A St. Paul restaurant and bar owner at the center of a case that resulted in the firings of five St. Paul police officers, has pleaded guilty to felony assault.
Tou Cha pleaded guilty Wednesday to third-degree assault for an attack on June 17, 2018, captured on a police squad-car dash camera. He will be sentenced in October to the workhouse for up to 120 days.
Ramsey County prosecutors agreed to drop more serious second-degree assault charges in exchange for the guilty plea.
Cha, 50, admitted in court Wednesday to striking a man in the head with a wooden club outside his business, Checkerboard Pizza in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Cha said the victim was his wife’s nephew and acknowledged that the assault caused substantial bodily harm, including a head laceration that required 24 staples to close.
Five St. Paul police officers who are accused of standing by as Cha, an ex-cop, committed the assault, were fired in June in what Chief Todd Axtell called an “ugly day in our department’s history.” Internal affairs records identified the officers as Nicholas Grundei, Robert Luna, Christopher Rhoades, Nathan Smith and Jordan Wild. They have appealed their firings.
Standing in front of Ramsey County District Judge Sara Grewing, Cha described the events leading up to the assault. He said a fight had erupted outside the bar, and that police were called but left without making any arrests. Three people returned to the alley behind Checkerboard, Cha said, armed with a wooden club.
When Cha approached the men, he said, “They attacked me.”
“I was able to take away the club and hit them back,” Cha said.
But Cha admitted that after one of the men was on the ground, he picked up the club and hit him. Two other men with Cha, whom he did not identify, also kicked the man on the ground.
Cha’s defense attorney, Jack Rice, said his client decided to plead guilty after prosecutors disclosed the internal affairs files connected to the five St. Paul officers who were fired.
“We had to fight to get a lot of the evidence,” Rice said.
Rice said he learned about the internal affairs investigation this spring after being contacted by a reporter, and that police and prosecutors should have disclosed it sooner.
Prosecutors said they only learned of the investigation in June, when Axtell announced the firings.
Cha was a St. Paul police officer for 11 years. He resigned in 2005 after pleading guilty to lending out his service pistol, which was later used to shoot up the home of a Hmong leader. He was sentenced to 30 days in the county workhouse and five years’ probation for that crime.