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St. Paul prepares to host federal trial for three former Minneapolis officers

St. Paul Police have spent two months working on a plan for the trial, which they say could cost the city at least a few million dollars.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Starting Thursday, former Minneapolis Police officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane will stand federal trial, accused of violating George Floyd’s civil rights on May 25, 2020.  

Judge Paul Magnuson will preside over the case from the Warren E. Burger Federal Building in St. Paul – not Minneapolis – meaning the city of St. Paul and its police department are responsible for managing everything that happens around the courthouse and beyond. 

“I am so, extremely frustrated,” St. Paul Council Member Rebecca Noecker said at a meeting last week. “I don’t understand why this trial is being held in the city of St. Paul.” 

Noecker summed up the feelings of many city officials in St. Paul, including Council President Amy Brendmoen, who acknowledged the need for protests but also pointed out that the trial preparations “do incur costs” to taxpayers in a city that was not involved in Floyd’s death.  

Regardless, the St. Paul Police Department has created a four-phase plan to respond during and after the trial. Although he said it’s not possible to know the full costs to the city until later, Assistant Chief Robert Thomasser estimated a price tag of at least a few million dollars – and that’s if the department does not need to fully mobilize for civil unrest. Most of that money will be associated with staffing, including overtime, although the department will seek to limit OT by shifting people away from some normal duties during the trial.

Thomasser told the city council last week, however, that the city will work with federal partners to potentially seek reimbursement for trial costs through federal or state governments. While St. Paul has jurisdiction of all events outside of the courthouse, federal agencies foot the bill for fencing surrounding the building and will manage security inside the facility.

According to an SPPD document filed with the city council, “the most significant challenge to planning and responding to this event has been meeting staffing needs.” A department spokesperson confirmed Monday that although SPPD has an authorized force of 619 officers, it has only 520 “deployable” officers right now, plus another 90 or more on sick leave during an omicron surge.  

“I’m not sounding the fire alarm. I’m not saying we can’t do it,” Thomasser told the council last week. “We’re going to do it. But, we’re doing it with these things in mind.”  

The department is currently in Phase One of the trial preparations and will start blocking some streets off around the courthouse on Tuesday.  

When the trial starts on Thursday, the department will enter Phase Two, which involves setting up a command center, briefing the city council daily, and adding more officers to trial coverage. That phase will last through jury deliberations. Police will also block off an area of Robert Street between Fourth and Kellogg as a public demonstration area, so that protesters can feel comfortable a safe distance away from traffic. 

Police say they’ll also have more officers roaming the Skyway at the request of downtown business owners. 

The third phase will be the verdict, at which point the department can call for mutual aid if needed, followed by a fourth phase of demobilization. During the verdict, law enforcement agencies from Washington, Dakota and Ramsey counties could be available to help as a part of the East Metro Response Group, although all of them would still answer to St. Paul Police as the lead investigative agency.  

Overall, St. Paul Police say they don’t plan to have as visible a presence as agencies did during the Chauvin trial, and they say they won’t patrol with riot gear or heavy armor.  

“The interest of this trial, as compared to what we saw in Minneapolis, I think it’s far less. I think that we’re going to be just fine,” Thomasser said. “But I think you look to the police department to prepare for if it’s not.” 

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