A screenshot from a Minneapolis police bodycam video of the June 2019 incident. Habso Khalif, center, alleges two officers violated her rights.

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A Minneapolis woman is suing two local police officers and the city, alleging that police conducted an unlawful search of her and groped her during a traffic stop last summer.

Habso Khalif, 23, alleges that Minneapolis Police Department officers Scot Kaiser and Anthony Maisano violated her Fourth Amendment rights and discriminated against her based on her race and religion while they held her against the roof of a squad car and Kaiser searched her.

Habso also alleges that Kaiser touched her genital area over her clothing while he conducted the search. She is also suing both officers and the city for battery and false arrest and asking for punitive damages. 

Habso, who is Somali, was born and lived in Kenya and came to the U.S. with her family as refugees in 2007. They moved to Minneapolis in 2010. 

In an interview with Sahan Journal, Habso sometimes sobbed as she recalled the events of that night.

“I felt like not only were my rights taken away, but also my religion was taken away,” she said. 

Habso’s lawsuit, while centering around events from one year ago, comes just weeks after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a black man, sparked protests and upheaval across the nation. It also comes at a time when talk of “defunding the police” has gone mainstream, with a majority of Minneapolis City Council members pledging to do so to MPD.

Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder referred all questions about Habso’s allegations and lawsuit to the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, which declined to comment. 

Habso’s allegations revolve around a traffic stop that Kaiser and Maisano conducted the evening of June 18, 2019, in the city’s Stevens Square neighborhood on two others. Habso said the two people in the car were friends from work stopping by to pick up keys.

Habso said she left her house and approached her friends’ car with the keys in her hand to quickly hand them over. She said she did not initially notice the police car or its flashing lights as she approached her friends. The incident happened around 8:30 pm, while the sun was still out. 

“My daughter at the time was sleeping in my house and I had to get back to her quickly,” Habso said. 

In dashcam and bodycam videos of the incident obtained by Sahan Journal, Habso is seen wearing face cream and a tank top and open-front sweater that her lawsuit describes as casual clothes she would only wear at home. 

As Habso walked to her friends’ car, one of the officers on the video is heard telling her to “stay right there” and not to approach the vehicle. She is seen in the video stopping just feet away from the car and looking toward the officers, who then tell her to come over to them. 

Habso starts walking toward the squad car. As this happens, she and the officers get into an argument about why she was approaching the car. Habso is seen in the video holding up the keys in her right hand, and an officer identified in the lawsuit as Kaiser grabs for them. Habso pulls her hand back, preventing Kaiser from obtaining them.

“First of all, these are in my hand,” she is heard saying on Kaiser’s bodycam video. 

“OK,” Kaiser responds while grabbing her left wrist and placing his right hand on her back shoulder. “Come over here and put your hands on the car.”

“Why?” Habso says. “What did I do?”

Kaiser grabs the keys and tosses them on the hood of the squad car out of her reach. 

Soon, both officers are seen on the video holding Habso’s wrists spread out on the roof of their squad car. Kaiser’s right hand is on her shoulder. Habso is heard on the video objecting to an officer that the lawsuit identifies as Maisano about the way he’s holding her against the squad car. 

Habso complains that Kaiser is pressing her knee against the car, which she tells the officers that she recently injured in a game of soccer. She asks Maisano if Kaiser will stop holding her against the car, and tells them she is complying with their orders. 

“When my partner asked you to not approach the car, you just stood there dumbfounded,” Maisano is heard telling her at one point. 

During Habso’s exchange with Maisano, Kaiser asks her if she has any weapons on her. 

“No, I don’t have any weapons on me,” Habso replies as Kaiser simultaneously begins to search her. 

As Kaiser conducts the search, Habso immediately accuses him of touching her in her private area. 

“You don’t have to touch me like that,” Habso says in a distressed tone. “I’m Muslim. You don’t have to touch me like that.”

“I don’t care what religion you think you are,” Kaiser is heard on the video responding. 

The pat-down appears to last for just under 10 seconds in the video. It isn’t clear in the video where Kaiser is touching Habso during most of the pat-down, as his body camera is pointed away for much of the time. At one point during the search, the video shows his right hand on Habso’s back waistline. But during and after the patdown, Habso is heard accusing Kaiser seven times of touching her in her private area. 

Both Kaiser and Maisano are heard denying Habso’s allegation during a heated exchange with her. 

“Your hand did not go to my private part? Are you serious right now?” Habso says at one point.

“No,” Kaiser responds. “What’s your private part? You tell me.” 

Eventually, Kaiser and Maisano agree to release her as long as she walks away from the scene. As she walks back to her home, she’s heard in the video telling a bystander who watched the scene play out that the officer “just put his hand on my private parts, literally.” 

Later in the bodycam video, Kaiser talks about the incident with another officer. 

“Checking her waistlines for weapons because she’s all, you know,” Kaiser says. “Well then it becomes, ‘You touched my private parts. I’m Muslim, you can’t touch me.’ I’m really not sure it works that way.” 

The video shows officers eventually giving the driver of the car they pulled over citations for driving without a license and illegal parking. They eventually tow the car. 

Zorislav Leyderman, the Minneapolis attorney who is representing Habso, said the main legal concern in the lawsuit is that Kaiser searched her without justification. 

“This was not some kind of a violent situation,” Leyderman said. “The officers did not have any fear that there was danger to them or anyone else.” 

Leyderman said he could not find an MPD incident report on the search or even the traffic stop, and that the officers never gave her a reason for the search. Police reports aren’t required for minor traffic violations, he said. 

Habso told Sahan Journal that the incident was demeaning and traumatizing to her and especially to her religious beliefs. 

“If a man is not married to you, he’s not allowed to touch you in a certain way,” she said. “And I feel like I’ve been touched that way.”

Habso said she’s since had nightmares about the incident and is still dealing with it today. 

“I have a little girl, and I was waiting to get remarried,” she said through tears. “And for him to do that, him to be the one that takes that away from me like that, it’s heartbreaking.”

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...