Lt. Mike Sauro’s 1994 police misconduct civil trial was a big deal in Minneapolis. I was a courtroom artist for the CBS affiliate, WCCO-TV, in the ’90s, and I was there for much of it.
I strongly encourage those are interested in the Minneapolis police department and its history of misconduct and brutality trials to read this report by Human Rights Watch. It details events in Sauro’s tenure as well as other cases brought against the department. Sauro was involved in multiple cases; I only covered the police misconduct civil lawsuit filed by Craig Mische. The drawing of Sauro above is from that.
The jury found the city liable for “maintaining a custom of deliberate indifference to complaints about excessive force in the department.”
Above, Craig Mische, seated with his attorney.
Mische was awarded 750K in compensatory and punitive damages for the battering he received. He looked a little like Robert Chambers, which bothered me as he was clearly the victim in this case. I think I captured his emotions well despite it.
I also recommend this recent article in Minnesota Reformer about how Minneapolis has historically protected its cops who are involved in police brutality cases.
I logged thousands of hours in the Hennepin County courthouse, listening to testimony, attorneys and expert witnesses.
The juries, judges and courtroom officers in the Minneapolis courts were virtually all white, in the ’90s.
It was obviously a terrifying and grossly injust place to be for BIPOC and particularly Black people. Even the stenographers and us four courtroom artists for the tv stations were all white.
I tried to draw the way the atmosphere of white supremacy in the courtroom harmed and othered Black people.
I was always aware of the “Minnesota Whiteness” in my drawings; I didn’t know enough to do anything except try to represent it, then.
I think this drawing of a teenager the state wanted to try as an adult is probably the truest thing I ever made in the courtroom.
I wasn’t supposed to be editorial, or political, but of course I was, where I could be. The reporter I was working with on a given day sometimes asked me to draw particular people, so my editorial powers were limited.
Win or lose, defense attorneys wanted to buy my drawings of them, as did expert witnesses and police forensic specialists and out-of-town Federal prosecutors and NFL players called to the stand in an anti-trust trial. But not Sauro.
I have never been good at concealing dislike, which is probably why Mike Sauro wasn’t interested in buying his drawing!
So I still have it, and was able to find it, at this moment when it is part of the throughline of police brutality in Minneapolis and a cop culture that doesn’t seem to have ever changed. But maybe it’s time, and maybe there can be a reckoning, finally.
I desperately hope there will be justice for George Floyd.
Unicorn Riot has very good on-the-ground Minneapolis police coverage and is where I will be following the events in the Twin Cities over the next weeks.
I’ll try and get some more of these courtroom drawings photographed soon. I didn’t have a camera in those days, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape.
I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.
Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.