MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Robbinsdale Police Department has settled a federal excessive force lawsuit against one of its officers.
Former Gopher basketball star Melvin Newbern filed the lawsuit after his arrest two years ago. He was headed home from a doctor’s appointment when he was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. Newbern had no alcohol in his system.
“The whole situation didn’t seem right from the start,” Newbern said.
Newbern doesn’t need to see the squad car video that was used in his lawsuit to clearly remember his February 2013 arrest.
“I played it over and over in the back of my head. What did I do? Did I do anything wrong?” Newbern said.
He didn’t feel he was in the wrong when he twice told Officer Brian Sloat he couldn’t fit in the back of the squad’s back seat and refused to get in. It eventually led to his arrest for obstruction of legal process.
“It felt, at the time, when everything was occurring that I was doing that and being respectful and doing the things I needed to do,” Newbern said.
Video from the squad car shows that while in handcuffs, Newbern was kneed in the back causing him to fall and hit his head. A doctor later diagnosed him with a concussion. As a juvenile detention officer himself, Newbern felt the arrest went too far.
“At the end of the day if you feel your rights are violated, you have the right to push the issue and go after what you believe,” he said.
“The force options available to officers when subject is handcuffed are pretty limited and, in this case, we felt the officer went too far,” Andy Noel, Newbern’s attorney, said.
Rather than just file a complaint with the police department, Newbern felt a federal lawsuit would have more of an impact.
“He decided to do something about it and desired to get the information out there that this kind of thing can happen,” Noel said.
Both sides settled Friday for $185,000. Newbern said the lawsuit isn’t just about financial outcome but the awareness that could come from it.
“I think I was speaking in a sense for all the young African Americans, all the young youths out there,” he said. “You have rights and no one can tell you that you don’t.”
Attorneys for the city released a written statement Monday afternoon regarding the lawsuit:
Jason Hiveley wrote, “The City of Robbinsdale and Melvin Newbern have settled a suit brought against the City and Officer Brian Sloat for excessive use of force by a police officer. Mr. Newbern has agreed to dismiss the lawsuit and the City has agreed to pay Mr. Newbern and his attorneys $185,000 in exchange for this dismissal. After a comprehensive analysis, we believe Officer Sloat acted in a reasonable manner, but we recognize the cost of defending this case through trial would be very high. The settlement costs will be paid by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.”