MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - A St. Paul man whose arrest became a viral video has grounds to pursue civil rights claims against the cops who confronted him in a skyway, a federal judge ruled.
Last week's Minnesota Federal Court ruling advanced Christopher Lollie's allegations that the police used excessive force and lacked probable cause in arresting him for trespass and disorderly conduct, sending the case to trial to be heard by a jury.
Lollie's January 2014 arrest stemmed from a verbal altercation that turned physical when officers questioned him about his presence in a seating area in a downtown St. Paul pedestrian skyway, where he said he was waiting to pick up his children from a nearby bus stop.
He filmed most of the confrontation with police on his cell phone and later posted it on YouTube, where it received over a million hits.
The police had been summoned by a security guard patrolling the skyway, who claimed that Lollie was trespassing in a private seating area, according to court records.
Disagreements over whether the seating was public or private sparked much controversy, with both Lollie's video and the court ruling containing statements that Lollie believed he had been told to leave the public seating area because of his race.
"The problem is I'm black. That's the problem," Lollie said in his video, interrupting the officer who had started to tell him why the skyway security guard took issue with his waiting in the seating area.
The discussion between Lollie and Lori Hayne, a St. Paul police officer, first turned adversarial when Lollie refused to tell her his name during a "walk and talk" between the two through the skyway, which Lollie claims he needed to traverse quickly to get to his children on time.
Hayne radioed for backup, stating that she was "following [an] uncooperative male" and later claiming she was concerned that Lollie would "resist and possibly fight [her]" if she "attempted to detain [him] by herself," court records show.
Neither Lollie's cell phone recording nor video footage from a skyway security camera showed him acting threatening or disorderly, according to background information in the complaint.
The situation escalated when another police officer, Michael Johnson, responded to Hayne's radio call. Johnson allegedly told Lollie that he was going to go to jail "within approximately eight seconds of arriving" and then warned him that "it's going to get ugly" if he did not put his hands behind his back.
Lollie protested and was tased in the leg by a third officer, Bruce Schmidt. Seconds later, he found himself in handcuffs after allegedly having been "[taken] to the ground" by the officers, according to court documents.
Lollie was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of legal process, all of which are misdemeanors in Minnesota.
When his criminal charges were dropped, he turned his attention to civil law and filed suit against the City of St. Paul and the three officers, who moved for summary judgment.
U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson relied on both past legal precedent and video evidence of the melee when she ruled that the officers may have used excessive force and "likely lacked arguable probable cause" to arrest Lollie.