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May 16, 2013

Minneapolis officer hasn’t yet talked to police about fatal crash

Filed under: Minneapolis News — Tags: , — alicepham @ 8:35 am

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau acknowledged Wednesday that a police vehicle went through a red light on its way to a shooting scene where a man had been killed 30 minutes earlier, colliding with a motorcyclist, killing him and injuring a passenger.

Under questioning during a tense news conference at City Hall, Harteau said the officer who was driving is traumatized and has not given a statement yet, five days after the Friday incident.

That delay seemed wrong to local criminal defense attorney Ryan Pacyga, who said his experience has been that police interview people immediately after an incident, “while the memory is fresh, while they don’t have time to change their story.”

While some of what Harteau revealed Wednesday helped shed light on Friday’s fatal chain of events, she declined to answer more questions about who shot and killed a burglary suspect, saying she’s awaiting test results and a completed investigation.

Harteau defended the speed of the department’s investigation and its release of information. “We’re moving as quickly as we can. The goal is to be right and accurate,” she said.

The handling of the high-profile case has become a significant first test for Harteau, who took office in early December. At the news conference, she was joined by two City Council members, Don Samuels and Meg Tuthill, whose ward covers the Uptown area. The events Friday afternoon unfolded after burglary suspect Terrance T. Franklin, 22, took police on a wild chase through a crowded Uptown neighborhood. He was eventually found in the basement of a house and killed at 3:30 p.m. by gunshots after a scuffle with police officers, two of whom were shot and injured. It’s not yet known who shot the officers, whether Franklin was armed or how exactly the confrontation became deadly.

Much of the information Harteau provided about the collision that killed motorcyclist Ivan Romero came from a computer on the police sport-utility vehicle. It records speed, location and a video looking through the windshield.

SUV’s speed: 16 or 17 mph

At the news conference, the chief said the SUV was going 16 to 17 mph at the time of the crash, according to the onboard computer. The accident was reported at 4:05 p.m.

Earlier, her office said it was traveling “well below the posted speed limit,” but didn’t include the specific speed or whether it went through a red light. Harteau said on Wednesday that she received the data Tuesday.

Two witnesses, one of whom said she had spoken to the police, told the Star Tribune that the SUV appeared to be traveling between 40 and 50 mph before the collision. Those witnesses, plus a third, said it went through a red light.

Police said the motorcycle struck the rear passenger side of the SUV. Romero’s passenger and girlfriend, Joselin Torrejon-Villamil, was injured.

Asked why the SUV was traveling with its lights and siren on 30 minutes after Franklin had been shot, Harteau said that the shooting scene remained “fluid” and that the police vehicle was responding to a supervisor’s request for more assistance.

It’s unclear when the investigation will end: Harteau said some of the officers involved haven’t been interviewed yet, including the driver of the SUV involved in the fatal collision.

Asked whether such a delay would be taking place if it was a civilian driver and not a police officer, Harteau said the department sometimes waits to interview civilians, too. Asked whether the department was concerned that the officer’s memory of the incident might change, Harteau said memories are sometimes freshest immediately after an incident and sometimes people remember more as time goes by.

Asked to comment, Pacyga expressed sympathy for the police officer, saying that he could understand the desire to hold off on the interview while the officer grieves the loss of an innocent life but that he saw the delay as something out of line with normal practices.

“They’re going to break their own rules when it becomes an investigation of one of their own,” he said.

Questions about shooting

Little is known about the scuffle with police that led to Franklin’s death. The Police Department has not yet said who shot whom, saying only that Franklin reached for an officer’s machine pistol, known as an MP5, during the fight. An autopsy report said he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

At the news conference, Harteau was asked if Franklin was armed and if the officers, Michael Meath and Ricardo Muro, were injured with their own weapons. She declined to answer, saying she was awaiting forensics information.

“I’m not interested in giving you opinion. I’m interested in giving you facts,” she said.

Asked about why an outside agency was not involved in the investigation, she said that she has the “utmost confidence” in her people. She also said the State Patrol has been called in to review the accident reconstruction.

Many of the questions Wednesday challenged Harteau’s earlier statements that the department is committed to transparency.

“Transparency is not immediacy,” she said in response.

In the days after the incident, family members and friends of Romero, a 24-year-old baker, and Franklin have said they don’t feel police have been forthcoming with details.

Asked what she would say if she could speak to the families, Harteau said she would first like to say she is sorry for their loss.

“Regardless of the situation, they lost a family member,” she said. “I would assure them frankly that we are conducting an incredibly thorough investigation and that we will share information with them as soon as we can.”

Harteau said that she has offered to meet with the families of Franklin and Romero but that both have so far declined.


May 10, 2013

Another Minnesota May ritual: Emerald ash borer emergence

Filed under: Minneapolis News — Tags: — alicepham @ 9:24 am

The winter just past might have felt nasty, brutish and long, but all it did for emerald ash borers was delay the start of their egg-laying.

Indeed, the tiny, metallic-green flying beetles are expected to begin poking out from under the bark of infested ash trees any day now, signaling the start of another cycle in the bug’s destructive spread and experts’ efforts to contain it.

That will be about a month later than last year, when a freakishly warm March triggered early spring emergence of just about everything. But this year’s timetable is close to average, said Mark Abrahamson, a Minnesota Department of Agriculture entomologist and the state’s chief emerald ash borer (EAB) monitor.

“The cold? Not much,” Abrahamson said when asked what effects winter might have had on the insect. “EAB is fairly hardy. There would have been a negligible amount of mortality.”

Abrahamson didn’t have any predictions for what kind of year this might be for ash borers and the hunt for them. May 1 is considered the beginning of the “flight season,” with peak emergence coming about three to four weeks after the first flights, Abrahamson said.

The emerald ash borer, a recent arrival from China, is regarded as a threat to Minnesota’s nearly 1 billion ash trees. It has no known natural predators in Minnesota, although researchers have introduced several species of stinging wasps, also from China, near infestations, in hopes of stalling the beetle’s spread. Insecticides have been proven to protect trees while requiring repeated treatments. Emerald ash borers have been found in Hennepin and Ramsey counties in the metro area and Houston and Winona counties in the far southeast.

The beetles are notoriously difficult to find before trees have begun to die or are damaged by ash borer-eating woodpeckers, or both. Rob Vennette, a U.S. Forest Service research biologist based in St. Paul, said researchers will be trying to improve their detection strategies this year, partly because infestations found recently have covered bigger areas and because infested trees have contained higher concentrations of ash borers than in the past. The ash borer was first detected in Minnesota in 2009 in St. Paul.

Researchers are trying to find the beetles by sampling branches from suspect trees, rather than taking entire trees down and peeling bark back, Vennette said. They’re also experimenting with different baits in the purple, tent-shaped traps that have become familiar features in the middle branches of ash trees around Minnesota in recent summers.

In addition, researchers are following evidence that EAB insecticide may reduce the bug’s cold-tolerance, which could limit the need for the insecticide, Vennette said. They’re also looking into whether black ash trees, a more common species in northern Minnesota, might be more resistant to borers than the ash species more common in the rest of the state.

“If we’re really lucky, maybe EAB will act more like our native species, and be a problem only every so often,” Vennette said. “They’re very clever insects.”


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May 2, 2013

More rights for bicyclists? Not without a fight

Filed under: Minneapolis News — Tags: — alicepham @ 1:04 pm

As bicyclists saddle up after a long winter, Minnesota legislators are preparing to grant them greater rights to ride on the road.

But not without a fight.

Measures advancing in the House and Senate would make it harder for motorists to use bike lanes and easier for cyclists to use both them and the shoulders of roads. The proposals picked up support Friday from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who said in an interview that Minnesota is “way ahead of the curve” in promoting bike safety.

Some Republican legislators would prefer biking advocates to slow down.

“I bet most people in the state don’t even realize what a bike lane is,” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, during a recent legislative session. He called a proposal to ban motor vehicle parking in bike lanes “ridiculous” and “a way to collect fines.”

The proposals are approaching final legislative action as the U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday holds a national summit on bicycle safety in Minneapolis. It will feature federal, state and local officials, engineers, designers and safety experts.

The state Senate passed a bill this week that prohibits cars from using bike lanes to pass other vehicles, requires drivers to use a turn signal when crossing a bike lane to turn, and prohibits them from parking in a bike lane unless permitted by signs.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to strike the presumed parking ban. Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said it would burden local governments to post signs allowing parking. Hann said the ban would leave drivers confused on whether they’ll be ticketed for parking in bike lanes.

Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, said the parking ban would interfere with delivery drivers.

“I’m not sure this body wants to stand in front of somebody’s hot pizza,” he told the Senate.

Minneapolis vs. state?

Reflecting a belief among Republicans that the parking ban is merely a Minneapolis priority, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, proposed allowing the ban only on bike lanes in Minneapolis.

“It is the state of Minnesota, not just the state of Minneapolis,” Kiffmeyer told senators.

DFLers defended the proposals and picked up plenty of support outside Minneapolis, though city legislators led the way. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the Senate transportation committee, said allowing cars to park in bike lanes “defeats the entire purpose of establishing bike lanes.” He added that delivery drivers are “resourceful.”

Bicycles “need to be treated like any other vehicle that is using our roads,” Dibble said. “More and more folks are biking on our streets. That’s desirable.”

Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said the measures are needed because rider safety is a growing concern as more people travel by bicycle.

The state House is advancing similar proposals and an additional provision to eliminate a requirement that cyclists ride only at a right-hand curb or edge of a road when on a shoulder or bike lane.

“The purpose of a bike lane is to provide a safety avenue for cyclists, and drivers need to be respectful of that,” LaHood said.


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April 16, 2013

Minneapolis proposal would relax liquor rules on restaurants

Filed under: Minneapolis News — Tags: , — alicepham @ 11:20 am

The next time you sidle up to a bar in ­Minneapolis to savor some craft beers, ­consider ordering a hamburger. Or two.

Behind the scenes, restaurant owners outside downtown are walking a tightrope to accommodate a city rule that requires them to make at least 60 percent of their revenue from food. The 30-year-old ordinance was intended to keep serious drinking out of the neighborhoods, but the popularity of high-end beers and other factors have made ­compliance nearly impossible at some establishments — particularly in Uptown.

At the Lyndale Tap House, owners have offered free tacos, nudged up food prices and aggressively pushed brunch offerings in a bid to increase food sales. They were found out of compliance last year, along with several nearby weekend hot spots.

“It starts throwing your liquor-food percentages off really quickly, when you’re talking about somebody that’s out for the night drinking,” said owner Gene Suh.

Those businesses may soon get a break. Two City Council members are pushing for a change that would allow them to increase alcohol sales to 50 percent of total revenue. The proposal may simultaneously relax special residential-area wine licenses that require patrons to eat to buy a drink.

“Downtown you can have unlimited alcohol sales,” said Council Member Gary Schiff, who is running for mayor. “And in the neighborhood, we want to achieve a balance. And 50/50 still achieves a balance.”

The proposal’s coauthor, Council Member Meg Tuthill, foresees some resistance from neighborhood groups. “Some of the neighborhoods might not be real happy,” said Tuthill, who represents Uptown. “But it’s not going to really change what’s going on. Because already [restaurants] are not meeting it.”

Tuthill said Friday she has been meeting with colleagues and staff about the proposal. It could be introduced next month.

‘Magic number’

The so-called 60-40 requirements apply to about 100 businesses in the city. They are generally outside of downtown and within 500 feet of a residential property. Some businesses have licenses that are grandfathered out of the restriction. Most establishments report figures annually, giving them a year to try to ­augment sales.

Twelve have been found out of compliance since January 2012, including Uptown venues Bar Louie, Stella’s Fish Cafe, Old Chicago, moto-i, Bulldog, Cafeteria and Cause Spirits and Soundbar. City licensing staffers work with non-compliant businesses to increase food sales, long before taking harsher action such as downgrading licenses or denying renewal.

“I think that there are places that are operating in Minneapolis right now that aren’t meeting the 60-40 that are not creating a problem for their neighbors or for livability or anything like that,” said Grant Wilson, the city’s head of business licensing. “So, if it’s occurring and people are able to successfully operate, maybe 60-40 isn’t the magic number.”

Former Council Member Tony Scallon, an original author of the 1983 ordinance, said it was crafted in response to restaurants that wanted to sell liquor in the neighborhoods following repeal of the city’s liquor patrol limits — which restricted licenses to certain sectors of Minneapolis. Back then, restrictions were needed to prevent the spread of more notorious liquor joints like those at the “Hub of Hell” on 26th Avenue and 26th Street south.

“There used to be about four bars where people would come in and just drink all night. … the guy would cash his check and then drink part of his ­family’s income,” Scallon recalled. “That is gone.”

Craft beers can be costly

Tastes have since become more sophisticated. Republic, a new restaurant in Calhoun Square with a sister location in Seven Corners, has 56 taps and only sells craft beers. The prices range from $4 for Boulder Mojo Nitro I.P.A. to $9 for a St. Bernardus Abt 12 Quadrupel Belgian. Burgers, ­meanwhile, cost between $8 and $11. Co-owner Matty O’Reilly estimates that about 60 percent of their revenues now come from alcohol five months after opening, though food sales are increasing.

“If everyone ordered happy-hour tacos and two beers, we’re at 70-30,” said O’Reilly, referring to the alcohol to food ratio. “And I think we’re doing a good job of trying to be a restaurant first.”

Across the river in St. Paul, restaurants outside of downtown may have fewer worries. Robert Humphrey, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections, said those businesses with liquor licenses — rather than a beer and wine license — must serve food. But there is no percentage requirement.

Kim Bartmann, a local restaurateur whose businesses include Barbette, Bryant Lake Bowl and Pat’s Tap, which recently had a compliance problem, said the current ordinance is flawed because it forces some business owners to raise food prices or lower alcohol prices. Reducing the percentage requirement is a step in the right direction, she says, but the city should also revisit the whole approach.

“It’s too simplistic,” Bartmann said. “I think we need to have a more complex conversation about what do we want the city of Minneapolis to be. What are neighborhood places?”

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March 29, 2013

Minnesota fisheries operator sentenced for putting road through wetland

Filed under: Minneapolis News — alicepham @ 9:38 am

A longtime fisheries operator in west-central Minnesota has been sentenced to probation and ordered to remove from his property a road that he built on a federally protected wetland.

James Bosek, 49, of Garfield, was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Fergus Falls to two years’ probation and fined $2,500. However, Judge Leo Brisbois said he would waive the fine if the road is removed and the wetland restored within 12 months.

Brisbois told Bosek, who was convicted in January, that the restoration is the only way to “undo the injury to the public interest.”

In a court filing ahead of sentencing, Bosek had offered to “alter the structure of the road to make it less harmful.”

In convicting Bosek of a misdemeanor under the National Wildlife Refuge System Act, the judge wrote that the Douglas County property owner knew of an easement “in perpetuity” that the U.S. Interior Department bought in 1963. The easement was still in force in 2001, when Bosek purchased the land, where he also lives.

Bosek built the road on the eastern edge of his property without gaining permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency discovered the five-year-old road in 2008 while making an unrelated visit.

A biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service testified that the road damaged a protected native habitat for ducks and other waterfowl. Bosek refused to remove the road and restore the wetland, leading to the charge against him.

Bosek said the road was built as part of a larger project to put in a 10-acre pond for walleye that would be raised for stocking lakes. Without the road, he added, he would not have vehicle access to 80 of his acres.

Bosek also said that the project created 40 acres of marsh for nesting ducks and migrating geese, while the road has compromised just two-tenths of an acre of wetland.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

Source: (612) 590-8080

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