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FBI investigates assault allegations against Minneapolis police
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Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson announces the FBI is investigating assault complaints against two of his officers. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
Federal officials are investigating allegations two Minneapolis police officers were involved in the assault of a suspect earlier this week while serving a search warrant. Police officials revealed late Tuesday the FBI is looking into the suspect's allegations. The two officers have been suspended with pay while the investigation proceeds.

Minneapolis, Minn. — At a late afternoon news conference, Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson told reporters he wanted to head off any developing rumors, even though the details of the incident are still sketchy.

"These kinds of things can get rumors and things can just get flowing," says Olson. "This is just my attempt to stop that and get some good clear information out that we're able to get out. These are the kinds of things where government and the police department need to be transparent."

Olson says two officers served a search warrant on a north Minneapolis house and found what appear to be marijuana and cocaine. Two suspects were arrested and taken to Hennepin County Jail. One was cited and released, the other was booked. Olson says he told officers at the jail he'd been assaulted.

"They then went to a Hennepin County Jail supervisor and advised the supervisor that this individual said that he had been criminally assaulted at the scene of this search warrant by one or more officers," says Olson.

Olson says it's still early in the investigation and he can't give many details. But he says officials are looking into claims of felony assault.

"As I looked at the preliminary investigation, I clearly -- in my opinion -- determined that there was a federal interest there and the FBI is the place to go with that," the chief says.

Olson won't identify the officers but says they're on paid leave, which is routine during these types of investigations. He says the suspect received medical attention.

Minneapolis officials brought the information forward shortly after they handed the investigation over to the FBI. Mayor R.T. Rybak praised the chief's quick response, even though there's scant information.

"We've come to you much earlier than is often comfortable for elected officials. I think that's a very important value here, and we will continue to do that," Rybak says. "I hope you'll also understand there's very little else we can say at this point. But as we learn more information, we'll continue to move forward with that."

The police department is currently in federally-mediated talks with community members. The talks are aimed at easing tensions between law enforcement and residents, especially minorities. Tensions boiled over a year ago in north Minneapolis, when police conducting a drug raid wounded a young boy while shooting at a charging dog. An unruly crowd burned cars, broke windows and assaulted some reporters.

Critics of the Minneapolis Police Department welcome the FBI investigation. Michelle Gross is a member of the Citizens United Against Police Brutality, and was a part of early calls to start federal mediation. She says she's concerned that while city officials talk about addressing police relations problems, allegations against the department continue to mount.

"That something like this could happen while people in the community are making a good faith effort to mediate with them is just appalling," says Gross. "And it says to me they don't take the mediation seriously, and I think it's going to require them to be forced to make change."

Police Chief Olson says he can only recall about a half dozen times in the past decade in which allegations of police misconduct were handed over to the FBI. FBI Special Agent Paul McCabe said the agency will review the allegations and then consult the U.S. Attorney's office. A final decision on whether to pursue the case further will be made by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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