resulted in refusal by some police chiefs and sheriffs in neighboring states to aid other local law enforcement agencies in Minnesota. Some law enforcement agencies in North Dakota, for example, have removed their officers from interstate task forces, according to the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

The defendants, Gov. Tim Walz and the state of Minnesota, moved to block the lawsuit, asking the court to dismiss it on the grounds that it should be argued by legislators, not by the courts.

Judge Castro denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss and granted a temporary stay on the law pending a decision on the merits of the law enforcement agencies’ claim. The law, as it existed prior to March 1, will remain in force until that time.

(c)2021 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)