Minneapolis Police Sued for Illegal Seizure of Car
This past winter was extra harsh. Minneapolis had way more snow than usual. In fact, February 2019 is now the snowiest February on record for the Twin Cities. The area also experienced bitter cold, especially during the polar vortex. The brutal artic air brought in a deep freeze that Minneapolis has not felt in decades prompting city officials to warn residents of “life-threatening” temperatures.
This past winter, Kiara Creer, mother of two small children, was without her car. The Minneapolis police just took it from her.
In October 2018, a baseless accusation was made that Creer stole clothing and petty cash from a store in North Minneapolis. Creer, a military veteran with no history of criminal activity whatsoever, denied the allegations. The Minneapolis Police Department, 4th Precinct, investigated this matter, assigning Sergeant Randy Buege to the case.
As part of the investigation, in early November 2018, Sergeant Buege went to Creer’s home and interviewed her for more than an hour. Creer told Sergeant Buege that she had not stolen any clothes or petty cash from the store. She answered all of Sergeant Buege’s questions.
In mid-December, Sergeant Buege again contacted Creer and they spoke by telephone. Sergeant Buege told Creer that she needed to come to the 4th Precinct to give a formal statement. Initially, Creer agreed to come to the police station but, after rethinking the matter, she decided against it because she had already spoken to Sergeant Buege at length about the allegations. Besides, it was her Constitutional right to remain silent.
This apparently really angered the sergeant. On December 17, 2018, Sergeant Buege left Creer a voicemail message stating that if Creer did not come to the police station, he would have officers go to her home and arrest her.
On or about January 3, 2019, Creer and Sergeant Buege spoke once again on the phone. During that conversation, Sergeant Buege threatened to take Creer’s car unless she came to the precinct.
On or about January 9, 2019, Sergeant Buege left another voicemail for Creer. This time Sergeant Buege asserted that Creer had a “probable cause pick-up for her arrest” and the only way to get rid of this “probable cause pick-up” was to come to the precinct to give the statement.
On January 10, 2019, two Minneapolis police officers came to Creer’s home and seized her vehicle. Neither officer provided Creer any paperwork or justification as to why her car was being towed away. They just took it from her.
Creer demanded an explanation. On January 14, 2019, she called Sergeant Buege and asked him why he took her car. He responded that he had taken her vehicle because she refused to come to the precinct to give a formal statement.
On January 15, 2019, Creer provided Sergeant Buege a letter asking him to release her vehicle as he did not have a lawful reason to seize it. The sergeant did not respond to her letter.
Creer was afraid that the police would never return her car unless she initiated legal action. Creer hired the Magna Law Firm to assist her in this case.
On February 26, 2019, a motion was brought in Hennepin County District Court under Minn. Stat. § 626.21 seeking an order for the release of Creer’s vehicle. The hearing in the matter was scheduled for March 28, 2019. The Defendants (Sergeant Buege, Minneapolis Police Department and the City of Minneapolis) never submitted any responses to Creer’s motion.
On March 22, 2019, less than a week before the scheduled hearing, the City of Minneapolis agreed to release Creer’s vehicle to her. The City also agreed not to file any criminal charges against Creer in connection to the theft allegations.
Creer was never charged or arrested. Nonetheless, her car was unlawfully seized and held by Sergeant Buege and the City of Minneapolis for approximately 75 days.
There was absolutely nothing that should have led Sergeant Buege to conclude that Creer’s car contained any evidence of a crime or contraband prior to the search and seizure of the vehicle. The search and seizure of Creer’s car occurred 77 days after the alleged theft took place. The police had plenty of time and opportunity to obtain a search warrant as is constitutionally required. No exigent circumstances existed to excuse the officers’ failure to obtain a search warrant in this case.
Creer believes that Sergeant Buege seized her vehicle because he was frustrated that she would not give him a second statement regarding an accusation that she had denied in an earlier conversation with him. Sergeant Buege used deceptive tactics to try to coerce Creer into giving him a formal statement. When that didn’t work, he took her car just like he said he would.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures of citizens by government actors. Because her rights were violated, Creer has initiated a lawsuit against Sergeant Buege, the Minneapolis Police Department and the City of Minneapolis in Federal Court.
The neighborhood where the 4th Precinct is located is predominantly African-American. In the past, the 4th Precinct has had a tense relationship with the community it is supposed to serve and protect.
There have previously been highly-publicized accusations of racism leveled against the officers of the 4th Precinct. There have been protests at the precinct relating to the police shooting deaths of men of color, most notably, perhaps, Jamal Clark. This past November, police officers decorated the precinct’s Christmas tree with menthol cigarette boxes, cans of malt liquor, and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen cups. City leaders called the decorations racist and insulting.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a firm statement regarding that incident: “This behavior is racist, despicable, and is well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis. Racism and intolerance is absolutely unacceptable, and that should especially be the case amongst our city employees.”
Oliver E. Nelson, III, of the Magna Law Firm, is Creer’s attorney in this case. “My client’s Constitutional rights were violated because a police officer was upset that she dared to exercise another Constitutional right and not speak to him. The fact that the police took her vehicle because she decided not to talk to them a second time is an outrage.”
The seizure of her only car created a great burden for Creer. She and her children had to walk in extremely cold, snowy conditions to get to where they needed to go. Although her friends and family tried to help with rides when possible, Creer was unable to consistently find transportation when necessary, whether to drive her children to their destinations or to travel to work. She lost her job as a business analyst at a local bank as a result.
This past winter was extra harsh.