In a move that upset Red Wing's mayor and many residents, the southeastern Minnesota town's City Council fired its police chief Friday night amid a reckoning over the Police Department's handling of social justice issues.
In a three-page letter, the council told Police Chief Roger Pohlman he was being fired because he repeatedly ignored City Council directives, failed to respond appropriately to citizen complaints and became "defensive" when confronted with criticism.
"If the majority of the Council does not trust you, it cannot rely on you to perform the important work of the Department," reads the letter signed by Council President Becky Norton. "Council members believe you have intentionally portrayed Council members as anti-police, when, in fact, their concerns were with your leadership and not with the performance of other members of the Police Department."
Just one member of the council voted against firing Pohlman. Councilman Kim Beise said he couldn't support the move, which passed 6-1, because the council did not give Pohlman a chance to address alleged shortcomings.
"I had no problems with the chief," Beise said. "I am totally baffled. I know he was well-liked in the community, based on the hundreds of e-mails I have received. … We are in strange times."
Red Wing Mayor Mike Wilson, who took office in January, said he believes it was a mistake to fire Pohlman.
"I just don't understand why they did what they did," Wilson said. "They ran off the fire chief prior to this. And now it is the police chief. Who is next in City Hall? Are we having some kind of power movement here?"
Pohlman declined to comment. In a written statement, he said the council told him he could resign and keep some of his benefits or face a "nondisciplinary" firing in Friday's closed-door session.
"I am proud to have served the people of Red Wing over the past eight years — leading an outstanding group of dedicated police officers that would be the envy of any small community anywhere in America," Pohlman said in the statement. "I loved my job. And our record of keeping Red Wing safe, engaging our citizens through community policing and keeping an open-door policy with respect for all, speaks for itself."
Evan Brown, president pro tem of the City Council, said his problems with Pohlman go back five years.
Despite repeated requests from the council for a chance to provide input on department policy, Brown said, Pohlman often kept council members out of the loop. The chief also failed to include council members in community outreach meetings, Brown said.
Brown said those tensions came to a head following protests over the 2020 killing of George Floyd, who died while being arrested by Minneapolis police. Brown said Pohlman "undermined" the council's efforts to improve police relations with people of color.
"He didn't feel like the department needed this kind of review," Brown said.
Though some residents have accused the council of ousting the chief over his conservative political views, Brown disputed that.
"This wasn't based on anyone's political affiliation," Brown said. "I did not have an agenda. This was about doing what's right. There's nothing wrong with having a conversation in our community about race and equity."
Jeffrey Meitrodt • 612-673-4132