MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A black man captured on video being arrested by a white police officer for walking in the street claims the incident is a reminder that black people are still "often seen as second-class citizens."
Larnie Thomas sued the City of Edina and police officer Tim Olson in Hennepin County District Court on Friday, asserting a single claim of race discrimination.
On Oct. 12, 2016, Thomas, who is black, was walking in the street in Edina to avoid construction work on a sidewalk when Olson, who is white, grabbed him, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, a bystander, Janet Rowles, uploaded a seven-minute video to YouTube showing Olson confronting Thomas, who was handcuffed and put in a squad car.
In the video, Olson allegedly grabbed Thomas by his jacket and brought him to the front of Olson's squad car. Subsequently, Thomas slammed his backpack on the squad car and shouted "god damn."
Throughout the video, Thomas is seen agitated and tense. Rowles provided commentary, and even made suggestions to Olson on how to deescalate the confrontation, saying, "Maybe you can just help him to know where the right place to walk is."
Thomas repeatedly shouted for Olson to take his hands off him, but Olson refused. Ultimately, Thomas took off his jacket and shirt as Olson attempted to hold his hands behind his back. When Olson's backup arrived, a shirtless Thomas was arrested.
The entire incident lasted about 45 minutes, and the video released on YouTube by Rowles captures only seven of those minutes, the City of Edina said in a statement that contrasted the allegations made in Thomas' complaint.
"Lt. Olson got out of his vehicle and started to follow Thomas, asking him to get out of the lane of traffic and stop...Thomas became upset and defiant," the city said. "After trying to talk to Thomas for a few minutes, Lt. Olson eventually radioed dispatch for assistance. When backup arrived, Thomas was briefly handcuffed and the situation calmed down. He was not taken to jail. Thomas was issued a citation for disorderly conduct and failing to obey a traffic signal and released at the scene. Police asked where he wanted to go and Thomas said he wanted to go to a local shopping center. Officers gave him a ride there."
The city says witnesses reported Thomas walking in the lane of traffic for several blocks before the police stopped him at Xerxes Avenue and 60th Street. Though there is a sidewalk under construction on the west side of the street at that intersection, there is another completely accessible sidewalk on the east side of the street, Edina officials claim.
In addition to Rowles, there were other witnesses who were interviewed at the scene, the city states, including construction workers, drivers and a resident who lives in the area.
Thomas says he was given a citation for disorderly conduct and failure to obey a traffic signal, but the ticket was later dismissed "in the public's interest."
Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said in a statement that Olson "was following established protocol."
"However, under the circumstances, the city will review that protocol and determine how to better approach this type of incident with greater sensitivity in the future," the mayor said. "We will work with the Edina community and invite other organizations to participate in this very important conversation. There are lessons we should and will learn from this experience."
The Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP described Thomas' arrest as "humiliating" and "a vivid reminder that blacks are still too often seen as second-class citizens in the state of Minnesota and in this nation," according to his complaint.
NAACP Minneapolis made six requests relating to the incident, including that the Olson be suspended without pay pending the outcome of a formal investigation into the incident.
In response, the city stated, "Lt. Tim Olson will remain on the job. He and all officers involved followed the police department's established procedures and the incident ended safely."
Thomas seeks compensatory damages in excess of $50,000 and treble damages. He is represented by Tim Phillips of The Law Office of Joshua R. Williams PLLC in Minneapolis.
With a population of approximately 50,000, Edina is one of the most affluent suburbs of Minneapolis.
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