Open letter to Mayor Coleman on Sgt. Jeff Rothecker

This week, we discovered that Sgt. Jeff Rothecker, the St. Paul officer currently under investigation for encouraging motorists to run over protesters during a Martin Luther King Day demonstration, had made strikingly similar comments on a NOC Facebook post on November 16. 

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Though this officer described his most recent Facebook post as a "poor choice of words," this predatory pattern reveals a clear and deliberate intent to harm and target community members over the course of months. Police officers who encourage violence against our communities should not be trusted with protecting and serving our communities. We sent the following open letter to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief Tom Smith calling on them to fire this officer as swiftly as possible:

Dear Mayor Coleman and Police Chief Smith:

As you can imagine, we at NOC and in the broader community were deeply disturbed to discover that a St. Paul police officer has encouraged, advised and even offered specific legal advice to motorists to run over protesters on Martin Luther King Day. This same officer issued similar comments on the NOC Facebook page on November 16, 2015. We believe Sgt. Rothecker's online behavior shows a clear and deliberate pattern of inciting motorists to commit violent and potentially fatal acts of unprovoked aggression. His repeated actions are a direct contradiction to his recent apology, which describes one recent post as a "poor choice of words." He's said that he would never intentionally encourage someone to commit a crime. Yet his pattern of Facebook posts inciting deadly violence against predominantly black protesters shows a clear and deliberate intent to target and harm community members. This is not one accidental mis-statement. It is a dangerous, premeditated and predatory pattern of behavior.

It's worth noting that this officer, whose online comments have targeted community groups including NOC, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, has a long history of complaints against him, including improperly accessing private government data. As an organization directly impacted by the officer's recent statements we have serious concerns about the nature of the data practice violation, and questions as to the intended use of the private and potentially personal data that the officer may have accessed.  We're requesting a thorough investigation of this officer's activities, including a detailed report and transparent access to the nature of the sensitive data that may have been illegally accessed by Sgt. Rothecker, or any other officer on the St. Paul police force. Given the violent nature of his social media posts we feel an obligation to ensure that organizers and participants in the movement for black lives are safe in exercising their First Amendment rights, and aren't being targeted by police for their organizing work.

In light of a new wave of violence against black protesters, including the recent racially motivated shootings of community members at the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis, it is chilling to see that violence against protesters is being publicly encouraged by some elements within the St. Paul Police Department. Officer Rothecker's former elected position as Second Vice President of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police is further evidence that these violent and divisive actions are more than misstatements or rogue actions by a single actor. I challenge your office to take a closer look at the cultural values and structural factors that are responsible for further dividing law enforcement and the broader community.

Police officers who encourage violence against our communities should not be trusted with protecting and serving our communities. They should not be entrusted with a badge and a gun. They should not be paid with public resources. We call on the city of St. Paul to take immediate action by firing this officer as swiftly as possible.

Thanks in advance for your careful consideration.

Anthony Newby
Executive Director
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

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