The city of Rochester is paying its first female police lieutenant $1 million to settle a dispute about allegations that she is biased against white officers and her counter claim that the case against her is due to bias within the department.

The city council voted without public comment Monday night to pay $1 million to Lt. Eli Umpierre. She will receive her final Rochester Police Department paycheck on Oct. 6, exactly one year after she was placed on leave.

After almost 25 years on the job, Umpierre's estimated salary for 2017 was $115,000. The $1 million settlement, according to Umpierre, is to cover her loss of five years of salary and contributions to her pension. She will retain her pension.

The city's legal representatives were not available for comment this morning. 

Umpierre said her attorneys told her she could take her case to trial, but that would have taken about three years to resolve. She chose to settle now with the hope of bringing the issues to light.

"This has never been about the money. I want it to be a statement of wrong-doing," she said. "I wanted the freedom to talk. The department needs to change. The city needs to change. They need to change now, not in three years."

The core of the department's case against Umpierre was an internal complaint filed in September 2016 about two comments she made on other people's Facebook posts.

The complaint was attributed to "Department staff members" and it was received by Chief Roger Peterson on Sept. 30, 2016. It alleged that the two comments by Umpierre were evidence of misconduct that included prejudicial bias, inappropriate demeanor, encouraging unlawful behavior, policy violation, incompetence and unprofessional conduct.

"While Lt. Umpierre certainly has the right to express her opinion regarding social and political concerns, that expression is not exempt from department rules and regulations," the complaint says. "When the expression of personal opinions impairs the ability of an individual to effectively perform their job and/or undermines the mission of the police department, we are obligated to address those issues."

One of the comments was made on a post about a controversial police shooting of a minority suspect elsewhere in the country. Her comment said, "None of this is going to change AT ALL until white cops finally say it needs to change. How (expletive) up is that???!!!"

The police department alleges her comment about "white male cops" reveals a bias and impairs her ability to perform her job as a police supervisor.

Umpierre said that's not accurate and she could have explained her meaning, if her supervisors had asked about the comment.

"My statement is not written in any manner to disparage white male police officers. Rather, my statement is meant to address the need for reform regarding when police officers are allowed to use deadly force against subjects; a need that our own police chief, Roger Peterson, has addressed publicly," she said in a written response. "The only reason white male police officers were referenced in my post is because they make up approximately 60 percent of all police officers in the country, with even higher percentages in command and leadership positions."

The other comment was on a post about how dogs were reportedly being used to attack people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Umpierre wrote on Sept. 4, 2016, "Why isn't this all over the news? History shows, sometimes laws have to be challenged and broken for the good of the masses. I stand with history on the side of the protesters!!!!!"

The department points to this statement as inciting people to break the law, but Umpierre contests that.

"As our nation’s proud history has shown, peaceful civil disobedience in certain circumstances has played an important role in protecting our democracy and helping the country to make real the principles we embrace together under the constitution and related laws. In fact, Chief Peterson has marched in uniform down the streets of Rochester in support of Rochester’s Black Lives Matter group while the group has been actively protesting against police brutality," Umpierre wrote in response. "My post also does not say that protesters should violate the law. In addition, my post does not say anything to incite violence. Rather, my post speaks against the violence shown to have been committed against the peaceful protesters."

Umpierre's attorney, Clayton Halunen of Halunen Law, called the city's response to her posts "really shameful."

"She was using her First Amendment right to speak out about things we should all be talking about," Halunen said this morning.

In November, the complaint against Umpierre was amended and expanded by outside investigator Michelle Soldo of Soldo Consulting to include charges that Umpierre urged officers to always arrest the man in domestic incidents involving a man and a woman and to not handcuff black suspects. She denies both claims. 

Umpierre, who joined the force in 1992 as its first full-time female officer, said she has never before been the subject of a complaint from the public or from inside the department. In her time on the force, Umpierre was awarded several commendations. She was given a positive job performance review in May 2016, her final one with the department.

The Rochester department also later added an allegation to the complaint that Umpierre filed what the department described as a false internal complaint of bias in June 2016 against three supervising officers. A letter by Peterson stated, "After being advised there was no basis for allegation, she continued to propagate the false narrative of bias in the selection process."

In response, Umpierre said she was legally required to pass along a suspicion voiced by a fellow officer that the three supervisors had overlooked a qualified internal job candidate because the candidate is a member of a protected group or minority. She believed an investigation might be needed.

After months on paid leave with no schedule for the complaints against her to be resolved, Umpierre filed her own complaint against the police department with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. She alleged that the case uncovers a deep vein of bias within Rochester law enforcement.

The decision to settle and not take the dispute to trial means the Department of Human Rights will forgo investigating Umpierre's counter complaints against the Rochester Police Department and the city.

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Business Reporter

Jeff has worked at newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editor, photographer and copy editor since 1992. He started at the Post Bulletin in 1999. Kiger is the PB's business reporter and writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street."

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