Crystal settles with community group over First Amendment violation allegations
Years after controversy in the community, the City of Crystal will pay a $20,000 settlement to Communities United Against Police Brutality and receive annual Open Meeting Law and First Amendment training, according to court orders stemming from a lawsuit filed by the organzation in May 2016.
The organization sued the city after allegations that members’ First Amendment rights were stifled by city leaders at council meetings, and that the council illegally conducted closed-door sessions and engaged in a closed meeting via email, both of which actions were in violation of Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law.
The allegations occurred during a period spanning from December 2012 through December 2014, when CUAPB members said they were silenced or denied the ability to freely participate in open forums during council meetings, primarily to voice opposition to the termination of two whistle-blowing Crystal police officers.
According to allegations, officers Alan Watt and Robin Erkenbrack were fired in retaliation for speaking out against misconduct in the city’s investigation of a 2008 incident, during which the now-disbanded West Metro Gang Strike Force confiscated the belongings of the Ramirez family of Crystal, who later filed a theft report. The city maintained that both Watt and Erkenbrack were terminated with just cause and that an investigation had proceeded, although Erkenbrack later settled with the city for $160,000 and was reinstated as a sergeant.