By Mike Kaszuba
From fender benders to road rage, troopers at the Minnesota State Patrol can be as capable of breaking the law as the civilian motorists they pull over.
Many of the disciplinary actions over a five-year period involved traffic accidents, often with troopers driving too fast for conditions and crashing. One officer was disciplined for inattentive driving – the “4th in a series of crashes.” Another officer was likewise cited for crashing his squad car, “another preventable in a series, drifted to shoulder, hit construction barrel.” In August 2020, a trooper was disciplined for driving too fast for conditions, running off the road, hitting a tree and severely damaging his squad car.
Others were more serious. In one instance, the State Patrol disciplined one trooper for three separate pursuit violations – including one in which the trooper used a pry bar to force open an apartment door following a seat belt violation.
Documents obtained by Public Record Media (PRM), a non-profit based in Saint Paul, provided a rare glimpse into both minor and more serious disciplinary actions against members of the Minnesota State Patrol – and also showed that many actions involved only written and oral reprimands. Three dozen cases involved suspensions, and only seven cases led to a trooper’s dismissal, including one trooper who was convicted of domestic assault.
One trooper was suspended for 30 days for an off-duty snowmobile crash.
In April 2020, a Minnesota state trooper was accused of inappropriately touching a woman during a traffic stop and later required her “to expose her breasts.” An internal investigation, which led to a 15-day unpaid suspension, found that the trooper intentionally turned off his recorder just before the stop.
Nearly 275 minor and more serious incidents
The documents span a five-year period, ending in December 2021, and include nearly 275 minor and more serious disciplinary actions. While the documents show that there were just 20 disciplinary actions in 2017, there were 79 two years later and 133 actions in 2020 and 2021 combined.
The more minor disciplinary actions include everything from not wearing the State Patrol’s iconic maroon hat while on duty to using profanity and failing to have a clean-shaven face. Other disciplinary measures detailed officers falling asleep and crashing their cars, and in other instances failing to activate a patrol car’s lights and siren while in pursuit. While some of the disciplinary actions were verbal, many others were in writing.
The nearly 275 disciplinary actions came as the State Patrol had more than 600 sworn officers, including 623 officers in 2021.
Created in 1929, the State Patrol’s primary job is to monitor the state’s highways, and in effect it also serves as the state police in Minnesota. The State Patrol provides security for the Minnesota governor and the State Capitol complex in Saint Paul.
In keeping with the State Patrol’s rigid training and elite status, troopers must pass a physical test on a stationary rowing machine and complete a minimum 10-week “residential modified stress” training academy at Camp Ripley, MN. Troopers earn at least $94,837 after serving eight years.
In 2022, for example, the State Patrol wrote 1,151 citations to motorists driving more than 100 miles per hour. The State Patrol was also deployed – and faced gunfire – during the riots in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
The disciplinary actions meanwhile involved a wide range of infractions.
In one instance in November 2018, an off-duty state trooper drove his own vehicle on the shoulder of Hwy. 62, which had been shut down by the State Patrol to secure motorcade movement of the Vice Presidential detail. The off-duty trooper passed a line of vehicles that had been stopped on the highway by police.
He was given a letter of reprimand for exhibiting behavior that discredited the trooper and the State Patrol, and for actions that “certainly fell short of agency expectations.”
Another trooper was given a two-day unpaid suspension after a State Patrol helicopter was out of service for 10 weeks when he did not check the position of the throttle and caused a harmful “torque exceedance” as he started the helicopter.
Accidentally firing a rifle through a squad’s floorboard
In June 2021, a state trooper was given a letter of reprimand for accidentally firing a round from his rifle through the floorboard of his squad car as the trooper sat in a parking lot. An investigative report noted that the trooper “failed to notice a round in the rifle’s chamber when he removed the rifle from the locked squad mount, pointed it down at the driver’s side floorboard of his squad, removed the magazine and pulled the slide back to check if the weapon was clear.”
Other disciplinary actions included officers giving rides in squad cars to civilians and “working out on duty.” One trooper was disciplined for failing to adequately store a firearm, allowing it to be accessed by a child. Another trooper was disciplined for being “disrespectful toward [their] peers, rumor spreading.”
One trooper was disciplined for having “flipped off driver as driver pulled away from [a] traffic stop.”
In June 2017, a trooper was given a one-day unpaid suspension for posting unspecified “inappropriate” Facebook messages – while he was off duty – that “brought discredit to himself and the Minnesota State Patrol.”
“Unauthorized state border crossing”
In August 2021, a trooper was disciplined for “throwing an unlit flare at a vehicle driving too fast/swerving toward trooper.” In March 2020, another trooper was cited for an “unauthorized state border crossing.”
Some of the disciplinary actions resulted from troopers ignoring the State Patrol’s rules of pursuit.
Several officers were disciplined for failing to stop pursuing a motorist with their squad cars when the pursuit was taken over by aerial reconnaissance. In July 2021, a trooper pursuing a vehicle in St. Paul intentionally rammed it and received a written reprimand. “Intentional contact shall only be used when other intervention strategies have been considered and determined not practicable,” an investigative report stated.
During a period of less than two months in 2018, the State Patrol disciplined one trooper for three separate pursuit violations.
In the first instance, in April 2018, the trooper pursued a pickup truck without activating the squad’s lights and siren, or notifying his supervisor. Later, when the trooper found the pickup truck parked and unoccupied, he took out a knife and punctured the front passenger side tire. An investigative report stated that “damaging of property as a disabling technique is not taught nor authorized by the State Patrol policy.”
“Hot pursuit” – climbing through a house window
In late May 2018, the same trooper pursued an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), which disappeared into a muddy, forested area. Suspecting that the ATV’s owner lived in a nearby residence – the trooper said he noticed shoes in front of the home that were “muddy and wet” – the trooper climbed through a window of the residence. The trooper said his warrantless entry into the home was allowed by the rules governing a so-called “hot pursuit.” An investigative report not only rejected the trooper’s hot pursuit defense but also his reason for pursuing the ATV. While the trooper said the ATV did not display a vehicle registration, the investigative file stated that the “video evidence does not support his version of the events.”
Three days later, the same trooper was involved in another controversial incident.
On June 1, 2018, the trooper pursued a vehicle for an alleged seat belt violation. After losing sight of the vehicle, the trooper said he soon found it parked at an apartment complex. He said two men whom he thought had gotten out of the car went into an apartment, and the trooper followed them. After knocking on the door and having no one answer, according to the investigative file, the trooper said he used a pry bar to force open the door. No one was in the apartment.
In November 2018, according to the investigative file that documented the three incidents, he was given a 10-day unpaid suspension.
Another incident involved the State Patrol response in April 2021 to rioters in Brooklyn Center following the police killing of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. The killing led to nightly demonstrations and violence at the city’s police station – including 136 arrests on the sixth night of protests.
The incident on April 13 – two days after Wright’s death – involved a state trooper’s interaction with a media member. Despite the reporter saying that she immediately told the trooper she was a member of the media, she was handcuffed with zip ties. The trooper, according to the investigative file, then asked the reporter “if she was deaf” and “if she spoke English” after he asked her why she had not left after the crowd was told to disperse.
According to the investigative file, the trooper said he not at first aware she was a reporter. The reporter, according to the file, was on her phone talking to a supervisor when the incident occurred. The reporter said that she recalled a trooper repeatedly yelling at her to “turn off your f—— phone.”
The investigative file stated that the trooper’s conduct “did not meet the Minnesota State Patrol’s standards and expectations of professionalism and respect.”
The trooper, according to the file, was given a written reprimand that – providing there was no other disciplinary action – could be removed from his file in two years.
Public Record Media would like to thank Rich Neumeister for his assistance with this article.