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The botched Minneapolis gun case attorney Barry Edwards just can't forget

The Gold Medal Park case involved the arrest of three African men for felony assault. The MPD officer who stopped them testified she was going to arrest the first Somali men she encountered.

The Gold Medal Park case involved the arrest of three African men for felony assault. The MPD officer who stopped them testified she was going to arrest the first Somali men she encountered. Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

In the fall of 2013, three West African immigrants climbed out of a car near Gold Medal Park and were promptly arrested at gunpoint.

They were accused of chasing a stranger through the park with a gun, booked into jail, and taken to court on felony assault charges.

Though the case was dismissed the following spring, it would take one of the men, 26-year-old Mohamed, three more years to expunge his record and restore his license to work with children with special needs -- a career derailed, his attorney Barry Edwards says, by a 911 caller with a prior conviction of lying to police and an officer who admitted to racial profiling in her sworn testimony. Mohamed, who has since reprised his work in education, asked not to be identified by his full name.

Edwards, having helped his client to mostly recover from the secondary consequences of prosecution, then tried to get some recognition of the flaws in this case from the city and the police. A month after the swearing in of Minneapolis' first black police chief, Medaria Arradondo, he sent a letter to Arradondo and then-mayor Betsy Hodges challenging the training of the officer who arrested Mohamed.

There was no response. Edwards applied also to the Office of Police Conduct Review, which in December declined to inspect his complaint due to the expiration of its 270-day review period, per city ordinance.

Edwards no longer represents Mohamed, who has quietly resumed his career. But the attorney says he's haunted by the way the case was handled, and the lack of remedial discipline for all involved in its prosecution.

In September 2013, a 37-year-old man named David Gerber called 911, saying that 6 to 10 Somali males were yelling in Somali, racking a shiny silver handgun, and chasing him around Gold Medal Park. Afraid they would shoot him, he ran to an emergency call box near the Guthrie. The suspects packed into a car and sped away as soon as he hit the button, Gerber said.

Minneapolis Police responded and quickly found three West African men leaving their car near the park. Officer Cherylleigh Goodman pulled her gun and placed the men under arrest, discovering a black gun in the glove compartment of the car. Police drove up a short while later with Gerber, shined their spotlight on the arrestees, and asked him to verify whether they were his assailants.

"Yeah that's one of the little prick fuckers right there," Gerber said, positively identifying each man in turn. He claimed to be "a hundred percent sure" that was their car.

The car was impounded, the gun confiscated, the three men booked into jail.

Later in court, Edwards argued that the "show-up identification" at the scene was possibly the most biased way to conduct a lineup, and that Officer Goodman detained the suspects in the "face of implausible facts."

Contrary to Gerber's original 911 call, there was the wrong number of people in the car, which was also headed the wrong direction in the street and had the wrong make, model, and color. Mohamed's gun, which he had legally purchased and was permitted to carry, was matte black instead of shiny silver.

And though Gerber claimed the men were shouting in Somali, all three supects came from different West African countries and spoke only English in common. Forensics eventually proved that Mohamed was the only one of the men who had ever handled the gun; the suspect Gerber identified as the one who carried it had no DNA match.

According to court transcripts, Officer Goodman testified that while she had no descriptions of age, height, weight, facial hair, or other identifying features when she arrested the three men, it was her intention that if she had "seen any Somali male anywhere within that vicinity [she would] just pull [her] gun out and stop them."

The case was dismissed in March 2014 when Gerber failed to show up in court. If Gerber had taken the stand, Edwards says he would have used Gerber's prior conviction for making false 911 calls to impugn him.

In the summer of 2012, Gerber had gotten kicked out of a Richfield apartment after getting into an argument with other residents. Once on the street, he called 911, saying he'd been threatened by individuals who entered the apartment building. The Richfield officer who responded doubted Gerber had actually been threatened because he couldn't describe any of the suspects, but helped retrieve Gerber's backpack from the unit he'd just left.

Ten minutes later, Gerber called 911 again and said a black man carrying a handgun walked toward the same apartment building. The officer checked the area, found nothing, and then sat down across the street, out of sight, where he could watch Gerber.

Soon enough Gerber called 911 yet again, claiming to be inside the apartment, listening to a fight. The officer confronted Gerber, who admitted to wanting to retaliate against the people who kicked him out. He was cited for making false emergency calls and sentenced to 10 days in the county workhouse, stayed for one year as long as he didn't do it again.

Though Mohamed's case was dismissed, he still felt the reverberations of his charges for years afterward. In 2015 he applied for a job at ABC Childcare Center, but received a letter from the Department of Human Services permanently disqualifying him from working with children because of the criminal complaint.

An appeal was unsuccessful, so Edwards began to help Mohamed expunge his record. The county objected, arguing that it would be too complicated to redact all mentions of Mohamed's name from records involving three different defendants. A district court judge ultimately ruled in favor of Mohamed in 2016. The Department of Human Services finally renewed his license. 

The Minneapolis Police Department still has Mohammed's gun. Edwards' fee to petition its return would have been greater than the cost of replacing it.

This case happened because "one racist man made a prank phone call to a bunch of racist cops," Edwards says, and the county attorney's office let it proceed.

The Minneapolis Police Department did not respond for comment.