Judging from thousands of comments on various news sites, a lot of people agree with the officer. The officer is a U.S. Army combat veteran.
St. Paul police have placed a sergeant on leave as they investigate a report that he posted on Facebook, “Run them over,” in response to an article about an upcoming Black Lives Matter protest.
The comment detailed what people could do to avoid being charged with a crime if they struck someone during the unpermitted march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which blocked traffic on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge.
Andrew Henderson, who frequently videotapes officers at work because he says he wants them to be held accountable, noticed the comment from “JM Roth” about 1 a.m. Saturday and immediately reported it to St. Paul police. He filed an internal affairs complaint Sunday, naming Sgt. Jeffrey M. Rothecker.
Rothecker could not be reached for comment Monday. The St. Paul Police Federation, the union for St. Paul officers, is representing Rothecker. Chris Wachtler, the union’s attorney, said in a statement Monday, “There is an investigation under way. We will let the process play out.
I can’t comment on an active investigation until it is complete.”
On Monday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman issued a statement saying he is “outraged and disgusted by the post and (I) have directed the SPPD to investigate.”
A few of the comments from readers on various news sites.
“Chief Smith and I are committed to building strong, trusting relationships with the communities we serve,” Coleman continued. “There is no room in the St. Paul Police Department for employees who threaten members of the public.
If the allegation is true, we will take the strongest possible action allowed under law.”
At 9:30 p.m. Friday, 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.”
One comment on the post from “JM Roth” said, “Run them over. Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street. Here is the deal, you continue to drive and if you hit someone make sure you call 911 to report the accident and meet the cops a block or two away and you can justify stopping further away because you feared for your safety since in the past people in this group has shown a propensity towards violence. Since they are trying to block the street and/or cross where there is no crossing you should not be charged with anything. Now, these idiots could try and sue in civil court, but remember that it will be jury trial and so most likely it will come out in your favor.”
The comment has since been deleted, but Henderson captured it in a screenshot. Roth’s Facebook page, which didn’t include a mention of its owner’s full name, was changed over the weekend to not be visible publicly.
Henderson, who is an administrator on the Minnesota Cop Block Facebook page, said he’s familiar with Roth because that person frequently comments on Cop Block posts.
Henderson said he found evidence that “JM Roth” is Rothecker, which he provided to internal affairs, including that a woman whose last name is Rothecker had indicated on Facebook that she’s married to “JM Roth.” State records show a woman with that name is married to a Jeffrey M. Rothecker.
The head of the internal affairs unit, Senior Cmdr. Shari Gray, contacted Henderson after his initial report Saturday and they met Sunday. Henderson filmed the meeting with Gray and Sgt. John Wuorinen, an internal affairs investigator, and posted the video online Monday.
Henderson told them that when he saw the comment from “JM Roth,” he thought, “You know, a police officer shouldn’t be advising people to run over other people for just standing in the road. That’s not reasonable to me. I don’t know if that’s reasonable to you.’ ”
Wuorinen responded, “It wouldn’t be reasonable to, I would think any person, any decent person.”
Police Chief Thomas Smith was informed of the allegation on Saturday, Gray said.
“This was of grave concern because of the upcoming event and we want to make sure everybody’s safe,” Gray said. “If we needed to change tactics or operational security on the event, we needed to do it. And then, two, make sure that if indeed this was one of our officers, that it’s addressed quickly.”
The police department said in a statement Monday that it has an active investigation underway and, if it’s determined a member of the police department wrote the comment, “swift, strong and decisive disciplinary action will be taken.”
“The statement (posted) is offensive, disappointing, concerning and does not reflect in any way — or align with — the views, values and practices of the St. Paul Police Department,” the department said.
Trahern Crews, a Black Lives Matter St. Paul leader, said that before Monday’s march, he and others were telling participants to be aware of their surroundings.
Crews said he found it disturbing and frightening that an officer would allegedly be “teaching people how to break the law or basically harm protesters. … We’re hoping nobody’s going to do anything like that, but it’s happened before.”
In November 2014, a St. Paul man’s car struck a 16-year-old protesting outside a police station on Minneapolis’ Lake Street over a Missouri grand jury decision not to charge a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in Michael Brown’s shooting. The 41-year-old pleaded guilty to failure to yield to a pedestrian; the teen suffered a minor leg injury.
Rothecker has been a St. Paul officer for 22 years and is the department’s only elder-abuse investigator, according to information about him on the website for the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police, of which he is second vice president and was previously president. He’s also a U.S. Army combat veteran, where he served from 1988 to 1996, the site said.