Minneapolis city attorney alleges data breach over leaked complaints about police chief

The city has launched an investigation to determine who may have leaked damaging allegations about the police chief.

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara speaks at a March press conference. (City of Minneapolis/YouTube)

The Minneapolis city attorney has alleged a possible data breach of personnel information has occurred stemming from city staff that could reach the level of criminal charges and possible termination of anyone involved.

The breach allegation was contained in a copy of an email obtained by Crime Watch Minneapolis on Wednesday in which City Attorney Kristyn Anderson addressed an apparent leak of personnel information to media involving complaints against Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara.

The complaints against O’Hara came to light Tuesday in a report by KSTP-TV which said that the chief was being investigated by an outside law firm over three separate complaints of alleged misconduct.

Anderson stated in her email, which a source told Crime Watch was widely distributed to city staff including Minneapolis police personnel, that KSTP’s report “suggests that there may have been a data breach by City staff.”

KSTP’s report appeared to show documents related to the three complaints involving three different incidents that had been submitted to the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR), but KSTP did not name the source of the documents or how they obtained them.

Anderson’s email states that under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, very limited data about personnel matters are public and that public entities, including staff, are not permitted to disclose private data. Anderson further stated in the email that if any personnel data that is considered private under the Data Practices Act was provided to KSTP-TV by City of Minneapolis staff, that could be a “significant breach of the Data Practices Act and potentially constitute criminal conduct under the law.”

The complaints against Chief O’Hara detailed by KSTP outline three separate alleged incidents, one of which occurred in November 2022, the same month the chief was hired.

That complaint involves what was described as “abusive and unprofessional” behavior by Chief O’Hara in a phone call to Edina police in which the chief was seeking information about a police report in their city. Details in the Edina police report were not public, the complaint said, and when the chief didn’t get what he wanted, he began yelling and cursing toward the officer on the other end of the phone.

A second complaint against Chief O’Hara involves an allegation that he failed to file a use-of-force report after using reportable force when responding during a Minneapolis police incident in January in which a suspect was chased down after allegedly ramming a squad. The suspect was eventually taken into custody and was reportedly hospitalized before booking. The exact nature of the alleged force used by O’Hara against the suspect wasn’t detailed in KSTP’s report.

The third complaint against O’Hara filed in May alleges that he was not truthful when responding to media when questioned over the hiring of now former officer Tyler Timberlake. The hiring turned into a controversy after a media report stated that Timberlake had previously been charged with misdemeanor counts of assault following a use-of-force incident as an officer in Virginia. Although Timberlake was eventually found not guilty of the charges by a jury in Virginia prior to being hired by MPD, Minneapolis activists began calling for him to be fired.

Chief O’Hara told the media source that reported the story that he was “extremely concerned” to learn about the hiring of Timberlake and initiated an investigation into the hiring process. Documents obtained a short time later showed that Chief O’Hara had personally signed off on the hiring of Timberlake. When confronted again about the hire, O’Hara claimed that Timberlake had been “highly recommended” for hire after multiple layers of review.

After emails came to light in July showing that the chief was personally involved in the final hiring interview of Timberlake, and the head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis issued a statement confirming that O’Hara had been in the interview, the chief again backpedaled, telling media that he hadn’t seen the use-of-force video involving Timberlake and that’s what he meant when he previously said he wasn’t aware of Timberlake’s history.

KSTP stated in their report that the city hired an unnamed outside law firm to investigate the complaints and that none of the allegations against Chief O’Hara had yet been substantiated.

Kristyn Anderson’s Wednesday email suggested that KSTP’s report contained “significant inaccuracies” but did not detail the nature of the inaccuracies.

Anderson’s email stated that a potential data breach had been reported to the City Clerk’s Office, per protocol, and that the city has begun an investigation (into who may have leaked the complaints against the chief to KSTP). Anderson said discipline for “willful violation” of the Data Practices Act or even knowledge of a data breach without disclosure could result in just cause for suspension without pay or termination from employment.

Alpha News will continue to follow developments in all aspects of this story.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

 

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.