By Evan Stambaugh
MINNEAPOLIS – Several members of an armed black militia known for their ad hoc security at Minneapolis protests are accusing city police officers of violating their constitutional rights by arresting them without probable cause.
According to a complaint filed two months ago in U.S. District Court, eight members of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters are suing 10 officers from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), claiming they engaged in “unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution at a protest last year.
The protest took place in response to the June 2021 killing of Winston Smith by a task force of U.S. Marshals carrying out a felony warrant for his arrest. It was eventually determined that Smith “initiated a deadly force confrontation” while being lawfully detained, and no charges were brought against the officers involved.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are seeking a jury trial, say they were called upon by an MPD police inspector to “assist in keeping the peace in Uptown Minneapolis,” where protests and riots ended up taking place last June.
According to a July KSTP report, the Freedom Fighters don’t have a security contract with Minneapolis and aren’t licensed in Minnesota to provide security. Some of the Freedom Fighters who had their guns confiscated last year did not legally own their guns, did not have permits to carry, or had criminal records that prevented them from owning firearms, the report says.
Despite “standing passively on the sidewalk” and wearing clothing identifying themselves as members of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, the plaintiffs claim they were arrested without probable cause, with officers allegedly taking “trophy photos” of three of the plaintiffs.
Each plaintiff is seeking at least $75,000 in compensatory damages, a collective $50,000 in punitive damages, and reimbursement for their legal expenses. They claim the “unlawful arrests” not only caused a “loss of liberty” but have and will continue to “incur pain, embarrassment, and emotional distress.”
According to the court docket, four of the Minneapolis police officers named in the lawsuit successfully requested additional time to respond to the complaint. Their responses were filed with the U.S. District Court last week. Six others have not responded yet.
The Minnesota Freedom Fighters have described themselves as an “independent security force with no gang affiliations.” Per the complaint, the group was founded as the “Minnesota Freedom Riders” shortly after the death of George Floyd in 2020, specifically in response to the Minneapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asking residents of north Minneapolis to “come together and protect their community.”
“The mission of the group was to respond to specific and general threats to people and property in North Minneapolis,” the complaint reads. “The group followed a violence interruption model in which, by their presence alone and without engaging in any affirmative acts of violence, the Minnesota Freedom Riders sought to help keep the residents of North Minneapolis safe and to prevent their community from being destroyed.”
The group did not become known as the Minnesota Freedom Fighters until after the George Floyd riots fizzled out, when they branched off from the Minneapolis NAACP. The Freedom Fighters claim to have partnered with the city of Minneapolis’ Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) to “further goals of community, safety and non-violence.”
Sasha Cotton, former director of the OVP, once praised the Freedom Fighters in 2020 while her department pushed for the creation of an unarmed civilian patrol force to possibly replace the presence of police officers in certain cases. The Freedom Fighters’ stated purpose, however, has not been to stand in for the police, but to “bridge the gap between police and the community.”
A similar group called the Agape Movement, described by the Star Tribune as a “neighborhood organization that hires ex-gang members to interrupt gang violence,” was at the center of controversy last year after Mayor Jacob Frey gave them $359,000 to help peacefully re-open “George Floyd Square” at 38th and Chicago.
In June 2021, members of the Minneapolis City Council criticized Frey for bypassing normal protocol for city expenditures above $175,000. The mayor had invoked his “COVID-19 emergency powers” to authorize the contract without the input and approval of the council.
Philippe Cunningham, a far-left supporter of “defunding the police” who lost his city council seat later that year, also questioned the use of such a group as a security force.
“We are not looking to have civilians do exactly what police officers do,” Cunningham said, per the Tribune. “It’s hurting their credibility. They’re being seen as cops because the city is asking them to behave as cops.”
Evan Stambaugh is a freelance writer who had previously been a sports blogger. He has a BA in theology and an MA in philosophy.
This article originally appeared at Alpha News.