Minneapolis prosecutors called defendant 'liberal freak,' joked about punching him

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Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

On January 20, 2016, City Pages published a story about the arrest and prosecution of Jordan Kushner. 

As a veteran first-hand observer of protests, Kushner's been arrested before; this one was related to an incident at the University of Minnesota, where Kushner had started filming the arrest and removal of people protesting an invited speaker.

Kushner's prior arrests usually quickly came to nothing. This time, the city of Minneapolis was pushing forward with three charges -- disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, and trespassing -- while police continued interviewing witnesses to the incident. Kushner didn't know why his case was being treated so seriously, but theorized it might be motivated by his past run-ins with the city.

The story was noticed by the Minneapolis City Attorney's office, including Sarah Becker, who was handling the case against Kushner. "About what you'd expect," Becker wrote in an email to colleagues. "[Kushner]'s a victim." 

About 20 minutes later, Mary Ellen Heng, Becker's superior and the deputy city attorney, wrote back: "Yes he is. Poor Jordan."

It's among several "interesting" emails from the City Attorney's office Kushner has obtained through a records request filed last year, after the curious case against him was finally dropped. Kushner was preparing to file a lawsuit against University of Minnesota Police Department, which was responsible for his arrest, and wanted to check if any prosecutor emails revealed useful information. 

The city was not keen on releasing its emails, and fought Kushner for months. The volume of communications at stake surprised Kushner, given how minor his incident seemed: The attorney's office had sent 500-some emails about Kushner's case, and was seeking to protect almost all of them from being released to him.

The office claimed many of those could not be made public because they were privileged "work-product" materials, meaning their release would expose how the city had conducted its legal strategy against Kushner. Such information is protected under American law.

But that definition rarely covers emails like the ones Kushner would later obtain, following a judge's order that came down in late September. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson poked holes in the city's claim: The communications the city sought to protect might be "embarrassing and ill-considered," Nelson wrote, but "simply do not reflect legal strategies and opinions about the City's case [against Kushner]." 

Indeed, Nelson observed many of the documents the city wanted declared "privileged" contained "personal comments" about Kushner, including the assertion that he is a "liberal freak," "malicious," and "egotistical."

In one email, deputy city attorney Heng was fielding written questions from Star Tribune reporter Randy Furst, who, citing Kushner, asked if the attorney's office had issue with Kushner for opposing the reappointment of City Attorney Susan Segal. Heng forwarded the email to Becker, the prosecutor, and wrote that the situation was "really starting to tick me off."

Becker replied:

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"I don't know either," Heng wrote back, saying Kushner "gets under my skin when he acts like this," and adding there was "no accountability for his actions... at all." 

Those emails were exchanged February 3. By the following day, Becker was evidently still frustrated with Kushner: In a text message to another city prosecutor, Becker wrote: "By the end of this, I'll be on trial for punching Jordan in the face."

This did not come to pass. Instead, in April, the city dismissed the charges against Kushner, with Segal saying the charges would be dropped "to allow my prosecutors to focus on higher priority matters."

Asked about some of the claims made about Kushner, and the joke about punching a defendant in the face, Segal sent City Pages the following statement: 

"The standard in our office is for the highest level of professionalism at all times, even in internal emails. We have reinforced this standard within our office. We know that from time to time inappropriate comments are directed at our prosecutors by opposing counsel or others. That is no excuse."

To Kushner, the emails he obtained reveal the vindictive side of at least some prosecutors, a trait they rarely reveal to the public.

"What you see here is, there’s a contempt for people they prosecute," Kushner says. "These prosecutors aren’t unique. They justify themselves by looking at the people they prosecute as scum."

Kushner continued: "Prosecutors are used to getting the benefit of the doubt when a defendant criticizes the prosecution and says, 'This is unfair.' I got listened to more. The judge, frankly, gave me some credibility, and the story got out in the press and embarrassed them. Some of the stuff they did is pretty common, but they're used to not being scrutinized. And they got pretty upset."


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