A Minnesota correctional officer has been placed on investigatory leave after he was caught on camera confronting a group of Black Lives Matter protesters with a string of profanities while his wife hurled a racial slur outside their Stillwater home Sunday.
Sgt. Paul Gorder, a 26-year veteran at the Department of Corrections, will remain on paid leave until an investigation by the Office of Professional Accountability is completed, the agency confirmed Monday.
The altercation occurred during a "church service" by police reform activists gathered outside Washington County Attorney Pete Orput's home Sunday evening. Protesters are pressing for murder charges against former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter, who shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop April 11. Orput has defended his decision to charge second-degree manslaughter in the case, which involves an apparent gun-Taser mix-up.
Three witnesses told the Star Tribune that Gorder's wife appeared intoxicated as she approached the crowd and attempted to enter an occupied vehicle that belonged to a demonstrator. When confronted, she grew agitated.
Video of the encounter shows Gorder yelling obscenities at protesters, who apparently were trying to de-escalate the situation.
"You touch my wife, I'll kick your ass!" Gorder says as he inches closer to the curb. Stillwater police officers intervene — just before the woman screamed: "Get out of here all you [expletive] [racial slur]!"
Gorder pulled his wife onto their lawn and began to walk away before he turned to shout some final insults at the crowd.
"Go home, you're drunk!" a demonstrator says as Gorder goes back to the house, escorted by three officers.
In a Facebook post Monday, Fantastic Sam's Cut and Color hair salon acknowledged that the woman worked for them, but did not identify her. She was "no longer an employee," according to the post by the owner of the Maplewood location where she worked.
"We understand that these words are deeply offensive and hurtful and we want everyone to know that they DO NOT reflect our beliefs," the post said.
Isaiah Jones, 16, filmed the confrontation on his cellphone while attending the rally Sunday. Jones, of Chicago, noted that the woman appeared intoxicated but said it wasn't an excuse for her racist language.
"That's what she really felt about us," said Jones, who began protesting for racial justice after his older brother, Cordale Quinn Handy, was killed by St. Paul police in 2017.
"I'd never heard a white person say it to my face," Jones said in an interview. "It was insulting. It was mind-blowing."
Less than 12 hours after Minneapolis civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong posted the video on social media, the DOC announced that Gorder had been placed on leave, without identifying him by name.
In a statement, Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell denounced his employee's actions as "deeply disturbing" and offered a personal apology to those affected.
"Even while off-duty, we expect that employees conduct themselves in a manner that upholds the values of the agency," Schnell said.
Gorder could not be reached for comment Monday.
Levy Armstrong said Gorder exhibited similar behavior during a protest last Thursday. Video from that event shows Gorder sitting in a lawn chair at the end of his driveway, lobbing obscenities at people in the street. He can be heard using homophobic and misogynistic slurs.
Later that day, Gorder's attitude toward the protesters suddenly shifted. He recognized Myon Burrell, the Minnesota man whose sentence was commuted after serving 18 years for the 2002 fatal shooting of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. Gorder appeared to cry as he wrapped Burrell in an embrace. Burrell told the crowd that Gorder had been humane to him in prison.
Gorder's personnel file includes four commendations for his performance during "high stress" situations.
Employment records also show six reprimands since 2014, including three short-term suspensions. The most recent was a January 2020 incident, when he used a "socially unaccepted and unprofessional term" toward a fellow staff member, records show. It's not clear what that term was, but the offense resulted in a three-day suspension.