Members of the Minneapolis-area FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force monitored plans for the large Black Lives Matter protest last December at the Mall of America in the suburb of Bloomington, emailing each other with information about its scheduling. In an email obtained by The Intercept, St. Paul police officer David S. Langfellow told a Bloomington officer also on the task force that a “confidential human source”—an informant—had “just confirmed the MOA protest I was taking to you about today, for the 20th of DEC @ 1400 hours.” Langfellow sent a copy to FBI agent Jeffrey VanNest, the task force’s supervisor. The Intercept reported:
According to an FBI spokesman, Langfellow’s Confidential Human Source was “a tipster with whom Mr. Langfellow is familiar” who contacted him “after the tipster had discovered some information while on Facebook” that “some individuals may engage in vandalism” at the Mall of America protest. Upon receiving the email, Bloomington police officer and task force member Benjamin Mansur forwarded it to Bloomington’s then-deputy police chief Rick Hart, adding “Looks like it’s going to be the 20th…” It was then forwarded to all Bloomington police command staff. There is no mention of potential vandalism anywhere in the email chain, and no vandalism occurred at the Mall of America protest. The FBI spokesman emphasized that “As for any ‘FBI interest’ in the Black Lives Matter campaign, the FBI had (has) none,” and “makes certain its operational mandates do not interfere with activities protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” The spokesman acknowledged that vandalism does not fall under the Memorandum of Understanding establishing the parameters under which local police officers are detailed to Joint Terrorism Task Forces and the task force mission of “prevention, preemption, deference and investigation of terrorist acts.” Asked why VanNest, the Joint Terrorism Task Force supervisor, was CC’d on Langfellow’s email, the spokesman responded “I don’t know” but speculated it was “as a matter of courtesy.”
This wouldn’t be the first time Langfellow was involved in politicized policing. In 2008, just before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, he led a raid on the home of local activists. The city settled a civil-rights lawsuit for $50,000. Earlier in the week, 11 people pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the Dec. 20 mall protest, including disorderly conduct and aiding and abetting trespassing. More than 200 people rallied outside the Hennepin County courthouse in the suburb of Edina to support them. The city of Bloomington and the Mall of America are seeking $65,000 in restitution from each of the defendants for alleged security costs, defense attorney Jordan Kushner told The Intercept. Black Lives Matter accused Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson and Mall of America corporate counsel Kathleen Allen of “disturbing levels of coordination,” based on emails between the two it obtained through a public-records request. On Dec. 22, two days after the protest, Allen wrote to Johnson to discuss whether the mall should file a civil suit against the protesters.
“The bigger issue for me is pushing [MOA owners the Triple Five Group] to consider civil action,” she wrote. “I’m concerned that if these other charges don’t carry greater penalties than a trespass charge, we’ll be in the same position as last year.” “I agree that you need to have consequences, but MOA may wish to await the criminal charges,” Johnson responded. “It’s the prosecution’s job to be the enforcer and MOA needs to continue to put on a positive, safe face. The city’s prosecution team is taking this very seriously. I do not usually posture in the media, but I want to deter future criminal activity.” Allen’s response: “Agree—we would defer any civil action depending on how the criminal charges play out. I think there’s just a concern that this is our third year in a row and our efforts this year were ineffective in shutting it down.”
Johnson dismissed concerns about that interaction. These emails did not prove that the mall was influencing her prosecutorial decisions, she said in a statement given to the Fox affiliate KMSP-TV. She called the person who filed the public-data request for them “an apparent agent” of Black Lives Matter, and claimed she was simply giving a crime victim legal advice, reassuring the mall “that the City was taking the matter very seriously” and understood “that this was the third year in a row where protestors endangered the safety of their guests.” In another e-mail, Johnson asked mall officials to keep a record of the protesters’ social media. “The groups are very likely to take these sites down when they hear that we intend to prosecute them,” she wrote. She told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune March 9 that she was simply asking the mall to preserve evidence. The prosecutor also encouraged Allen to go after workers at the LUSH cosmetics store in the mall, who had chanted and put up signs supporting the protesters. Allen wanted them put under a restraining order for trespassing—on the property where they worked. Or as she phrased it, “whether we should also trespass the manager and/or employees who cooperated in the behavior.” (If crimes against the English language were illegal, using “trespass” as a verb to mean “prosecute someone for trespassing” would be a felony. As an editor, there are some trespasses I do not forgive.)
“The initial thought is that this would be a six (6) month trespass with a Restricted Access Permit allowing the employees to work during that time, but not be on the property outside of work hours,” Allen wrote. “We feel it’s important to reinforce with all staff that violations of the rules will not be tolerated. At the same time we recognize that there is risk involved that this may become a media story — and we don’t want to impede any actions by your office or divert attention away from charges against the main culprits (organizers and leaders).” “A 6 month trespass with access for work only might send a good message to all persons employed at MOA,” Johnson responded, later sending a message stating, “I am in agreement with a 6 mo trespass.”
“The problem has to do with the way the city attorney is using her discretion—on one hand claiming to be focused on the best interest of the people while on the other taking extraordinary steps on behalf of the largest mall in America, taking instructions from an outside organization and letting that play a role in her decision-making,” defendant Nekima Levy-Pounds, a law professor, said in a statement. “This political prosecution at the behest of the largest mall in the U.S. is a clear attempt to silence peaceful activists asserting the value of Black lives, which sets a dangerous precedent for democracy and free speech everywhere.”