Few details available regarding Governor Dayton’s viewing of Jamar Clark video

By Mike Kaszuba

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) are revealing few details about the governor’s private viewing of a video taken moments before Minneapolis resident Jamar Clark was shot to death by police.

Public Record Media (PRM), a St. Paul non-profit, asked both the governor’s office and the BCA for records that would detail how Dayton’s viewing of the video came about.  When the governor disclosed that he had viewed the video last November, he maintained that he had the authority to examine the material because the BCA reported to him.

In defending his review of the video – which had not been publicly released at the time – Dayton added that it was “my responsibility to know the situation that I’m dealing with, which is a very, very volatile situation.”

The Clark case has had a high profile – both in Minnesota, and nationally – due to the racial tensions and public protests that it sparked.  In late March, the Hennepin County Attorney declined to press charges against two police officers in the death of Clark, an African-American male.  In making the announcement, County Attorney Mike Freeman released several videos taken by a camera mounted on an ambulance that revealed a partially obscured view of Clark’s interactions with Minneapolis police.

“No correspondence” according to BCA

In late February, BCA attorney E. Joseph Newton told PRM that there is “no correspondence, e-mails, texts or other data between the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the governor/governor’s office discussing or explaining Governor Dayton’s viewing of the video.”

Documents released by the governor’s office in late March – following a separate PRM data request – also did not include any correspondence between Dayton and the BCA about the video.  However, the governor’s office noted that it was continuing to withhold data classified as security information, legislative proposal data, personnel data, and information protected by attorney-client privilege.  The office also said it was withholding data protected under the work product doctrine, and information protected by laws and regulations “concerning discovery, production of documents, introduction of evidence, and professional responsibility.”

Dayton’s office aware of request for data opinion

Documents released by Governor Dayton’s office showed that staff was aware of a request by Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) to have the state issue a formal opinion regarding several questions surrounding Dayton’s viewing of the video.  “Did Governor Dayton have appropriate authorization to inspect the data?” asked Scott, the chair of the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee.

Scott’s letter noted that state law gave the BCA limited authority to make the data available to a person, agency, or the public if “the agency determines that the access will aid the law enforcement process, promote public safety, or dispel widespread rumor or unrest.”  Scott also asked the state Department of Administration to formally review whether Dayton himself could decide “whether the BCA releases active investigative data,” or whether only law enforcement agencies could disclose the data.

Finally, Scott’s letter noted that if “Governor Dayton’s actions are deemed permissible under the (Data Practices Act) it would appear that others who requested access to the data may have been improperly denied similar access.”  In the months after the Clark shooting, several advocacy groups had sought videos of the incident, including the Minnesota Chapter of the ACLU, and the Minneapolis NAACP.

Jamar Clark records from Dayton’s office

In discussing the ambulance video with reporters last November, Governor Dayton said that the footage did not show enough to fully determine what had happened in the moments before Clark was shot.  He also noted that he had shared his assessment privately with Clark’s family.

According to a transcript of a radio interview released by the governor’s office, Dayton said that “the video just doesn’t show what occurred after one of the officers and Mr. Clark left the corner of the video, and evidently, you know, went to the ground.  It doesn’t show anything of what transpired thereafter.”

Documents dating from November of last year indicate that Dayton’s staff also told the governor that he would likely face questions regarding his viewing of the video.  A list of anticipated press questions included queries such as “Have you watched the video?  If so, why can’t the Clark family see it?  Do you plan to order the BCA to release the video?  Do you have the authority to release the video, and if so, what consequences could that have?”

Following Dayton’s comments to reporters, the governor’s office issued a “clarification” on why the governor viewed the video.  “The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is part of the executive branch,” the statement read, “and the Governor, as the chief executive of the state, has the responsibility to know as much as necessary about the investigation so he can make decisions regarding the public’s safety.”

Tracking post-shooting developments

Documents obtained by PRM show that the governor’s staff closely followed developments in the Clark case, and was briefed on key events as the aftermath of the shooting produced national headlines and sparked sustained protests.  In one instance – after five people protesting Clark’s shooting were themselves shot by counter-protesters – Minneapolis officials alerted the governor’s office to a proposed City Council statement.  An attached e-mail from a city official added that “if you have thoughts on content (especially a conclusion) let me know.”

Starting the morning after the shooting, a Dayton staff member alerted the governor and others to fast-moving events and demonstrations, and forwarded updates from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and police officials.  E-mail bulletins passed on key updates:

“[The Minneapolis police chief is] about to release a statement announcing they have apprehended one suspect in last night’s shooting.”

“CURRENT EVENTS AT 4TH PRECINCT [in Minneapolis] Crowd expected to grow as we approach 1:00 pm news conference and 2:00 pm march.”

“MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT No actions planned at this time.”

“Peaceful protests continue.  Concert ongoing, expected to end at 9:00 pm.”

“8-10 fire pits active at this time … (but) “there are reports of imminent gang activity at the 4th Precinct and [a community official] is reportedly considering ending the concert.”

On Nov. 25th, the governor’s office was informed that the Hennepin County Attorney had granted an extension for filing charges against the suspects in the protest-related shooting.  “We wanted to let you know an extension has been granted,” stated an e-mail that was forwarded to Jamie Tincher, Dayton’s chief of staff.

When Congressman Keith Ellison issued a statement condemning the protester shooting, a message to Dayton’s chief of staff added that “Keith is calling the governor back now.  He also wanted to make sure the governor had seen his statement.”