A St. Paul police officer is on administrative leave in connection with a Facebook post urging drivers to run over marchers on Martin Luther King Day.
Sgt. Jeff Rothecker was identified by Andrew Henderson, a community activist who monitors police behavior.
Henderson alleged in a YouTube video that Rothecker, who posted under the name “JM Roth,” wrote the comment under a Pioneer Press article about the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in St. Paul.
“Run them over,” the Facebook comment said. “Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street.”
The comment, which has since been removed, went on to urge drivers to stop a block or two away and call 911.
“You can justify stopping further away because you feared for your safety since in the past people in this group has [sic] shown a propensity towards violence,” the post read. “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 you in civil court, but remember that it will be [a] jury trial and so most likely it will come out in your favor.”
Sgt. Mike Ernster, a police spokesman, said he could neither confirm nor deny the name of the officer involved or the nature of the complaint, due to legal protections.
However, St. Paul Police Federation attorney Chris Wachtler confirmed that the federation is representing Rothecker.
“The investigation is occurring,” Wachtler said. “We will allow the process to move forth.”
Ernster confirmed that the officer is on leave but said he could not reveal more details about the investigation because it’s a personnel matter protected by law.
The Police Department and Mayor Chris Coleman’s office issued comments Monday condemning “the statement,” which they didn’t explicitly recount.
“We are aware of the concerns surrounding the comment posted on Facebook and are actively investigating,” said the police statement. “The statement 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.”
Henderson is shown in his video calling St. Paul police to report the Facebook comment and is instructed by an officer to report the matter to the internal-affairs unit on Tuesday when it reopens following the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The video later shows two officers taking Rothecker’s report, while emphasizing that the department does not condone such behavior.
Henderson said Monday that he saw the Facebook comment about 1 a.m. Saturday and immediately called police. He said he knew the Facebook account belonged to Rothecker because he has had direct communication with someone running the account who has claimed Rothecker’s identity.
“I was just flabbergasted,” Henderson said. “A law enforcement officer is supposed to serve and protect the people, not incite violence against them.”
Coleman said he directed St. Paul police to investigate the matter.
“I am outraged and disgusted by the post and have directed the [St. Paul Police Department] to investigate,” said the mayor’s statement. “There is no room in the St. Paul Police Department for employees who threaten members of the public.”