St. Paul officer apologizes for 'run them over' post
ST. PAUL - A St. Paul police sergeant issued a public apology Wednesday for a Facebook comment to "run them over" about an upcoming Black Lives Matter march, but the mayor and others said they continue to be outraged.
ST. PAUL – A St. Paul police sergeant issued a public apology Wednesday for a Facebook comment to "run them over" about an upcoming Black Lives Matter march, but the mayor and others said they continue to be outraged.
Sgt. Jeffrey Rothecker, who is on paid leave from the department and is the subject of an internal affairs investigation, said he is "extremely sorry" and understood "the post was insensitive and wrong."
"My poor choice of words conveyed a message I did not intend and am not proud of," Rothecker said in a statement. "Shortly after submitting the post, I reread it and deleted it. As a law enforcement officer, I would never intentionally encourage someone to commit a crime. I very much regret my actions."
Andrew Henderson, who reported Rothecker to the police department's internal affairs, said Wednesday he was shocked to hear Rothecker had apologized and "very glad he took ownership of his actions."
"But I'm still concerned he made the statement in the first place," said Henderson, who frequently videotapes officers at work because he says he wants them held accountable. "That's something an officer with that much experience should have known not to make. ... If he's having those kinds of thoughts, it could impact his policing abilities and fairness of investigations."
Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement Wednesday, "I continue to be outraged by the online comments. While an apology is certainly in order, it is not sufficient to repair the trust that has been broken. Beyond that, Minnesota law prevents me from talking about disciplinary action until any employee appeals period is over."
The case, which has received national attention, began after the Pioneer Press posted an article to the newspaper's Facebook page with the headline, "Black Lives Matter planning to rally at Lake Street bridge Monday" on Friday at 9:30 p.m. At about 1 a.m. Saturday, Henderson said he noticed a comment on the post from "JM Roth" that referred to protesters as "idiots" and detailed what drivers could do to avoid being charged with a crime if their vehicles struck someone during the unpermitted march. It appeared to have been posted about midnight.
Henderson notified the police department early Saturday when he saw the post. It's not clear when the Facebook comment was deleted, but Henderson said it was gone the next time he looked, which was about 11 a.m. Saturday. He filed an internal affairs complaint Sunday. He named Rothecker, saying he had previously found evidence that he was "JM Roth."
The police department said Wednesday that the internal affairs investigation remains active and it had no additional comment. In a statement Monday, the department said, "If it is determined that the comment was written by a member of the St. Paul Police Department, swift, strong and decisive disciplinary action will be taken."
Rothecker has not previously commented about the case. In the statement Wednesday, sent by the St. Paul police union, Rothecker said:
"I apologize to all the citizens of St. Paul, the department, my fellow law enforcement professionals and my family for the scornful attention my mistake has brought upon them.
"I apologize for exposing all law enforcement officers to increased scrutiny, during this difficult time of ongoing conflict between officers and members of the community.
"I apologize to the community members who participated peacefully in the protest."
Monday's protest went on as planned and blocked traffic for about 30 minutes on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge. The people who gathered were demanding justice for two men killed by police last year-one in St. Paul and the other in Minneapolis.
The Wednesday statement from the St. Paul Police Federation said Rothecker is an honorably discharged Army veteran and has served the city as a police officer for more than two decades, adding, "He has many supporters in the community and among his fellow officers."
"While the Federation does not agree with the content of this Facebook post and in no way endorses the behavior that the post seems to suggest, the Federation in fact represents Sgt. Rothecker and will ensure that he receives due process," the statement also said.
Black Lives Matter St. Paul said in a statement Tuesday that the post was "deplorable, dangerous and absolutely unacceptable" and that type of mind-set is what "leads to the unarmed killings of black women, men and children with impunity."
The group called for the police department to fire Rothecker and to issue a public apology.