Media Contact

Rachel Fergus,, 612-270-8531

June 25, 2024

The ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit on Friday, June 21, on behalf of Derrick Gilbert, who was unlawfully arrested by Willmar police in a classic case of “walking while Black.”  

Mr. Gilbert is a 39-year-old Black man who lives in Kandiyohi County. On the morning of June 22, 2022, Gilbert was walking to work wearing a sleeveless red hoodie with the hood up. Willmar Police Officer Christopher Flatten was driving his police car when he saw Gilbert. Despite not being able to see Gilbert’s face, Flatten assumed he was a different Black man named Sammy Price. He checked to see if Mr. Price had a warrant out for his arrest. 

But Price is seven years younger than Gilbert, four inches shorter, and at least 90 pounds heavier. Gilbert also has significantly darker skin than Price. And Flatten reported that he had multiple prior interactions with Price and thus knew what he looked like.  

When Flatten saw Gilbert again a short time later, this time walking towards him, the officer decided to arrest Gilbert for Sammy Price’s warrant despite their clear physical differences. 

Flatten parked his squad car – without the lights on so no dashcam video was created – and approached Gilbert from behind, calling him “Sammy.” Additionally, though he was required to turn on his body worn camera, Flatten “forgot” to do so.  

Gilbert turned and told Flatten that he was not “Sammy.” Flatten decided to harass Gilbert anyway. Despite knowing that Gilbert was not Price, Flatten continued following him and calling him “Sammy.” He even called for backup. 

A Kandiyohi Sheriff’s deputy arrived and a minute later, two men arrived in a grey pickup truck. They were not wearing any uniforms and the truck was not identifiable as a law enforcement vehicle. The truck jumped the sidewalk and within five seconds, Flatten and the other three men jumped Gilbert and pulled him in different directions, nearly dropping him on his face on the sidewalk.  

At no time did Gilbert deny any lawful order from Flatten or any other law enforcement official. During the attack, officers cut Gilbert’s backpack off, threatened to tase him, and handcuffed him. The handcuffs were put on improperly, causing Gilbert pain.   

Because Gilbert was not Price, Officer Flatten decided to arrest him for obstruction of the legal process instead. Specifically, Flatten reported that Gilbert had “clenched fists.” Under these facts, obstructing the legal process is a misdemeanor, for which arrest is unlawful. And yet, Gilbert was put under arrest and transported to Kandiyohi Jail, where he was booked for obstructing the legal process.  

All charges against Gilbert would later be dismissed, but due to Flatten’s false allegations, Gilbert had to face criminal proceedings, including several court appearances, for which he had to take time off work. It wasn’t until six months after Flatten harassed and unlawfully arrested Gilbert that prosecutors dismissed the charges against Gilbert.  

Gilbert filed a complaint against Flatten and the City of Willmar with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on June 15, 2023. In response, Defendants admitted that they updated their impartial policing policy but claimed that the facts are just an unfortunate reality of a Black man living in Willmar, callously stating that “Gilbert was also in the right place at the right time, that is, in the City of Willmar where Sammy resides.” Under their theory, any Black man between the ages of 22 and 38, 5’8” to 6’4” in height, and weighing 220 to 366 pounds walking in the City of Willmar would also be in the right place at the right time. 

“Sadly, what Mr. Gilbert went through isn’t uncommon for Black men in America,” said ACLU MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “Officer Flatten’s racist behavior—requiring Mr. Gilbert to identify himself with no legal justification—is grotesque and has no basis under Minnesota law. We hope that this lawsuit will make the Willmar police department change the way they operate and will result in some measure of justice for Mr. Gilbert.”  

The lawsuit claims Flatten and the City of Willmar violated Gilbert’s Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure and that they discriminated against Gilbert in violation of the Minnesota Constitution and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, in addition to other legal claims. It seeks money damages in excess of $50,000 and payment for attorney fees and costs.  

The ACLU of Minnesota is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights to defend, promote, and expand the rights of all Minnesotans through litigation, lobbying and community engagement.