The St. Paul police officer whose online postings encouraged drivers to run over protesters on Martin Luther King Jr. Day has resigned.
Sgt. Jeff Rothecker, a 22-year St. Paul police veteran, was placed on paid administrative leave in mid-January after an open-government activist alerted the department to a comment Rothecker posted on Facebook. St. Paul police announced his resignation Wednesday afternoon.
The lead organizer for Black Lives Matter St. Paul, Rashad Turner, said his group would comment on the resignation Thursday. However, he said the group will proceed with its planned Feb. 27 protest at the Red Bull Crashed Ice event, which draws thousands of people to downtown St. Paul. The protest was initially designed to pressure the city to fire Rothecker.
Jeff Martin, president of the NAACP St. Paul chapter, said Rothecker should have been “pushed out sooner.”
“We really didn’t know who he was until he opened his mouth, or put his fingers to the keyboard,” Martin said. “This just shows that we have to stay at the table and keep having those tough conversations.”
Rothecker — using the moniker “JM Roth” — urged people to run over marchers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day who were protesting the deaths of Jamar Clark and Marcus Golden, who were fatally shot by Minneapolis and St. Paul police, respectively.
“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.”
He also said that drivers would likely not be charged for hitting someone if they pulled over and called police afterward.
Rothecker issued a written apology admitting that he posted the comments, but community leaders were not placated. Local black leaders called for him to be fired, and his comments were condemned by the police department and Mayor Chris Coleman.
For some, Rothecker’s resignation leaves plenty of questions. Had he not resigned, he would have been subject to the complete internal affairs investigation into his actions, culminating in a final decision by police Chief Thomas Smith. That could have resulted in discipline or his firing.
“We were hoping that the department and the city would not accept his resignation unless there were some conditions,” said Nathaniel Khaliq, former president of the St. Paul NAACP and former interim St. Paul City Council member. Resignation “sort of gives him the easy way out.”
It’s unknown if there were conditions placed on Rothecker’s resignation.
Khaliq was among the black community leaders who held a news conference last month calling for the city to fire Rothecker.
“When you allow somebody to resign … it’s sort of a no-contest decision, as far as I’m concerned,” Khaliq said, “and it needed to be a clear and convincing decision made that they found and they determined that what he did was unacceptable and was in violation of department police policy.”
St. Paul police announced Rothecker’s resignation Wednesday via Twitter, and noted that there was “nothing further at this time.”
Coleman issued a statement that said: “I am pleased that Chief Smith has accepted the resignation of Mr. Rothecker and that he is no longer a member of the St. Paul Police Department. I believe it was the quickest and most certain way to reach a final outcome.”
Coleman said that state law prohibits the city from commenting further about the investigation and Rothecker’s reason for resigning.
“The actions Mr. Rothecker admits he engaged in were disgusting, harmful and out of step with the values of the department and the community it serves,” he said.
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said that the internal affairs investigation into the incident was recently completed, but Rothecker’s resignation put a stop to any further action on the matter.
Since a final disposition had not and cannot be reached in the case, there is no additional public information on the investigation.
Chris Wachtler, an attorney for the St. Paul Police Federation, said he could not speak in detail about Rothecker’s decision.
“He again apologizes for the damage his comments have caused,” Wachtler said.
A message left at a number listed to Rothecker was not immediately returned.