MOORHEAD — A Ramsey County District Court judge has put on hold a Minnesota law that took effect in March imposing stricter standards on use of deadly force by law enforcement officers.
Local officials said Tuesday, Sept. 14, that one effect of the injunction imposed by Judge Leonardo Castro will be that local Minnesota law enforcement agencies can now resume collaborative efforts with agencies on the North Dakota side of the Red River that were stopped when the law took effect on March 1.
At the time, Fargo-area law enforcement agencies stopped providing mutual aid and other support to their counterparts in Minnesota, citing concerns about lack of training to meet requirements of the new law and lack of clarity in just what the law required of officers.
The same issues figure prominently in Judge Castro's injunction, which came as part of a lawsuit challenging the law that was filed by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association; the Minnesota Sheriff's Association; the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association; and Law Enforcement Labor Services.
Castro said the revised law, which was passed following the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police and which changed standards for the use of deadly force, will be on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.
Prior to the law's revision, officers were authorized to use deadly force to protect the peace officer or another from "apparent death or great bodily harm."
The revised statute eliminated the word "apparent" and added three requirements to justify the use of deadly force, including that the threat of death or great bodily harm must be able to be "articulated with specificity by the law enforcement officer."
The groups who brought the lawsuit maintain the provision requiring law enforcement officers to articulate the threat with specificity is an unconstitutional violation of the right that individuals cannot be compelled to testify against themselves.
The latter is a concern many in law enforcement have had regarding the new law, according to Clay County Sheriff Mark Empting.
"That's one of the big issues for us," said Empting, who added that in the wake of the injunction it is expected that local Minnesota law enforcement agencies will again start working with counterpart agencies in North Dakota.
"What it means for us, with the temporary injunction, is that we will be able to work again with our North Dakota partners — SWAT team, our street crimes unit, our narcotics investigators, things of that nature," Empting said.
In a memorandum that is part of his injunction, Castro said law enforcement agencies have not been able to provide the training the revised statute requires because agencies that traditionally provide such training — The Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Peace Officer Standard and Training Board — have not provided that training, in part because of uncertainty regarding the new law's constitutionality.
Judge Castro's ruling states the use of deadly force standards that were in place prior to the revised standards being imposed will remain in force pending a decision on the merits of the lawsuit and he said briefing and oral argument schedules will be expedited.
"We definitely need to get clarity for the police officers and our community members on this law and we need to have that constitutional clarity as well," Empting said. "We are afforded that Fifth Amendment right as well, in our positions so we need to get that clarified."
Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner said Tuesday that the injunction was good news, but he said his office would take some time to review the court ruling before deciding if or when to resume collaborative efforts with counterparts in Minnesota.
"We're not going to just rush over there (to Minnesota) tomorrow, by any means," Jahner said, adding, however, "It's very possible we could, but certainly I would want to review that (injunction)."
Moorhead Police Chief Shannon Monroe said Tuesday the injunction is good news for Moorhead police.
"We're on about seven months right now of not having mutual aid (from North Dakota agencies)," Monroe said, adding that while Moorhead can still receive mutual aid from other Minnesota agencies, "It's not as immediate, or as staffed as well as what we have coming from North Dakota."
Monroe said law enforcement officials from Cass County and Clay County plan to meet Wednesday to talk over the potential ramifications of the judge's ruling and the possibility for collaborative efforts to resume.
He added that whenever he talks about the situation he makes it clear he doesn't fault North Dakota agencies for the positions they have taken in light of Minnesota's revised deadly force rules.
"If this was the other way around, I would have made the same decision," Monroe said.