A Rochester, Minn., police officer has been put on administrative leave and the department is conducting an investigation after learning about racially offensive posts he had made to his Facebook page, Police Chief Roger Peterson confirmed Monday.
Peterson said he received a forwarded e-mail from the group Me to We Racial Healing on Thursday, and another from the Facebook group Rochester for Justice on Friday, each containing similar allegations.
Officer Ben Schlag, 31, who has worked for the Rochester Police Department for five years, was put on paid leave Friday, the chief said.
The posts on Schlag’s Facebook page included a drawing of a vehicle chasing and hitting stick figures with the words, “Nobody cares about your protest.” Another has the words, “Studies show that Muslim Radicals are less prone to violence after they’ve been shot in the [expletive] face.”
In a 4½-page letter dated Feb. 17 and addressed to Peterson, Mayor Ardell Brede and others, Me to We Racial Healing said it is “a national group of nearly 1,000 citizens with headquarters in Minnesota.”
The letter included screen shots of several posts that Schlag has since removed. It said the posts “show a clear pattern of disregard for systemic and interconnected realities and a distinct disrespect for people of color and people who care about racial justice. … It is unsettling to imagine how his racism would play out in relationships with other officers, the Rochester community and surrounding areas in engagements that are isolated and/or out of public view.”
Reached by phone Monday, Schlag, of Rochester, said, “This is something that will have to be handled by the department, so I’m going to redirect all questions to the department.”
His Facebook page said he served in the Army but he would not elaborate on his military service.
Rochester for Justice posted a statement on its Facebook page Monday evening that said, in part, “We welcome the efforts of the city leaders of Rochester in suspending Mr. Schlag as a necessary first step in addressing the issue of his anti-Muslim, anti-Black, anti-First Amendment statements. … We advise that the city leaders reach out to the communities threatened by Mr. Schlag to assure us of their continued action on this issue.”
Schlag was assigned to the narcotics unit investigative division at the time of the complaint, Peterson said. Before that, he was in the patrol division. His personnel file contains 12 letters of appreciation or commendation from his supervisors and members of the public and no previous disciplinary action.
“He has a very good work record,” the chief said.
Peterson said he was “extremely disappointed” when he learned about the allegations. “Without passing judgment on the allegations, it cannot help but distract from a lot of good work by a lot of very good people. I’d much rather be doing stuff to facilitate public safety, but this is an issue and it is one we will address as quickly and as effectively as we can here.”
Peterson said he couldn’t say how long the investigation will take.
A 22-year veteran of the St. Paul Police Department resigned last week after online postings surfaced about him encouraging drivers to run over protesters on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Sgt. Jeff Rothecker had been put on administrative leave in mid-January.