A message to Stephen Montemayor

The Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor has a story this morning on the highly competitive Minnesota attorney general contest pitting Keith Ellison against Doug Wardlow. Montemayor’s story is “Minn. attorney general race attacks continue as campaign counts down to finish.” I have emailed the following message to Steve this morning (I will immediately post any response received from him):

Steve: I am mystified by your story today. It is not apparent to me that you have any idea of the issues related to Keith Ellison’s involvement in supporting the murderers of Officer Haaf. I went into the archives to reconstruct Ellison’s involvement in 2006 and have written about it repeatedly over the years, most recently in the August [15] Weekly Standard column “Can Keith Ellison turn lawman?” Since [my original research in 2006] we also have Ellison’s 2014 memoir, My Country, ’Tis of Thee, but Ellison is almost entirely silent about the time and events involved here. Here is what I have found.

Officer Haaf was murdered in September 1992. Within two months police determined that Haaf’s murder was a gang hit performed by members of the Vice Lords gang. Sharif Willis was the leader of the Vice Lords and a convicted murderer who had been released from prison. He sought respectability from municipal authorities at the time as a supposedly responsible gang leader while operating a gang front called United for Peace.

The Vice Lords members who murdered Haaf met and planned the murder at Willis’s house. Despite the fact that two witnesses implicated Willis in the planning he was never charged because law enforcement authorities said they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.

At the time, Ellison was a Minneapolis attorney in private practice at Lindquist & Vennum. Within a month of Haaf’s murder, Ellison appeared with Willis supporting the United for Peace gang front. In October 1992, Ellison helped organize a demonstration against Minneapolis police that included United for Peace. “The main point of our rally is to support United for Peace [in its fight against] the campaign of slander the police federation has been waging,” said Ellison. Willis was the last speaker at the demonstration. According to a contemporaneous report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Willis told the crowd that Minneapolis police were experiencing the same fear from young black men that blacks had felt from police for many years. “If the police have some fear, I understand that fear,” Willis said. “We seem to have an overabundance of bad police. . . . [W]e’re going to get rid of them,” Willis said. “They’ve got to go.”

The Pioneer Press account concludes with Ellison’s contribution to the demonstration: “Ellison told the crowd that the police union is systematically frightening whites in order to get more police officers hired. That way, Ellison said, the union can increase its power base.”

Ellison publicly supported the Haaf murder defendants. In February 1993, he spoke at a demonstration for one of them during his trial. Ellison led the crowd assembled at the courthouse in a chant that was ominous in the context of Haaf’s cold-blooded murder: “We don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.”

Ellison’s working relationship with Sharif Willis finally came to an end in February 1995, when Willis was convicted in federal court on several counts of drug and gun-related crimes and sent back to prison for 20 years.

In your story this becomes: “Earlier this week, Ellison defended his representation of Sharif Willis while working at a legal aid clinic, and his support of the United for Peace coalition aimed at stopping gang violence. Some connected with the coalition were later implicated in Haaf’s murder.”

You quote Ellison: “As a matter of fact, he was never charged in that case and I never represented any defendants in that case. There was clearly a time in my life that I believed that gang intervention was important to reduce violence in our community. I still think kids who are caught up in gangs need positive alternatives.”

I think the most charitable explanation for your jumbled account is that you are unfamiliar with the facts. I could understand how that might be the case given the Star Tribune’s complete and utter failure ever to explore the relevant period of Ellison’s climb up the greasy pole in Minneapolis. Will you please let me know if you think I have anything wrong here, including my assessment of your knowledge of the relevant background (or lack thereof)?

Thanks as always for your courtesies and consideration.

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