Clash deepens over Chauvin trial security aid

Melissa Hortman, Paul Gazelka, Tim Walz.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, center, and Gov. Tim Walz, right, speak to each other at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on Feb. 5, 2020. House Speaker Melissa Hortman is at left.
Scott Takushi | Pioneer Press via AP 2020

Updated: 5:10 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz hit a major roadblock Thursday in his request to set up a $35 million special account to pay for security costs ahead of Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death.

Republicans who control the Senate said they would not provide money beforehand and signaled they would push cost burdens to Minneapolis instead. They argue that city leaders haven’t done enough to keep a strong police force in place.

“We don’t believe that we need to advance funds for something that may or may not happen,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. He added, “I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that people will riot.”

The Walz administration, with the support of a House DFL majority, is trying to establish the safety fund to ensure communities that send in reinforcements will be repaid.

Walz told MPR News Thursday that Senate Republicans earlier asked him for state money to ensure there would be security around the trials, and that he doesn’t understand why they are now trying to put the burden on Minneapolis.

“If this happens in Duluth or in Mankato or in Minneapolis, it matters nothing to me. These are all Minnesotans and we need to provide that security,” Walz told All Things Considered host Tom Crann. “And I am not going to put these law enforcement officers in a position where because they are underfunded, understaffed or under resourced that they too are in danger.”

Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington has said that the state might avert the type of riots that followed Floyd’s death if an ample law enforcement presence is marshaled around Chauvin’s trial, which is set to begin in March. He said hundreds of officers are being enlisted for the assignment.

The GOP alternative to the Walz proposal would leverage the existing local government aid fund by subtracting the cost of mutual police and fire aid from the city that receives the help and sending it to the contributing agencies. That would happen if the bills aren’t paid voluntarily and in a timely fashion.

“Minneapolis needs to pay their bills,” Gazelka said. “There’s just no excuse for not doing that.”

It’s not clear if Minneapolis will formally make the request for help during the trials of officers charged with murdering Floyd last May. Hennepin County and multiple state agencies are in on the security planning.

That matters because the receiving entity is on the hook for much of the cost.

Mayor Jacob Frey’s office responded with a written comment: “Mayor Frey appreciates Gov. Walz’s partnership and commitment to public safety while protecting Minnesotans’ First Amendment rights. There should be no room for partisanship at such a pivotal moment for our city, region and state.”

On Twitter, Frey refuted Gazelka’s assertion that Minneapolis stiffed other cities that sent in help last time and said the city is a far bigger contributor than recipient of tax dollars.

In December, Gazelka and multiple Republican senators asked Walz to step in to make sure bills from security get paid, including overtime costs for Minneapolis police.

“Minnesotans expect our state government to prevent a repeat of this summer’s rioting, and the Minnesota Senate stands ready to work with you on this urgent matter,” the letter said.

Gazelka’s office said there is still $137,000 in 2020 expenses from agencies that helped Minneapolis haven’t been paid. Frey said in his tweets that only one invoice of a few thousand dollars wasn’t paid.

A spokesperson for Walz, Teddy Tschann, responded Thursday afternoon:

“The State of Minnesota has been working with local police departments for months to prepare for this global event. Messing around with local government aid to punish the city of Minneapolis is not a serious plan to prepare for a public safety challenge of this magnitude,” he said. “Senate Republicans need to clarify if they’ve changed their position and no longer support funding the police officers involved in this coordinated, multi-agency operation so they can adjust their plans accordingly.”

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