A Golden Valley Police Department officer was fired last August for allegedly violating the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and two workplace policies, according to a report made public by the city of Golden Valley Nov. 30.
The report found that the officer, identified as Investigator Kristen Hoefling, participated in “unauthorized disclosure of private personnel regarding at least 26 city employees to fellow employees, including supervisory staff, members of the public, and to media outlets.” In addition, the officer allegedly compiled information about a candidate for police chief in an attempt to “discredit” the applicant.
The report was researched and compiled by the law firm Greene Espel. The firm was hired by the Golden Valley City Council in March to investigate allegations of misconduct from eight police officers within the Golden Valley Police Department.
The firm recommended that the city terminate Hoefling’s employment July 28. The report lists Aug. 2 Hoefling’s last date of employment at GVPD.
According to the report, Hoefling also declined a mandatory interview with the firm about the investigation, which contributed to her termination.
The violations included recording and disseminating three internal staff meetings about policing issues and the City’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. Hoefling recorded the video on her personal phone and a video recorder by pointing it at an iPad that was streaming web meetings April 15 and May 13 of 2021.
In the third instance Nov. 18, 2021, she recorded an in-person meeting between members of the police department, City Manager Tim Cruikshank and Deputy City Manager Kirsten Santelices by hiding her phone “in a bag or purse.”
The report alleges that in all situations, no one but Hoefling was aware or gave consent to being recorded.
The report alleges that in these recordings, the employee is heard in multiple instances engaging in “offensive conduct and comments” that violated the Professional Conduct Policy and the city’s Respectful Workplace Policy. The comments included disparaging comments about the existence of systemic racism and statistics about the Black community.
In the recordings, Hoefling can be heard debating and ridiculing statistics on inequities, like the higher likelihood of Black women dying in childbirth.
In one example, Hoefling comments that Black Americans have a disparate amount of the nation’s wealth “because they don’t work,” and White Americans have more of the nation’s wealth “because they work.” Her comments were not heard by meeting members because she muted her microphone.
Hoefling stored one recording on a city server and encouraged fellow officers to review it. Other recordings were uploaded to a Dropbox folder entitled “secret” and shared with fellow staff and “at least one member of the public.”
Resistance to DEI work
The results of the investigation revealed a broader resistance by police officers to the city’s attempts to adopt police reform and DEI work.
The April and May meetings captured by Hoefling were organized in response to an unidentified police officer’s comments on the death of George Floyd. In a response to an email from an HR staff member about hosting “healing circles” events following the trial of Derek Chauvin, the disgruntled officer replied to all city staff that they disagreed that Floyd’s murder was “a murder, a killing, things to that effect” and that the issue was rather about “complying with simple instructions given by police.”
One of Hoefling’s videos displays personal text messages between herself and other officers on the iPad, in which at least one fellow officer confirms his plans to quit. Hoefling herself claims in the April recording that she plans to quit.
The department has experienced significant turnover in at least the past year. In June, Assistant Police Chief Alice White informed the Golden Valley City Council that the agency was 50% operational and nearing a “critical state” due to staff departures. She said staff was struggling to cover basic patrol shifts.
It also further details the circumstances surrounding the sudden withdrawal of candidate and then-interim Police Chief Scott Nadeau from the permanent police chief selection process in late February.
Shortly before Nadeau’s exit, Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris publicly alleged that the process had been “tainted” by members of the police department and others, called for an investigation, and endorsed candidate Virgil Green, who was ultimately selected for the job. Harris also mentioned the delivery of a letter by a law enforcement officer as a means of intimidation to a panel of people involved in the hiring process.
Harris later apologized for his comments.
Espel Greene’s report details Hoefling sending a 103-page document on various court records regarding a single applicant to city councilmembers, city staff and local media on March 2. The documents Hoefling researched were public information, but her actions were found to have violated policy and data practices as it was done in Hoefling’s capacity as a City employee in an attempt to “discredit” the candidate.
Hoefling herself had been involved with the chief hiring process in February. The report states she helped conduct interviews of candidates.
The report also alleges that Hoefling posted about the chief hiring process on community Facebook groups in October, 2021, under the pseudonym “Roni Macready,” though it is unclear what was posted as the remarks have since been deleted.
Other officers remain unidentified
Only the findings on Hoefling were released to the public, though only one investigated officer remains employed by GVPD. The report lists that the other seven officers (including Hoefling) have a final date of employment between July 21, 2021 to Sept. 16, 2022.
Hoefling is also the only officer of the eight to be subject to disciplinary action. Five officers were not considered for disciplinary action because they no longer worked for the department. The remaining two officers under investigation and still employed at the time of Hoefling’s termination were also not subject to discipline, though one ultimately ended their employment Sept. 16.
The allegations were brought forward by a city employee, who complained that certain officers were creating “a toxic work culture.” The name of the employee is redacted in the documents.
Recommendations for entire department
At the conclusion of its report, Greene Espel made recommendations to improve the culture of the Golden Valley Police Department as it continued to be introduced to the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work.
Primarily, the firm believed the city should “modify its approach to achieving its equity-in-policing goals.” The firm believed future work should focus on “developing data-driven goals” and avoid sessions that attempt to “persuade individuals who have already expressed a contrary belief” about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work.
The recommendation stems from research on the passage of same-sex marriage legalization.
“Policy changes themselves often drive significant shifts in opinions and behaviors, rather than the reverse,” the firm wrote.
The report reasoned that some of the city’s reform priorities, like hiring community service officers and enforcing fewer low-level offenses could be presented as a benefit to officers that reduces their workload.
The firm also recommended that the city conduct Data Practices Act, social media and respectful workplace training for all employees.
Copies of the report can be found at goldenvalleymn.gov/283/Police.