Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct inspector out over Christmas tree controversy

December 4, 2018

The commander of north Minneapolis Fourth Police Precinct is being replaced over Christmas tree decorations criticizes as racist, police said Monday.

The decision to remove inspector Aaron Biard from his post was announced in a department-wide e-mail at 3:45 p.m. Monday, and made public about 45 minutes later. Assistant Chief Mike Kjos, who previously served as the precincts commander, will take over day-to-day operations until a replacement is found, the department said in a statement.

The lieutenant in charge of the day shift, Chris House, was also replaced by a newly promoted Lt. Mark Montgomery, according to three sources with knowledge of the move.

The two officers involved in the incident were placed on paid leave Friday, after decorating a Christmas tree inside the North Side precincts lobby with racially insensitive items. A photo of the tree later surfaced on social media, sparking a public backlash.

Mayor Jacob Frey denounced the display as racist and despicable, then called for the officers to be fired. The men will remain off-duty pending an internal affairs investigation.

The incident drew widespread public criticism the same day City Council voted to reduce the mayors proposed police budget by $1.1 million for 2019. It was largely viewed as a provocative insult at a time when Minneapolis leaders are working to repair strained community relations with police.

Though the officers exact motives are unclear, department brass described the situation to city leaders as a prank. Council Member Phillipe Cunningham later balked at those trying to downplay the decorations as a joke.

These pieces of trash were deliberately chosen to represent how certain officers feel about the community they serve: that Black people are a stereotype to be mocked and the lives of those they serve may as well be reduced to trash in the gutter, he wrote on Facebook. The police break our trust when they do things that undermine the humanity of our community.

Its a racist prank, Cunningham later told the Star Tribune via text. Theres no other way to see it.

Union President Lt. Bob Kroll did not respond to requests to be interviewed Monday. On Saturday evening, he declined to comment, saying the investigation was in its preliminary stages.

In a statement Friday, Chief Medaria Arradondo said he was ashamed and appalled by the behavior of those who would feel comfortable to act in such a manner that goes against our core department values of Trust, Accountability and Professional Service. If Arradondo fires the officers, they can appeal through arbitration.

In a letter to his staff Friday, Arradondo reiterated how a singular act that erodes public trust would directly reflect on the entire department. He also reminded officers to hold one another accountable.

Biased behavior by any member of the MPD in any form through words or actions will NEVER be tolerated by me as your Chief. I will NOT defend the indefensible, Arradondo wrote. In these often challenging times our communities are looking towards us to be their beacon of hope that we, as peace officers, will serve in a manner that treats everyone with fairness, dignity and respect. That manner of treatment is non-negotiable.

Liz Sawyer 612-673-4648

Libor Jany 612-673-4064

Update hourly