A group of community leaders gathered Monday to call for the St. Paul Police Department to fire Sgt. Jeff Rothecker, who posted a Facebook comment telling people to run over marchers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Members of the St. Paul NAACP, St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and others gathered at the New Hope Baptist Church on Monday for a news conference, where they also said Rothecker should have his police officer’s license revoked and be the subject of a criminal inquiry. There needs to be an investigation into who else knew about his comments, they said.
“We’re a country of laws and nobody should be above it. Even police officers,” said Nick Khaliq, who has previously served as an interim St. Paul City Council member and as president of the St. Paul NAACP.
About 20 people, including many longtime activists, stood before reporters at the church. They have spoken out about cases of police misconduct in the past, Khaliq said, but, “We see this as one of the most egregious.”
Rothecker, a 22-year St. Paul police veteran, was placed on paid administrative leave after an open-government activist alerted the department about the Facebook post. In the comment, Rothecker — using the moniker “JM Roth” — urged people to run over marchers who were protesting the deaths of Jamar Clark and Marcus Golden on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He wrote that people would likely not be charged for hitting someone if they pulled over and called police afterward.
The sergeant issued an apology last week for the comment, but he did not mention another post that has since cropped up.
A spokesperson for the group Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change posted comments that “JM Roth” wrote a few months before, also telling people to run over protesters. Rothecker did not immediately return a call for comment.
“How could he go unnoticed?” Khaliq said, adding that someone dropped the ball on bringing Rothecker’s comments to the fore and the result could have been dangerous for marchers. Officials need to find out who else knew about Rothecker’s postings, Khaliq said.
There is an active investigation into the situation, police spokesman Steve Linders said, but he would not say whether Rothecker was the sole subject of that investigation.
“Once it’s concluded we will be transparent with our findings,” Linders said. “We’ll follow state law, federal law and the Officers’ Bill of Rights.”
The police department, along with Mayor Chris Coleman and the St. Paul Police Federation, have denounced what the sergeant wrote.
Their words are not enough, community leaders said. If there’s not a process to fire Rothecker and look into who else knew about his comments, Khaliq said, “then the process needs to be changed.”
Community members said they do not want the department to accept a resignation from Rothecker. It’s important that he is fired, Pilgrim Baptist Church’s Rev. Charles Gill said, because it sends a message to other officers that his behavior is not tolerated.
Otherwise, such action “tears away at the moral authority” of the police department, Gill said.