Judge Allows Conspiracy Lawsuit To Proceed Against Minneapolis Union President

Written on 09/09/2021
Will Aitchison

In an extraordinary ruling, a federal trial court judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Robert Kroll, the presi­dent of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. The heart of the allegations against Kroll seem to be that he was too effective in his dealing with Minneapolis civic leaders.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of journalists, photographers, and other members of the press who were present during the protests following the killing of George Floyd. The journalists alleged that that law enforcement officers and political leaders of the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis conspired to deprive them of their civil rights. Kroll, they contended, implicitly and explicitly directed officers to use unnecessary force on the citizens of Minneapolis “by thwarting discipline and enabling a culture and practice of immunity from sanction for constitutional violations.”

Kroll filed a motion to dismiss the journalists’ civil conspiracy claim against him. Kroll contended that the journal­ists fail to plausibly allege that he, as a private actor, was liable for Plaintiffs’ civil conspiracy claim.

The judge allowed the conspiracy claim to proceed. The Court observed that the journalists contended that “Kroll was in constant communication with state and city policymakers, and he allegedly exerted outsized influence in setting police policy, custom, and practice. Kroll was released from his policing duties and assigned to work full time as the Federation President while being paid by the City of Minneapolis.

“The complaint details many ex­amples of Kroll’s actions and statements that, if true, demonstrate his ability to influence the MPD. For example, the journalists allege that in public state­ments, Kroll’s policymaking power has been referenced by multiple city officials including former Assistant Minneapolis Police Chief Kris Arneson, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Defendant MPD Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, and others. The journalists also allege that Kroll’s influence over the MPD is well known, and that former Minneapolis Police Chief Harteau has stated publicly that the Federation has more influence over police culture than any police chief ever could.

“Not only does Kroll’s alleged influence create a reasonable inference that he was a willful participant in cre­ating the policies and customs that led to the deprivation of Plaintiffs’ rights, but Kroll’s alleged actions also support this inference. On May 29, 2020, Kroll emailed MPD policymakers, advising that the MPD’s officers had lost faith in their leadership because their leadership is preventing officers from making more arrests, using mobile booking stations, and exercising the freedom to use more tear gas and less-lethal ammunitions.

“The journalists also allege that Kroll implicitly and explicitly directed officers to use unnecessary force on the citizens of Minneapolis ‘by thwarting discipline and enabling a culture and practice of immunity from sanction for constitutional violations.’ The journalists assert that Kroll used his power as a law enforcement officer to cloak his policy goals in state power, and that he used the Federation’s financial and political power to exert influence over the MPD’s customs and practices.

“The journalists contend that the MPD’s unconstitutional policies, prac­tices, and customs, which resulted in injuries to them, derive ‘at least in part from the acts done under the color of state law by Kroll.’ As such, the SAC plausibly alleges that Kroll is a willful participant in any conspiracy with the State Defendants and City Defendants. The Court, therefore, denies Kroll’s motion to dismiss.”

Goyette v. City of Minneapolis, 2021 WL 3222495 (D. Minn. 2021).

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