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Judge cites death of black men in refusing to dismiss lawsuit against Rochester police officer

It all began with a barking dog complaint.

Posted: Jul 1, 2020 7:48 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A federal judge makes pointed comments about race as he refused to dismiss a lawsuit against a Rochester police officer.

Michael Vernio and Kelli Gendron are suing Officer Samuel Higgins over an incident on August 19, 2019, that was captured on Officer Higgins’ body camera. In court filings, both sides almost entirely agree on what happened.

Officer Higgins was investigating a complaint about barking dogs when he walked up the driveway of Vernio and Gendron’s home, around a parked truck, and to the garage where Gendron was sitting. Officer Higgins asked Gendron if the dogs belonged to her. As they talked, Vernio came out of the home and joined the conversation.

At one point, according to court documents filed by both sides, Vernio wondered aloud why his neighbors had called police about the dogs barking instead of just talking to him and Officer Higgins responded with, “you have to understand, you’re a very loud boisterous black man.”

Vernio then said Officer Higgins was “a white man with a gun, and I’m afraid, to which Higgins replied “and you haven’t been shot yet.” Officer Higgins says Vernio then replied in a joking manner “I’ve got a witness, that’s why,” began to laugh and said “I’m just givin’ you…I’m just playin.”

In December 2019, Vernio and Gendron filed a lawsuit accusing Officer Higgins of violating their 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and claimed to have suffered “mental and emotional pain, short- and long-term emotional injury, unlawful search, dignitary harm, discomfort, embarrassment, humiliation, fear, anxiety, apprehension, sleeplessness, a generally diminished sense of personal and family safety, increased fear of law enforcement” and more.

Officer Higgins filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank has now denied that motion and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. In his denial, Judge Frank citied the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and George Floyd in Minneapolis and stated that Officer Higgins comments were “in the worst-case scenario, outright racist remarks” and are “entirely contrary to the constitutional promise of equal justice under law in the United States of America to which every citizen is entitled.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 612701

Reported Deaths: 7761
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1270801803
Ramsey53350911
Dakota47466477
Anoka43482465
Washington27810296
Stearns22764227
St. Louis18353320
Scott17763139
Wright16615153
Olmsted13587104
Sherburne1218596
Carver1080349
Clay830792
Rice8300112
Blue Earth772844
Crow Wing691799
Kandiyohi673185
Chisago629955
Otter Tail592687
Benton588298
Goodhue487674
Douglas480881
Mower478834
Winona466452
Itasca463968
Isanti447567
McLeod436661
Morrison429562
Beltrami411863
Nobles411750
Steele401819
Polk391372
Becker390057
Lyon366454
Carlton357158
Freeborn353634
Pine338123
Nicollet335145
Mille Lacs316856
Brown309340
Le Sueur301228
Todd289633
Cass289133
Meeker267644
Waseca241823
Martin237633
Roseau212921
Wabasha20883
Hubbard198941
Dodge19173
Renville184246
Redwood178941
Houston176516
Cottonwood168224
Wadena165323
Fillmore160510
Faribault157820
Chippewa154438
Pennington154120
Kanabec148128
Sibley147710
Aitkin140237
Watonwan13629
Rock129919
Jackson123212
Pipestone117326
Yellow Medicine115620
Pope11416
Murray107710
Swift107718
Koochiching96919
Stevens92711
Clearwater89517
Marshall89017
Lake85121
Wilkin84613
Lac qui Parle76222
Big Stone6134
Grant5958
Lincoln5873
Mahnomen5669
Norman5519
Kittson49222
Unassigned49093
Red Lake4037
Traverse3835
Lake of the Woods3504
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 376815

Reported Deaths: 6122
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk59215646
Linn21567342
Scott20530250
Black Hawk16850320
Woodbury15378230
Johnson1479586
Dubuque13627215
Dallas1150699
Pottawattamie11393177
Story1092548
Warren594392
Clinton565894
Cerro Gordo564898
Webster546397
Sioux520574
Muscatine4956106
Marshall493679
Des Moines481776
Jasper454273
Wapello4402124
Buena Vista432340
Plymouth405782
Lee396958
Marion372378
Henry301737
Jones301357
Bremer294663
Carroll287252
Boone273735
Crawford273541
Benton264255
Washington261051
Dickinson251145
Mahaska235151
Jackson225943
Kossuth222166
Clay217927
Tama213872
Delaware213343
Winneshiek201337
Buchanan197834
Page195722
Cedar194323
Hardin192544
Wright191240
Hamilton189251
Fayette188943
Harrison182873
Clayton173258
Butler169135
Madison168019
Floyd165242
Mills164724
Cherokee162238
Lyon161241
Poweshiek159836
Allamakee156452
Hancock154034
Iowa149124
Winnebago147031
Calhoun144813
Cass142155
Grundy139733
Emmet137341
Jefferson135535
Sac133320
Shelby132238
Louisa130749
Union129535
Franklin129223
Appanoose128749
Mitchell127343
Chickasaw126017
Humboldt126026
Guthrie125332
Palo Alto115224
Montgomery106938
Howard105522
Clarke102624
Monroe101533
Keokuk100432
Ida93735
Adair90132
Davis88525
Pocahontas87022
Monona86731
Greene80011
Osceola79517
Lucas78323
Worth7648
Taylor67112
Decatur6649
Fremont64910
Van Buren57318
Ringgold57124
Wayne56623
Audubon53613
Adams3504
Unassigned80
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