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St. Paul agrees to $210k settlement in lawsuit of woman who witnessed police shooting

Mara Gottfried

Mar 6, 2024

She was held in the back of a squad car for 3 hours

After St. Paul police officers fatally shot a woman’s neighbor, officers put her in the back of a squad car for three hours, though her lawsuit said she wasn’t accused of anything and she asked to leave.

The St. Paul City Council approved a $210,000 settlement Wednesday to Jill Mollner, which will end her lawsuit alleging the city and its officers violated her constitutional rights to be free from unlawful imprisonment.

In December, the City Council signed off on a $380,000 settlement to Cordale Handy’s fiancée, Markeeta Johnson-Blakney, in the same lawsuit.

Immediately after officers shot Handy, police “grabbed Markeeta Johnson-Blakney and Jill Mollner and forced them into the back seats of police cars,” their attorney, Paul Bosman, said in a Wednesday statement. “Jill and Markeeta were not criminals, just witnesses to a police shooting. Despite their requests to leave, St. Paul Police held Jill and Markeeta incommunicado against their will for the rest of the night.”

With the city agreeing to pay $590,000 in total to the two women, “we hope that SPPD will start to show respect for the basic civil rights of the people of St Paul,” Bosman said.

St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said they settled Mollner’s lawsuit “to avoid the costs and unpredictability of continued litigation.”

“The city remains dedicated to protecting the rights of all persons through respectful service,” she said in a statement.

Civil jury found officer wrongfully caused death
On March 15, 2017, St. Paul officers responded to a 911 call about Cordale Handy, 29, in Dayton’s Bluff. Officers Nathaniel Younce and Mikko Norman reported they saw Handy fall down backward, lower a gun and raise it briefly toward Norman. The officers said Handy raised the gun toward Norman a second time and they both shot him.

The officers were not criminally charged. Handy’s mother, Kimberly Handy-Jones, filed a federal lawsuit and it went to civil trial last year. A jury found that Younce, who fired just before Norman, violated Handy’s constitutional rights by using excessive force and that he wrongfully caused Handy’s death. They did not find Norman civilly liable.

The jury awarded $1.5 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages. Last month, a federal judge reduced the compensatory damages to $2.5 million. Handy-Jones’ mother has until March 15 to decide whether to accept the new award or seek a new civil trial focused only on compensatory damages.

Lawsuit: Officers wouldn’t let woman leave squad
When the officers responded to the apartment building where Mollner, Handy and Johnson-Blakney lived, they spoke briefly with the two women. Johnson-Blakney told them Handy’s gun was broken.

Younce and Norman didn’t know before they shot Handy that he’d fired 16 gunshots at a couch in his apartment. Handy, who had taken a stimulant drug, was seeing people who weren’t there and thought they were hiding in the apartment, Johnson-Blakney testified during the civil trial. Handy wanted help, a Handy-Jones attorney said.

“A citizen calling for help should not have to pay the price I’ve had to pay,” Mollner said in a Wednesday statement. “Likewise, those we trust to protect and serve us should not have stolen the life of Cordale Handy, the young man who needed their help and protection that morning.”

Mollner and Johnson-Blakney followed the officers outside and witnessed them shoot Handy about 2:20 a.m.

Another officer arrived and police put Mollner in the back of a squad at 2:29 a.m., squad video showed. The back doors of squad cars cannot be opened from the inside.

Mollner was “dressed in a flimsy robe,” her lawsuit said. She asked an officer at 2:35 a.m. to allow her to go to her apartment to get a tampon; he said she could not.

Another officer told her at 2:36 a.m. she had to go downtown to make a statement. He returned at 2:38 a.m. and offered to go to her apartment to get clothes, saying she couldn’t go with him or have her cell phone.

The officer returned at 2:44 a.m. with clothing and a tampon. She was “forced to change and put in a tampon in the back of a squad car,” the lawsuit continued.

Video from the squad showed Mollner “weeping and rocking” as Handy’s body was in the street outside. Mollner asked an officer to cover his body. He told her he couldn’t but offered to move her to his squad car around the corner, and he did.

Another squad camera showed Mollner exited a squad at St. Paul police headquarters at 5:20 a.m. She appeared on a camera in an interview room at 6:07 a.m. and left the room at 6:49 a.m.

Past lawsuits
St. Paul spent nearly $1.5 million in settlements or judgments involving the police department last year, not including the settlement to Johnson-Blakney, according to city attorney’s office records. That compares to $17,500 in 2022; $70,000 in 2021; $121,000 in 2020; and $24,000 in 2019.

The largest amount in a year since 2013, not including the jury award in the Handy case, was a total of $2.3 million in 2017, the records show.

Olson, the St. Paul city attorney, noted that no lawsuits arose from police actions with protesters in St. Paul after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. Minneapolis has settled lawsuits arising from the protests, including one alleging journalists were subject to police harassment and hurt while covering protests and another from a St. Paul man who said police shot him with a marking round and beat him.

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