NSRH21: Al Ditty Finale
In this edition of North Star Radio Hour, we conclude our investigative series examining the whistleblowing and tragic death of Alan Ditty. Al worked for the City of Minneapolis as a General Foreman in the sanitation department for 32 years before blowing the whistle on a Minneapolis Police Department plan to raid the protest encampment occupying the Fourth Precinct building in North Minneapolis. Al got nowhere pleading with his supervisors within his department and higher-up within the City. This dissent unsettled some within the MPD who bullied Al, allegedly including a Sergeant that was tasked with coordinating the sanitation worker component. This unnamed sergeant repeatedly swore at and bullied Al for daring to question the plan for the raid.
As his sister Sheila described, Al was in a state of near “panic” when he setup an anonymous AOL email account and sent the police plans to the KARE 11 tip-line. Notes collected by his family and his family members themselves attest that in his email to KARE 11 he requested anonymity and confidentiality — something he would not received from the station. Rita Hathaway, Managing Editor for KARE 11, forwarded his email (which is still almost entirely redacted) to Scott Seroka. Seroka was a KARE 11 reporter until he took a job with the MPD as a Public Information Officer.
[Al’s tip, which was identified using the timestamp and subject line which is unredacted on this page.]
Obviously upon receiving evidence of a leak regarding a politically hot developing situation, Seroka forwards that email up the MPD chain of command. Before midnight of the same night that Al tipped KARE 11, his email was received by the Chief of Police and the Strategic Information Center who quickly moved to identify the then unknown whistleblower. Five full days later, the MPD issued an administrative subpoena to AOL to identify Hunter321789@AOL.com. The timing creates a difficult problem for anyone wishing to explain away the MPD’s actions as simply being hasty and bumbling. Targeting a whistleblower with a subpoena is clearly outside of constitutional parameters.
According to Teresa Nelson of the ACLU of Minnesota, use of a subpoena in this way is not in accordance with the law. Al was never under criminal investigation, his troubles with the City amounted to an employment investigation. Furthermore, the use of ‘Obstruction of Legal Process’ to justify an administrative subpoena to compel AOL identify an email user, in this case is also bogus. Listen to this episode for more expert analysis on this story.
Months of email, phone, and social media queries to KARE 11 management proved fruitless. Rita Hathaway answered one of our calls, which you will hear in the episode, however she was evasive when it came to questions related to Al.
Similarly, requests for comment with the MPD nearly amounted to nothing. Reporting on this story, Sam had a door slammed in his face by MPD Public Information Officers but ran into those same PIOs later at City Hall. Listen to that encounter — the only official comments from the MPD on this matter — near the end of this episode. PIO Elder also erroneously claimed that a district court judge signed off on the subpoena in question. He later claimed this was simply a mistake but continued to reject questions and directed them to the County Attorney.
Al’s union appointed lawyer Laura Spartz was the subject of a great deal of frustration from the Ditty family. Continuously, Al’s attempts to move the arbitration process along through Laura went unheard, writing “I feel like a squirrel in a trap cage [going] through depression,” on January 28th, 2016. By February 22nd, Al was writing things to Laura such as, “I’m just so drained and depressed from all this… They just drag it on and on… I have not slept well for the last month… I’m sure they already know what [they’re] going to do… I need some closure.”
[The above post-it note was written by Sheila and says, “Laura told me she should have called Al this day as planned. She found out he was not terminated but being made an example of. If she would have called him as planned he would not took his life. Feels responsible.”]
Laura, in a phone call included in this broadcast, laid blame on former Mayor Betsy Hodges. When asked if she felt there the Mayor was involving herself Laura said, “I’m sure there was political pressure, I did my job for 32 years and I know what a predetermination is like when there is political pressure and when there is not. ” When Sam asked her directly if the Mayor was responsible for that political pressure, Laura answered, “I think so, there’s just some things you sense by the behavior of management… That’s part of the reason that our contract wasn’t abided by in terms of real investigation.”
Laura’s claim about non-investigation is corroborated by the fact that a data request through the City Clerk and elsewhere within Minneapolis government returned no responsive documents. If the City wants to claim that the process was slow because they were interviewing so many people involved, they surely could back that up by producing those investigative notes.
The City chose to redact all of their reasons for terminating Al however Laura’s notes and arguments were recovered and are available on Document Cloud for any researchers, journalists and anyone interested in pursuing justice for the Ditty family.
Currently, there are several other data requests still pending with the City and the MPD. North Star Post will update this story with any new information that arises.
Special thanks to Camille Fassett for her help prying the subpoena loose which is a truly key document to this investigation.
Listen to the full series here:
Select documents from this case:
Laura Spartz emails with Al and legal documents.