Fargo police didn't know ex-deputy chief went undercover during protest, probe finds
FARGO — Fargo police say no one gave former Deputy Chief Todd Osmundson permission to work undercover during a protest that turned violent last month, but an internal investigation suggests the police chief and others in the agency knew he was among protesters and passed along intel about rioters.
Osmundson, then a deputy chief with 31 years of experience as an officer, walked through a crowd of protesters May 30 in downtown in plain clothes and “created significant risk to the public, himself and other officers," according to a 23-page report made public Wednesday, June 17, summarizing the internal investigation's findings.
After news stories broke about concerns that officers had regarding Osmundson's decision to go undercover without permission, he was put on a week of unpaid suspension.
Osmundson admitted to yelling profanities at officers and among protesters, including "f*** the cops," the report said. He also admitted to drinking while undercover. He ultimately resigned on June 4.
“We had no idea that he considered himself to be on duty and operating in an undercover type of status,” Police Chief David Todd told The Forum Wednesday in an interview that included Mayor Tim Mahoney. “That is something he chose to do on his own.”
No other officers or police staff went undercover during the protest without permission, Mahoney said. Officers who were involved with handling the protest-turned-riot acted appropriately for the circumstances, the mayor said.
“Under those circumstances, you almost would think one police officer would just lose it,” Mahoney said, adding that officers were very disciplined during the riots. “That was a tough night for a lot of people.”
Todd did not review the internal investigation. That was left up to Mahoney and city staff. There likely won’t be further investigations or disciplinary actions against officers who worked May 30, the mayor said.
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Embedded 'with tough crowds'
Members of the Fargo Police Department interviewed by investigators said they weren't aware that Osmundson was undercover. However, several police employees received messages from Osmundson that placed him in downtown during the rioting.
According to the report:
Osmundson sent a number of text messages to police spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker about the crowd downtown and his position, including one at 6:29 p.m. that said he was embedded "with tough crowds" downtown.
Officers were under the impression that Osmundson was supposed to help Schindeldecker send information to the public about the protest. As protesters were headed to police headquarters at 25th Street North and First Avenue North earlier in the day, Osmundson told Schindeldecker he was going to try to join the protest.
She asked him to grab a camera to take photos, which he did. Instead of adhering to his assigned work as a public information officer, he decided to go undercover, an assignment that he was not fit for, according to an unnamed undercover officer in the report.
Osmundson also sent two text messages to Chief Todd, including one about the size of a group at a parking ramp. The second text showed a photo of a protester carrying a maul or large hammer.
Todd said he didn't have time to pay attention to the texts. He noted that Osmundson frequented downtown.
Todd told The Forum he initially thought Osmundson was at home with family that afternoon. Then he learned from Deputy Chief Joseph Anderson, who also said he received text messages from Osmundson, that he spotted Osmundson in the crowd in plain clothes about 3:30 p.m.
“That was not uncommon to hear about Deputy Chief Osmundson,” Todd said of the officer being downtown. “His passion is the downtown area. … I didn’t think much of that.”
Todd asked Anderson if Osmundson should be pulled from the crowd, but Anderson said he didn't feel comfortable doing that since people were throwing water bottles at that time, the report said.
Responding to the protest was challenging since demonstrators deviated from initial plans, Todd said. He said protesters weren’t supposed to march toward police headquarters and to other parts of the city.
On top of that, Todd noted that the mayor and governor were hanging over his shoulders.
Osmundson and Schindeldecker declined to comment for this story. When asked why Schindeldecker and others didn’t question Osmundson’s actions or bring up concerns about him, Todd said Schindeldecker, who is not a law enforcement officer, would have no understanding of what Osmundson had been authorized to do.
“She’s just receiving some information from a superior several levels above her and acknowledging that information,” he said.
Todd said in the report that he gives his deputies "quite a bit of latitude" to run divisions but expects them to communicate with him about those decisions.
All other police employees followed a specific plan when responding to the protest, Todd said.
OneFargo and Black Lives Matter organizers have called for an independent investigation into how police handled the protest, including the events surrounding Osmundson’s actions. The groups also have criticized Chief Todd, claiming he and his department have taken an “us versus them” mentality toward protesters.
The Forum reached out to several OneFargo organizers but did not hear back from them by publication time.
Osmundson's actions "eroded some of the positive steps this department and city have taken to make this community great," the report said. He got carried away and has adequately been disciplined, Mahoney said.
The mayor said the city and police will work to rebuild that trust.
“I would ask our community, look at our last 5 ½ years of work and judge us based on that,” Todd said. “Take the totality of everything and judge our police department on that.”
Watch a replay of the interview below.