Saturday, October 23, 2021

What Happens When a Cop Runs a Stop Sign

Thanks to MinnPost staff writer Peter Callahan for writing up his personal experience witnessing a crash more than two years ago, when a Minneapolis cop driving without lights or siren ran a stop sign in downtown.

Callahan says he started out to see how long it would take to get the body camera footage, and he finally got his answer: 28 months. But along the way he also found out a lot of other things.

Callahan and his family happened to witness the crash, which you can watch for yourself from the viewpoint of the officer, Mohamud Jama, who was going 22 mph:

From the facts in Callahan's story, it's clear there is no reason for Jama to have turned off the siren and lights, and I would argue there's no reason for him to have run the stop sign at all, since multiple squads and other responders were already at the scene he was approaching (described as "assist fire/jumper call"). He was going 22 mph... how much time would it have added to do a typical rolling stop through the stop sign?

The only reason Callahan finally got access to the video at all is because Jama has been disciplined by MPD for some minor violations: not using his seat belt and something related to "normal and emergency vehicle operations," whatever that means. He wasn't disciplined for endangering other drivers, pedestrians, or the people seated curbside where the car he hit came to rest. His penalty? Suspension for just 20 hours.

The MPD police chief faulted him for not using his lights and siren and said Jama could have "been more thorough when he cleared the intersection." 

More thorough? More thorough? It was reading that quote that made me start writing this post in my head. If you watched the video, you saw that Jama drove straight through the stop sign without a pause. There was no effort at all to "clear the intersection" so it's an understatement to say "he could have been more thorough."

This is what passes for disciplinary action in the Minneapolis Police Department, of course. But we already knew that. Since George Floyd's murder, the only cops who have been disciplined in substantial ways are two who have spoken out about racism and bias in the department.

Jama also got a moving violation ticket for not stopping at the stop sign and paid a $178 fine. 

The person whose SUV he hit — who is a judge! — is suing the city for damages, both personal and financial, and who can blame him? Jama is clearly at fault and the city is protecting him.

Finally, the fact that Peter Callahan had to wait 28 months to get this body camera footage of an act he witnessed himself adds insult to the literal injury. All of this took place in public, so the expectation-of-privacy arguments that are thrown around about limiting access to footage should not apply. But they do because the law our dear legislators passed back in 2016 managed to leave out the part about footage that takes place in public.

In all of the messed up things that surround us every day, this is a small example, but it's indicative of larger problems and how hard things are to improve.

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