State agency seeking to ban hate speech and white supremacy in policing is now accused of racial discrimination

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When a crowd gathered outside the offices of the Minnesota Council for Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) in February to protest the police killing of Amir Locke, black mothers were among the loudest voices.

Inside those same offices in St. Paul, it was a breaking point for Starr Suggs, who had spent the past 28 years working for the POST Board as an administrative specialist.

“It was like an atomic bomb was about to hit St. Paul,” said Suggs, the only black employee among a dozen agency employees.

While the protest remained peaceful, Suggs says she was unsettled by the reaction from her white colleagues and supervisors.

“They were running around freaking out, ‘oh my God, they’re coming!'” Suggs said. “They said ‘get your brass knuckles.’ A colleague was like, ‘Yeah, I have my knife.’ – They were like, ‘Hey Starr, do you have your back?’

Suggs quit her job a month later and her experience that day is now one of many incidents detailed in a discrimination lawsuit she filed against the POST Board last month.

The suit accuses the state agency of discriminating against Suggs since 2016, including “overt racist behavior by POST management.”

The allegations came just weeks after the state agency – which regulates law enforcement training and licensing across Minnesota – approved a plan to stamp out hate speech and hate speech. white supremacy in the police.

The executive director of POST’s board of directors declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Late last year, a Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation confirmed many of the details outlined in Suggs’ lawsuit, but refrained from calling it racial discrimination because POST leaders Board “regularly treated all staff badly”.

However, state investigators found “probable cause” why POST Board executives retaliated against Suggs for complaining of discrimination. Suggs says his treatment only got worse after that.

“It was hell,” Suggs said in an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES.

The first “red flag”

Ahead of a leadership change on POST’s board, Suggs said the organization felt like family.

“I loved working with the police and was sort of the customer service department of the police,” Suggs said.

She says a family member working with the Department of Public Safety told her about a job opening on the POST Board in 1994.

In his lawsuit, Suggs claims the climate in the office changed shortly after Nathan Gove was appointed executive director of the POST Board in 2015.

“The first red flag was when I noticed Confederate figurines…in the Nate Gove office,” Suggs said. “When I had to go into his office and drop off a case, I was like, ‘Is this what I think I’m seeing? “”

According to the Department of Human Rights investigation, Suggs filed a complaint at the time with Human Resources, but Gove did not remove the figurines for several months.

In their findings, investigators concluded that someone in Suggs’ position “could reasonably assume that the executive director made a deliberate effort to celebrate members of an army who committed treason against the United States in defense of a government dedicated to preserving the institution of slavery”. .”

Gove left the POST Board in 2020 and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Among additional allegations in Suggs’ lawsuit, she says two other POST Board coordinators called complaints against officers made by black members of the public “black records” and openly complained about callers who spoke English. African American Vernacular (AAVE).

“They called Black Lives Matter ‘savages’, ‘killers’, ‘idiots’,” Suggs said.

Reprisals

Suggs filed another discrimination complaint with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Internal Affairs in 2019.

DPS investigators noted that comments by Erik Misselt, who was deputy executive director at the time, “did not show cultural awareness or sensitivity.”

Misselt, who now heads the POST Board, declined requests for comment citing ongoing litigation.

The human rights inquiry found that Misselt and Gove retaliated against Suggs and attempted to intimidate him “explicitly because of his complaints of discrimination” – an activity protected by human rights law. man from Minnesota.

In a “letter of expectations,” Gove threatened Suggs with disciplinary action “up to and including dismissal” after he accused Misselt of racial discrimination.

“I didn’t want to quit the POST Board,” Suggs said. “I just thought, ‘Hey, my ancestors went through a lot too, and I’m just going to fight for that.'”

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