The St. Paul police officer at the center of a probe into whether he posted on Facebook, “Run them over,” about an upcoming Black Lives Matter protest has been the subject of 15 previous internal affairs investigations during his 22 years at the department.
Seven of the complaints were sustained; the most serious discipline Sgt. Jeffrey M. Rothecker received was a two-day suspension.
Rothecker, 46, is an Army combat veteran, the son of South St. Paul City Council member Marilyn Rothecker, and a graduate of the University of St. Thomas with a master’s degree in police administration/leadership.
He’s been active in the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police and was elected as the organization’s second vice president in April. He resigned his leadership post Monday afternoon as local media began reporting on the allegation against him. Rothecker has not commented about the case, which is making national news. The police department has placed him on paid administrative leave.
The current internal affairs investigation began after Andrew Henderson, who frequently videotapes officers at work because he says he wants them to be held accountable, noticed a Facebook comment early Saturday on a Pioneer Press article about Monday’s planned Black Lives Matter protest. The comment referred to protesters as “idiots” and detailed what people could do to avoid being charged with a crime if they struck someone during the unpermitted march, which occurred as planned and blocked traffic on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge.
Henderson filed an internal affairs complaint Sunday about the post from “JM Roth,” saying he’d found evidence it was Rothecker.
The St. Paul Police Federation, the union representing the city’s officers, issued a statement Tuesday: “The St. Paul Police Federation and its 650 members work professionally to provide a safe environment for all citizens to express their right to free speech whether on a public street, through the media or via social media. A member of the federation is currently under investigation relating to a social media post. We are unable to provide any additional detail and ask that the media and public allow our members the due process and privacy afforded under the law.”
Mayor Chris Coleman said Monday he was “outraged and disgusted by the post” and, he added, “(i)f the allegation is true, we will take the strongest possible action allowed under law.”
The St. Paul Police Department policy manual doesn’t specifically address employees’ posts to social media, but it discusses “conduct unbecoming an officer” both on and off duty, saying: “A police officer is the most conspicuous representative of government, and, to the majority of the people, a symbol of stability and authority upon whom they can rely. An officer’s conduct is closely scrutinized, and when actions are found to be excessive, unwarranted, or unjustified, they are criticized far more severely than comparable conduct of persons in other walks of life. Since the conduct of an officer, on or off duty, may reflect directly upon the department, an officer must, at all times, conduct her/himself in a manner which does not bring discredit to her/him, the department, or the city.”
Rothecker joined the St. Paul department in 1993 after he graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, with a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement. He was promoted to sergeant in 2000 and has been investigating crimes against elders since 2013. Public personnel information, released by the police department Tuesday at the Pioneer Press’ request, shows he has received eight letters of thanks or recognition.
In 2008, when St. Paul hosted the Republican National Convention, Rothecker tried to arrest a protester and came under attack.
Rothecker followed a group of protesters and saw one man “making a jabbing motion toward a tire on a bus with something that appeared to be metal and which he suspected was ‘either a knife or large screwdriver,’ ” according to a Minnesota Court of Appeals opinion. Some protesters were trying to prevent delegates from reaching the convention.
Rothecker grabbed Daniel Louis Bono by the collar, told him he was under arrest and started to back away from the bus with him.
“(S)ome of the hundreds of protesters in the crowd started chanting ‘let him go,’ ” said the court opinion, which upheld Bono’s conviction for escape from custody. “Bono went limp and dropped to the ground, forcing Sgt. Rothecker to drag him. The crowd drew closer, and someone bumped Sgt. Rothecker hard enough to knock him to the ground; the crowd rushed in, and Sgt. Rothecker sprayed them with mace. Two or three people then pulled Bono away from Sgt. Rothecker, and Bono merged with them into the crowd.”
Rothecker was pelted with paint, water bottles and other objects and was cut and bruised, according to the criminal complaint against Bono.
The past cases resulting in discipline for Rothecker involved his supervision of officers, improperly accessing private driver’s license data, and preventable squad car crashes.
In 2010, Rothecker was suspended for two days for not properly supervising officers in an incident two years earlier. Luke Prescott had claimed in 2008 that off-duty St. Paul officer Scott Wendell roughed him up in a holding cell after he’d been arrested in the company of Wendell’s 17-year-old stepdaughter. Prescott needed 12 staples to repair a gash to his head.
Wendell, who resigned as a St. Paul officer, was acquitted of assault and the city later settled Prescott’s lawsuit for $30,000.
Rothecker was the on-duty supervisor at the time of the incident, but he didn’t go to the scene or notify a commander, according to an internal affairs investigation.
“Your actions reflect poorly upon you and have brought additional scrutiny to police officers of this department,” Chief Thomas Smith wrote in his discipline letter. “As a sergeant, your actions in this instance showed a lack of respect and poor judgment. Your failure to lead has brought embarrassment to the department, was an extremely poor example for those you were trusted to supervise, and has impacted careers of officers you were responsible to protect.”
In 2007, Rothecker received a written reprimand after officers he supervised didn’t properly collect evidence when a 17-year-old girl opened a gift-wrapped box that had been left on her doorstep and found her dog’s head inside. Her ex-boyfriend later admitted he urged an acquaintance to cut off the dead dog’s head, and he pleaded guilty to terroristic threats, saying he knew she would see her dog’s remains and feel terrorized.
The officers who responded took photos, but didn’t collect evidence, according to a department memo. Rothecker approved the officers’ reports, but his supervisor said he should have found and corrected the procedural errors when he reviewed their reports.
In 2013, Rothecker was among more than 30 St. Paul officers disciplined for looking up, for non-law enforcement purposes, the private driver’s license data of Anne Marie Rasmusson, a former St. Paul officer. He received an oral reprimand.
Rothecker also received a one-day suspension in 2013 for accessing driver’s license data to get the address of Joshua Lynaugh, a St. Paul officer who died after suffering a heart attack while on duty. Rothecker explained he had been getting the information to allow members and lodges of the Fraternal Order of Police to send tributes or to honor Lynaugh, according to the investigation.
Joseph Lindberg and Dan Bauman contributed to this report.
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