BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. -- A police patrol sergeant is back on the job in this northern Twin Cities suburb, after being suspended without pay for five days.
That was the discipline the Brooklyn Park Police Department imposed on Sgt. Greg Burstad after a lengthy investigation into complaints stemming from his work on the now defunct Metro Gang Strike Force.
A victims advocacy group has asserted that Burstad's punishment did not match the seriousness of the complaints lodged against him.
"We think that, that Chief Michael Davis dropped the ball," Michelle Gross, the president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, told KARE.
"The chief had an opportunity to do the right thing and terminate Burstad."
At a press conference Monday, Gross screened police dashboard camera video of a police pursuit from June 15, 2006. After the suspect's car is forced off the road by police, the driver stands up and raises his hands in the air.
"He got out, put his hands in the air and surrendered," Gross said, in her commentary on the arrest video.
"You can't be any more compliant than surrendering."
As one officer approaches the suspect, Burstad can be seen running up from the other side of the car and grabbing the suspect around the head. The video shows Burstad strike the driver repeatedly as he wrestles him to the ground with the assistance of other police.
Burstad later wrote in his official police report that the suspect hadn't complied with demands. Burstad said he believed the suspect was preparing to flee on foot.
"The Brooklyn Park Police Department had this video," Gross explained.
"We got it from them. They have had this video the entire time since this incident occurred."
The young suspect in that incident later joined a class action lawsuit against the Metro Gang Strike Force, which was disbanded in 2009 due to major lapses in accounting for seized property.
That lawsuit was settled out of court, but Gross said the victims who were compensated the most by the special master who distributed proceeds were those who lost property.
Gross said her organization is still pushing for disciplinary actions against officers who allegedly abused their power while serving on that multi-agency task force.
"Sergeant Greg Burstad was at the center of these things over and over and over again," she said.
Gross presented the Brookyn Park Police Department a stack of 31 citizen complaints on July 24, 2012. The department placed Sgt. Burstad on paid leave, pending an internal affairs investigation, which lasted nine months.
In the end, the department determined that eight of the 31 complaints had sufficient merit to warrant some type of formal discipline. After working through the city's personnel due process system, Burstad's supervisors meted out a five-day unpaid suspension.
"Since leaving the Gang Strike Force in 2009, no complaints of misconduct have been received from the public or Police Personnel about Sergeant Burstad," the police department asserted in a written statement issued to the media.
"A highly decorated patrol officer and detective, Burstad has been admired for his ability to build trusting relationships with community members and, in particular, the minority community and at-risk youth."
The statement pointed out that Burstad was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2010 and heads the community response unit of the department.
Another plaintiff in that class action case was Adrian Ramirez, who told KARE in 2009 that Burstad led a raid his family's apartment in Crystal in 2008 while checking out an unfounded tip that guns were being store there illegally.
"Somebody told them I had guns in the house. They didn't find anything. They just took my dad."
Gross said that Burstad changed the locks to the apartment and withheld the key from the family for days. She said while he had control of the apartment unknown thieves carted away their personal belongings.
"He told the family, 'Come on Friday at noon and I'll let you back in your house.' They arrived at 11 a.m. to see a truck drive away with all their possessions."
The citizens group has pressed the Crystal Police Department to conduct its own investigation of the raid on the Ramirez home and the detention of family members. She said the city manager of that suburb refused to meet with the family to discuss the case.
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