MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - Linking his demotion to fallout over the "Pointergate" scandal that just rocked the mayor's office, a Minneapolis police officer has filed suit for damages.
In a gaffe that trended nationwide after its mention on an episode of "The Daily Show," Mayor Betsy Hodges caught heat from local media this past November over a photo at a get-out-the-vote event.
Apparently an organizer at the event used his hands to flash a gang sign for his photo with Hodges, and the mayor unwittingly struck the same pose.
In his March 10 lawsuit, Minneapolis police officer Jesse Garcia III quotes one local media outlet as reporting that mayor's flashing of gang sign "undermined the police Department's work."
"The story was an embarrassment for Mayor Hodges who publically sought to disassociate herself from the picture and NG," Garcia says. "In the ensuring weeks and months, many local news stations and papers ran stories weighing in on the gang sign situation, which the media dubbed 'Pointergate.'"
With the story still in full swing on Nov. 9, Garcia says he realized that the individual pictured in the Pointergate photo with Hodges was none other than the suspect of an attempted-robbery case he caught he caught that summer.
Garcia refers to the individual as NG in his complaint. He says the crime in question involved a gun and occurred on Aug. 2, 2014.
NG, "a convicted felon with violent tendencies," was among five suspects whom officers responding to a 911 call about the crime apprehended near the scene, according to the complaint.
Garcia says county prosecutors later deferred the case with instructions to submit the evidence for DNA analysis for all five suspects. He did not access the file on the attempted robbery again until Nov. 10, according to the complaint.
That day Garcia also allegedly informed the mayor's security team "about his ongoing investigation implicating NG and his connection to Pointegate," and he learned that additional evidence had been collected "connecting NG to the handgun used in the August 2nd [attempted] robbery."
Garcia says he received DNA analysis results on Nov. 12, concluding "that NG's DNA could not be excluded from being a possible contributor to the types of DNA found on the weapon."
A county attorney "verbally confirmed his office's intent to prosecute the case" shortly after those results came in, according to the complaint. On Nov. 13, however, Garcia's commander allegedly took him off the case and said "that a decision had been made not to prosecute the August 2nd [attempted] robbery case."
Garcia says he cautioned the commander about their "legal duty to prosecute crimes."
"It was obvious to plaintiff that the only reason for killing the investigation was because of the bad press Pointergate had created for Mayor Hodges," the complaint states. "The directive to kill the investigation constituted obstruction of justice. As plaintiff was aware, it would be a crime for any public official of defendant to obstruct an investigation for personal or political reasons. For that reason, plaintiff objected to Johnson's plan and reported, in good faith, what he believed to be a violation of law."
This objection allegedly landed Garcia as the target of an investigation by Internal Affairs.
Garcia says he then learned that his transfer to the high-profile Violent Offender Task Force had been rescinded.
A few weeks later Garcia was transferred to Third Precinct Property Crimes, a demotion to a unit with less prestige and significantly reduced job responsibilities, according to the complaint.
Garcia emphasizes that he always received stellar reviews prior to Pointergate during his 25 years with the department.
The officer seeks damages and restitution, alleging violation of the Mineesota Whistleblower Act. He is represented by Clayton Halunen.
In his criticism of Pointergate on "The Daily Show," comedian Jon Stewart connected complaints by the Minneapolis Police Department about the photo to the mayor's recent public criticism about that law-enforcement agency.
As reported by the StarTribune's Libor Jany, Mayor Hodges had sent Minneapolis residents an "open letter" in October 2014 that noted how "some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it."
"Good cops face even more hurdles to fostering a positive culture and bad cops have even more room to maneuver, and the downward spiral continues," Hodges said.