Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Lawsuit: City, county officials violated rights of homeless

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A lawsuit accuses officials in Minneapolis and Hennepin County of violating the civil rights of people in homeless encampments when they conducted sweeps that displaced them and put their health at risk.
The federal complaint filed Monday by American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid is asking a judge to declare class action status and seeks monetary damages and the end to sweeps of homeless encampments.
The suit said one of the seven named plaintiffs, Henrietta Brown, woke up around 4 a.m. on a rainy morning to police officers shaking her tent and shining a bright light in her face. They told her she had 30 minutes to get out.
Brown said she never received an eviction notice and was not prepared to leave. She was able to grab a blanket and her purse, but didn’t have time to get the rest of her belongings, including identification and family photos. Brown couldn’t get a spot at a shelter without her ID, the complaint said.
The city attorney’s office released a statement saying the lawsuit is “misguided” and is asking the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid to refocus efforts to finding solutions to homelessness.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

DOJ announces center to help cops, offers aid to Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it has put $3 million toward the creation of a national center that will provide training and assistance to help law enforcement agencies prevent the use of excessive force, and officials expressed hope that Minneapolis would be the first city to take advantage of the resource.
The announcement was made in Minneapolis, where the police department has been under pressure to reform since the May 25 death of George Floyd, which touched off mass demonstrations against police brutality around the nation.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Tuesday that he is grateful for the offer and hopes city leaders will take advantage of it. He said the center would provide more resources and training, including mental health resources for officers, at a time when he trying to make changes at the department while facing diminished staff.
“In creating a new MPD, I want to utilize all available tools and resources to support the hardworking and professional men and women of the MPD,” Arradondo said. “We have an obligation and duty to be guardians of our communities and enhance our level of service and this program seeks to do just that.”
The program’s announcement two weeks before the election carried echoes of the law and order theme President Donald Trump has hammered at since unrest broke out in several cities around the country after Floyd’s death.
The national response center will be run by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and will be a resource for all state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, said Katharine Sullivan, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs.
She said justice officials envision the center would have a coordinator, who is an expert in policing, who will help agencies with training, issues of officer safety, officer recruitment or retention, and other issues.
“The idea is that we are here to meet your needs. Not to descend,” Sullivan said.
Tuesday’s announcement was not the result of a larger-scale investigation and consent decree that would bind the Minneapolis Police Department and force major changes within its ranks. Previous consent decrees mandated reforms in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown, and in Baltimore after the police custody death of Freddie Gray.
While the Justice Department could still initiate a “pattern and practice” investigation as part of a civil rights probe, Attorney General William Barr has suggested such investigations may have been previously overused. A federal criminal investigation into whether the four officers violated Floyd’s civil rights is still ongoing.
Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, died after f ormer officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. His death sparked a renewed sense of outrage over the deaths of Black people at the hands of police, and sparked mass demonstrations that have defined the last six months of American life. Chauvin and three others were charged in Floyd’s death and are expected to stand trial in state court in March.
Floyd’s death prompted calls for overhauling or defunding police departments nationwide. In Minneapolis, a majority of City Council members pledged to dismantle the department, though a city commission ultimately blocked the council’s effort to put the issue before voters this November. Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat who opposed abolishing the department, have continued to make incremental changes to change the agency’s culture, including banning chokeholds and changing the department’s use of force policy.
All of this came as the city saw rising violence this summer, budget cuts due to a loss of revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the departures of dozens of officers. Arradondo said Tuesday that he’s down an estimated 130 officers compared with this time last year, and he expects more departures by year’s end. A lawyer helping officers file for disability leave has said he’s helped process about 175 claims since Floyd’s death.
The police department is also being investigated by the state Department of Human Rights, which is looking into the department’s policies and practices over the last decade to see if it engaged in systemic discriminatory practices.
Barr has said he recognizes there is racism in the U.S., and that there’s reason for some communities to be more suspicious of law enforcement than others, but he doesn’t think there is systemic racism.
Instead, he believes it’s incumbent upon the government to ensure there are adequate policies to protect against abuse and that officers have proper training. He has said that going too far and pushing to defund or disband police departments, or moving quickly to bring criminal charges against police officers without robust investigations, is likely to lead to a mass exodus of officers.
___
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed from Washington.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

First significant snowstorm could set records in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The season’s first significant snowstorm of the year was dumping heavy amounts of precipitation in Minnesota and Wisconsin Tuesday and causing slippery driving conditions in the Dakotas.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning until early evening for portions of central Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. Snow accumulations of 4 to 6 inches were expected with higher amounts and record totals possible in some areas, the weather service said.
The Twin Cities area was included in the storm warning along with Hudson and River Falls, Wisconsin. The highest totals were expected to be along and south of Interstate 94, where many weather-related crashes were reported including a jackknifed semi-trailer west of Alexandria.
Travel was also difficult along many county and state highways in eastern North Dakota and northeastern South Dakota where snow amounts were expected to vary between 3 and 5 inches, the weather service said.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Sen. Tina Smith tests negative after skipping Warren event

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith skipped a campaign event with Sen. Elizabeth Warren over the weekend after learning that a person who attended one of her events eight days earlier had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I’m getting tested & I am quarantining until I test negative,” Smith tweeted Sunday. After learning Monday morning that she had tested negative, Smith tweeted that she was “Headed back to Washington to keep working for Minnesotans.”
Campaign spokeswoman Molly Morrisey said the person who tested positive attended a lawn sign pickup rally at Smith’s headquarters in St. Paul on Oct. 10. It was an outdoor event at which masks were required, and Smith did not have close contact with the individual, Morrisey said. The campaign learned Sunday that the person tested positive.
To be safe, Morrisey said, Smith got tested and skipped a Sunday afternoon rally with Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Republicans U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber came under Democratic criticism earlier this month for flying back to Minnesota from Washington just two days after they had flown with President Donald Trump on Air Force One, where they potentially could have been exposed. That was before the White House announced that the president had tested positive for COVID-19. Their own test results came back negative before they flew on a Delta Air Lines flight. But Democratic leaders said they should have waited longer, given the virus’ incubation period.
Smith’s potential exposure was nine days before she tested negative.
Her Republican opponent, Jason Lewis, self-quarantined for a few days after greeting Trump at the airport in Minneapolis and flying on Air Force One to Duluth, and briefly again later after a campaign worker tested positive. They have clashed on the campaign trail over how strict state and national restrictions should be to slow the spread of the virus.
Lewis said there’s a double-standard for Republicans and Democrats over COVID-19 rules.
“Tina now gets a free pass for doing the same,” Lewis tweeted Monday.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Fired truck driver to get $165,000 in gender bias settlement

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Twin Cities truck driver who was fired because she failed a strength test following a workplace injury has been awarded $165,000 from her former employer, a court document shows.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel on Friday approved the settlement of the May 2019 gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Alana Nelson.
In addition to ordering Stan Koch & Sons Trucking to pay Nelson’s back wages, the settlement requires the trucking company to apologize to her either in person or via video hookup, the Star Tribune reported.
The company also must put a written policy in place and train its front office employees about discrimination and retaliation.
The settlement noted that Nelson, 56, of St. Paul Park, received “a separate private settlement” from Koch & Sons, but the amount was not listed in the court document.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Some things to know about Minnesota’s atypical election

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After enduring months of bitter and polarizing political campaigning, Minnesotans eager for the finish line with next month’s election may have to wait just a few days more.
The coronavirus pandemic that has upended every corner of American life this year may mean delays in election results, too. Minnesotans are voting absentee in record numbers this year — more than 1.6 million had requested ballots through Friday — and a court has approved the counting of properly postmarked ballots for up to a week after Election Day.
That means winners in some races may not be be declared for days.
The unusual circumstances of this year’s election, along with frequent questions raised by President Donald Trump about voter fraud, have state election officials working overtime to assure the public that the state’s voting system can be trusted.
“When citizens see, on election night, that we don’t have 100% of the results in, it is literally by design,” Secretary of State Steve Simon told reporters recently. “It’s not evidence that anyone is hiding or concealing or rigging or stealing. It’s evidence of the actual plan.”
Here are some things to know about this year’s election:
WAYS TO VOTE
As always, Minnesota voters can cast a ballot at their polling place before 8 p.m. on Election Day, which is Nov. 3. But because of COVID-19 concerns, Simon and other elections officials have encouraged more Minnesotans to vote early in person at designated polling sites or request an absentee ballot or vote by mail. Absentee ballots may also be dropped off early at designated locations. Early voting started Sept. 18.
COUNTING THE VOTE
When Minnesota’s polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, elections officials will begin tabulating all of the in-person and absentee ballots they have in hand, as usual. But this year, the state will continue to accept and count absentee ballots through Nov. 10, as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day. During that seven-day extension, new results will come in as counties provide daily reports on how many absentee ballots they have received and how many they have processed. Simon is warning there may be no “instant gratification” in knowing some race winners on election night.
PROCESSING AND TRACKING ABSENTEE BALLOTS
The state knows who has requested absentee ballots and who has returned them, and there are safeguards in place to prevent ballot tampering and fraud. Unlike other states that automatically send ballots to every voter, or states that rely only on signatures, Minnesotans who want to vote absentee must request a ballot, and they must provide either a driver’s license number or Social Security number as a primary means of identification. When voters mail back their ballots, they must provide that same identifying information, to make sure it matches.
Voters can track their own ballots online, including looking up whether their ballot was received and accepted by their local elections office.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT FOR ABSENTEE BALLOTS THIS YEAR?
Elections officials can start processing absentee ballots on Oct. 20 (two weeks before the election) instead of the typical seven says prior, to give them more time to handle the higher volume. But ballots cannot actually be tabulated until polls close.
There is no witness requirement for absentee ballots this year, due to COVID-19 concerns.
ARE THE ELECTIONS SECURE?
Simon said that the state has been working hard with intelligence officials to reduce the risk of cybersecurity threats and of potential interference from a foreign adversary.
Minnesota’s reliance on paper ballots, instead of electronic voting, helps, he said. Paper ballots and vote totals are reviewed by city, county, and state election officials several times before an election is certified by the state canvassing board.
And Simon said when it comes to absentee ballots, additional layers of security include the requirement for an identification number, rather than simply a signature.
There are also safeguards for those who return absentee ballots for others. Minnesota law allows someone to return ballots for up to three other people — but that person must show identification and sign a log noting whose ballots they are returning. The three-person limit was lifted briefly during a window that included the state primary but has since been reinstated for the general election.
PENDING LITIGATION
A challenge to Minnesota’s seven-day extension for counting absentee ballots is currently before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. State Republican Rep. Eric Lucero and GOP activist James Carson had sued Simon, who is a Democrat, over the extension, arguing it violates federal law. They appealed after a federal judge sided with the state, ruling that giving voters conflicting information after absentee ballots already went out would create confusion.
Another case before the 8th Circuit involves Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig is seeking her second term. Craig went to federal court after the September death of a third-party candidate triggered a state law that moved the 2nd District election to February. Craig won — and the election was moved back to Nov. 3 — but her Republican challenger, Tyler Kistner, is appealing. If the delay is reinstated it would leave the 2nd District without representation for weeks.
__
Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Minnesota reports 5 more deaths, 1,600 new virus cases

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota health officials said Monday the weekly rate of new coronavirus case growth has outstripped weekly growth in testing for the first time since the pandemic began.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said weekly case growth was up 9.6%, compared to testing rate growth of 7.8%. Malcolm called that and a growing test positivity rate of more than 5% a “red flag and concern that the rate of viral presence is still very high and growing.”
“This is a big change,” Malcolm said. “Despite our really pretty impressively high testing numbers, we’re still not able to catch all the disease that is out there.”
The state reported 1,632 new cases of the virus and five deaths on Monday after climbing over 2,000 daily cases on one day last week. Hospitalizations have been steadily increasing, Malcolm said, with 469 patients in the hospital and 137 in intensive care.
Case growth in Minnesota was about 338 per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, 16th in the country. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in the state has increased by 493.2, an increase of 48.7%. The state hit a one-day record of 2,297 new cases Friday.
Health officials said Monday they are worried individuals are letting their guard down and not taking the same precautionary measures in private gatherings like parties, weddings and other social interactions as they do in public settings, which may be stoking case growth statewide.
“What we’re seeing is transmission is everywhere,” Malcolm said. “It’s not just one or two sources, it’s not one or two kinds of settings, it’s these individual decisions that we’re all making that is fueling the rate of increase that we’re seeing.”
Though Minnesota is seeing cases rise, the state is being outpaced by outbreaks in surrounding states. This weekend, North Dakota and South Dakota ranked first and second in new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks with 1,069 and 978 respectively, and Wisconsin broke its record for new positive cases three times last week.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Construction accident kills 1, injures another

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — One person was killed and another critically injured Friday when a construction truck boom fell near Litchfield, according to the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office.
The Star Tribune reports the accident occurred at 11:46 a.m. at a construction site in Harvey Township. The stabilizing platform for a concrete boom truck gave way, causing the boom to fall to the ground, striking two people.
One person died at the scene while the second person was airlifted with critical injuries to St. Cloud Hospital. The names of the victims have not been released by the Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the cause of the accident.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Lewis’ hopes for Senate upset may turn on Trump’s fate

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press
STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — Jason Lewis’ strategy for knocking off Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith has been clear for over a year: For better or worse, the former congressman is all in for President Donald Trump.
Lewis, a one-term former congressman best known from his days as a conservative talk radio host known as “Minnesota’s Mr. Right,” stresses their common opposition to coronavirus restrictions, support for law and order in the state where George Floyd was killed, and the need to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court.
“All of these issues that are surrounding life, liberty and property are on the ballot,” Lewis told supporters at a recent get-out-the-vote rally in Stillwater. “Really what’s on the ballot is whether we’re going to have a constitutional republic or whether we’re going to have mob rule.”
Trump has returned the love with frequent name-checks at his recent rallies in Mankato, Bemidji and Duluth. Lewis was part of a four-person welcoming committee when Trump arrived in Minneapolis on his most recent visit, and he got to fly with Trump on Air Force One up to Duluth, albeit in a separate cabin.
But it’s not clear the strategy is working.
A recent New York Times/Siena College poll gave Smith a 9-point lead over Lewis, the same margin that the same poll gave Biden over Trump in Minnesota. Trump, who has often talked about capturing Minnesota this year after coming within a whisker in 2016, has recently cut back on ad buys in the state. And the race isn’t showing up on major handicappers’ lists of Senate seats likely to flip.
And in a year when control of the Senate hangs in the balance, the race hasn’t attracted much outside spending, leaving Smith with a huge money advantage through late summer.
Lewis conceded his financial handicap in an interview. But he said he sees a huge “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats in greater Minnesota — the mostly conservative part outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area — and believes it will put him over the top.
Smith countered in a separate interview that she doesn’t see any enthusiasm gap. She said she instead is seeing a strong desire wherever she goes to get the country “back on the right track.”
“I hear from people every day about how exhausted they are by the division and the chaos and the fear, and they’re looking for leadership that is about bringing us together and finding common ground,” Smith said. “They appreciate that there are real divisions in our community right now, but they don’t want to see gas thrown on that flame.”
The senator is in the rare position of having to defend her seat for the second time in two years. She was Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor when he appointed her to the seat in 2017 after Sen. Al Franken resigned. Smith beat GOP state Sen. Karin Housley by nearly 11 points in 2018 in a special election to complete Franken’s term.
Smith gets less attention than Minnesota’s senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, who enjoyed a blowout re-election in 2018 and raised her national profile since then by running for president. Trump took aim at Smith’s lower profile at his recent rallies in the state.
“You have a senator that he’s running against. I won’t even mention names. She does nothing, nothing. Nobody even knows who the hell she is,” Trump said in Bemidji.
But Smith, who has worked to build an image as a workhorse lawmaker, said she’s proud that she’s been able to get over two dozen pieces of legislation signed into law.
“I see compromise as a virtue, not a vice, because I know how to work across party lines,” she said.
The senator is navigating how to campaign amid both the pandemic and a job that has kept her in Washington for much of the campaign season. On a recent Friday, she appeared via Zoom at a forum on health care, denouncing Trump for seeking “at an epic pivot point in our country” to dismantle the Obama administration’s health care overhaul. She devoted the weekend to in-person events — with social distancing and face masks. First came a small business tour of Waite Park, Willmar, Morris and Fergus Falls. She then headed for get-out-the-vote events in Duluth and Chisholm.
“You miss having that kind of one-on-one contact,” she said, estimating that she had done 65 to 70 virtual events. “But you make up for it in other ways.”
Lewis, by contrast, has been on the campaign trail extensively and doesn’t worry much about masking or distancing. He has railed against Minnesota’s coronavirus restrictions since the early days of the pandemic. He even sued Gov. Tim Walz, claiming the Democratic governor’s guidelines interfered with his freedom to campaign.
But Lewis recently got knocked off the campaign trail twice in less than a week due to the coronavirus. The first time was when the White House announced that Trump had COVID-19, just two days after Lewis had greeted Trump at the Minneapolis airport and rode with him on Air Force One to Duluth. Lewis had just returned to normal campaigning when he learned that he came in contact with someone who had tested positive, forcing another temporary self-quarantine.
“Look, this is a serious public health challenge. I get it,” Lewis said. “We ought to protect the vulnerable. If you are infirm, if you’re elderly, if you have an underlying condition, social distance, wear a mask, stay at home. But you don’t make a mandate to the entire country, let alone the entire state … in the name of a public health challenge.”

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Minnesota reports more than 1,700 new virus cases, 17 deaths

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Department of Health on Sunday reported 1,732 new cases of the coronavirus and 17 deaths in the last day.
That update shows the total number of cases in Minnesota at 122,812, including more than 32,200 in Hennepin County. There have been 2,234 deaths since the pandemic began.
Of the deaths reported Sunday, 14 were residents of long-term care facilities.
There were about 326 new cases per 100,000 people in Minnesota over the past two weeks, which ranks 18th in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled Saturday by The COVID Tracking Project. The death toll is the 24th highest in the country overall and the 30th highest per capita at 40.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.