Seconds after a sport-utility vehicle struck a pedestrian last month on a dark suburban roadway, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher drove past the injured man and narrowly missed running him over.
Fletcher, who was filming a segment for his “Live on Patrol” Facebook show, apparently didn’t see the man and kept driving, swerving to get around the SUV when its driver stopped suddenly and jumped out.
The pedestrian, 46-year-old Michael Leonard of Minneapolis, remains in critical condition at Regions Hospital, according to a spokesperson. The motorist, identified as 45-year-old Steven Esty, of Falcon Heights, immediately stopped and cooperated with authorities. Investigators say there was no reason to suspect impairment. He was interviewed and released.
In an interview Wednesday, Fletcher said he didn’t see the pedestrian at the time, adding that the wet road made things darker. The camera has a better view of the right side of the road than he does while driving, he said.
“Not only did I not see it, but there’s over 30,000 people that watched that video and did not notice the man on the side of the road either,” said Fletcher, referring to his Facebook followers. He said he first learned about the incident two days later when the Roseville police chief called him for their investigation.
“I wish I had seen the person that was hit by the car, but I simply didn’t,” Fletcher said. “I would have loved to stop to be able to render any aid that’s necessary. That’s why I’m out there in the first place.”
In a Facebook post days after the incident, a man who described Leonard as his brother asked why Fletcher didn’t stop.
“How can this guy be so preoccupied with doing his show to not see the Human being lying on the side of the road,” Gregory Rizner wrote in a post he has since deleted.
Rizner also said in the post that he has “the utmost respect” for law enforcement. He did not respond to requests for comment.
The incident is the second time in the last month that Fletcher has faced questions about his “Live on Patrol” Facebook livestream.
On another episode last month, Fletcher and his partner, part-time crime analyst Patrick Scott, pursued a stolen car for about 17 minutes through residential neighborhoods on the East Side of St. Paul. The pursuit included high speeds in residential neighborhoods, speeding the wrong way down one-way streets, and one instance when the fleeing car briefly drove onto someone’s yard and down their sidewalk.
St. Paul police never officially joined the chase. Many urban police departments, including St. Paul and Minneapolis, have stopped pursuing vehicles for minor crimes through dense urban neighborhoods after a rash of collisions and injuries. Ramsey County has no such policy.
In the newest incident, Roseville Deputy Chief Joe Adams said Roseville officers found Leonard lying “in the roadway,” but Fletcher said Wednesday that Leonard was lying on the shoulder.
“He’s not inside the white line,” Fletcher said.
The Live on Patrol video, recorded Nov. 11, shows that the section of roadway where Leonard was lying doesn’t have a white line to demarcate the roadway from the shoulder. The incident occurs about 11 minutes into the nearly four-hour video.
The incident took place about 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11 on Rice Street, according to police. From Fletcher’s video, it appears Leonard was struck as he crossed Rice Street near N. McCarrons Boulevard in Roseville. A dark SUV seen driving in front of Fletcher suddenly hits the brakes and then pulls over; as Fletcher rolls forward, the stricken pedestrian comes into view.
The man can be seen lying with his back to the camera. Fletcher, who was driving alone that night, says “Whoa!” as he swerves to miss the SUV’s open driver’s side door.
Fletcher has posted some 60 videos on Facebook of himself patrolling the county. Many are simply Fletcher talking about the history of the area or crime trends with the camera pointing through the windshield. The show has drawn thousands of viewers, though it’s unclear how many live in the area. It’s been criticized by several Ramsey County commissioners, who say it’s a distraction from Fletcher’s duties and more about entertainment than keeping the county safe.
Fletcher has also used the show’s audience to amplify his own voice, directing followers to send e-mails to the Ramsey County Charter Commission in support of his position, or telling viewers to leave comments on newspaper articles about him.
The incident on Rice Street remains under investigation, according to Roseville police.