Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara acknowledged Monday that he “could have been more clear” in his statements about the hiring of a former Virginia police officer who was charged with assault.
O’Hara said in an April statement to the Minnesota Reformer that he was “extremely concerned about what I have just learned pertaining to the hiring of” Tyler Timberlake, who was acquitted of three counts of misdemeanor assault and battery on an unarmed black man during a March 2022 trial.
The Star Tribune then reported last week that Timberlake and the MPD had “separated.”
In response, Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Sgt. Sherral Schmidt said “Chief O’Hara was in the final interview of Timberlake and was fully aware of his history.”
“During his final interview, he was assured by Chief O’Hara he would be okay, if he did good work. This is clearly not the case,” she said.
Crime Watch Minneapolis then released emails showing Timberlake disclosed his history to city officials in September 2022 and confirming O’Hara was involved in the interview process.
On Sunday, O’Hara released another statement, this time confirming that he “observed Mr. Timberlake’s interview” but denying any knowledge of the “existence of video capturing a use of force incident involving” Timberlake until after the Reformer’s April inquiry.
“I’m not playing a semantics game,” O’Hara told reporters during a Monday press conference to address the incident.
He said he is limited on what he can say under state law but acknowledged the “messaging on this matter has at times been confusing.”
“On my second day on the job here in Minneapolis, I was an observer in the individual’s interview in the final stage of the hiring process but I was not a participant. I was observing the operations of the department in general and, as you can imagine, my second day on the job here was quite a whirlwind,” he said.
“It wasn’t until after receiving a media inquiry in April that I became aware for the first time of the video of the use of force incident involving this individual. I had a very visceral reaction to the behavior that I saw on that video. I was shocked and I gave a statement to the media, very quickly, and the statement could have been clearer. I did observe the individual’s interview and, as chief of police, I did sign off on this person’s hire. But all of that was before I saw the behavior in that video,” he continued.
“My initial statements in April could have been more clear to indicate that I was aware of the hire but not of the video. And I would not have signed off on that hire if I had witnessed the behavior in that video at that time. I accept responsibility for not being clear enough in my initial comments and for not following up to clarify. But again, I had not seen that video,” he concluded.
O’Hara claimed he was not aware that Timberlake’s case had gone to trial and did not know any details of the incident.
“I was aware that the individual was involved in a critical incident. Quite frankly, that is unremarkable. Anyone who has been a police officer in a major city, if they have been working on the street, if they have been active, it would be unusual if you had not been,” O’Hara commented. “I am certain I did not have anything described to me related to the behavior that’s obvious and apparent in that video.”
One reporter noted that it would simply require a quick Google search to uncover the “highly, highly publicized” case. O’Hara agreed and said he was “outraged.”
“It’s very obvious to me that there is a problem here with this process if someone can go through layers of review and something like that not being flagged,” he said.
O’Hara was asked if he assured Timberlake that he “would be okay, if he did good work,” as the federation claimed. The chief said he couldn’t “recall the specifics of this conversation.”
“It is disturbing to me that any member of this department could observe the behavior in that video and think that is what we need in the city at this time,” O’Hara concluded. “That’s very disturbing.”