NEWS DAY: Metro Gang Strike Force hearing / New LRT station in St. Paul / State Fair opens today

Metro Gang Strike Force: Abuse, theft, racismmgsf_logo Legislators heard testimony on criminal activity by some Metro Gang Strike Force officers yesterday, with investigators describing a pattern of abuse of citizen rights, unjustified seizure of property, and taking seized property for private use. The investigative reports and testimony described a pattern of seizure of cash from anyone carrying large amounts of money when stopped by MGSF officers and noted that “these encounters almost always involved a person of color.”

Even with the testimony offered, Ruben Rosario writes, the committee did not hear about some of the more troubling aspects of MGSF behavior: the pursuit of immigrants with no gang or criminal ties, just because of their brown skin. MGSF instructed Minneapolis impound lot employees to call them when “Mexicans” came to claim their cars, and 29-year-old Dagoberto Rodriguez-Cardona was among their victims. The MGSF cops came to the impound lot on July 31, 2008, searched and questioned the two “Mexican” families there, seized more than $4,000 from Rodriguez-Cardona, and searched the cars of the two families:

No drugs were found.

None of those bagged that night had gang ties. Rodriguez-Cardona had no arrests, not even a parking ticket. Other than an acknowledgment that a little more than $4,000 was seized, Luger’s report found minimal information on the encounter in strike force records. No crime was alleged or prosecuted against those arrested and held in custody that night.

Yet, police contacted federal immigration officials in violation of a Minneapolis ordinance that prohibits officers from doing so unless a crime has been committed.

Now Rodriguez-Cardona faces deportation, and is suing to get his money back, showing what his attorney calls “raw courage” in coming forward.

The legislators heard from investigators yesterday. They heard about seizure of a wood chipper and stump grinder, and wondered how these could possibly have been thought to be involved in gang activity. They heard about seizures of flat screen TVs and sloppy accounting methods, and the need to change state seizure laws — never mind that many of the seizures seemed to be in blatant disregard of existing laws. The testimony that they did hear was damning, but they did not hear from victims. Rosario writes:

But the one thing lacking in Wednesday’s legislative hearing was testimony of someone like Rodriguez-Cardona. He would have driven home the human experience of someone placed in handcuffs in front of a sobbing relative and stripped of money earned by the sweat of his brow. Throw in the fact that his alleged muggers were officers of the law.

For additional accounts of yesterday’s hearing, see Metro Gang Strike Force: “Bad actions overshadow the good actions” in the TC Daily Planet, Metro Gang Strike Force hearing: Plenty of blame, but no answers in the Pioneer Press, Forfeiture law questioned after gang force misuse in the Star Tribune.

Big win for Central Corridor communities? The City of St. Paul will pay for an LRT station between Snelling and Rice Street under a tentative agreement reached Wednesday, reports the Pioneer Press:

St. Paul will put up $5.2 million for a new station — probably at the intersection of Western, Victoria or Hamline, according to a vote by the Central Corridor Management Committee.

In exchange, the Metropolitan Council will purchase an $8 million downtown property at East Fourth and Cedar streets, which would allow trains to make an easier turn. A prior agreement required St. Paul to foot the bill. …

The vote also prioritized the construction of two more east metro stations using money from a capital reserve built into the project — provided all goes well.

That’s huge for the community about to be disrupted by Central Corridor construction, as previous plans called for the trains to zoom along with stops a mile or more apart in low-income areas along the eastern part of the University Avenue line, though stops are closer together in other areas. However, the change still offers little to University Avenue small businesses. MPR reports:

A group of business owners met today to discuss their ongoing concerns. They say their voices aren’t being heard.

Lysa Bui, who owns the Saigon restaurant, says her business and many others won’t be able to survive the four-year construction project.

Central Corridor spokesperson Laura Baenen responded to business concerns by saying, “There’s absolutely no money in the project budget for handouts,” but she said that limited funds are available for “mitigation,” such as signage to tell customers where to look for parking, and free business consulting to offer advice to business owners.

State Fair opens today! What more can you say? Lots, actually, but I’m out of time this morning. So get your State Fair news here and here and most of all at the official source, right here

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