Meet Bob Fletcher: Ramsey County's most controversial cop

Ramsey County Sheriff fends off charges of cronyism

"When Naylon came on board," says a former officer, "the question on everyone's minds was: 'What's he doing here?'"

A former lobbyist for the horseracing industry, Naylon had a conceal-and-carry permit and his own squad car, despite having never attended one minute of Police Academy. An unlicensed civilian, he incited his co-workers' ire and derision by sending them on the law enforcement equivalent of wild goose chases. He'd call from a bar and offer a lead, telling them a highly sought-after suspect was drinking at the end of the bar or shooting pool.

"We'd race over there, and the guy we were looking for was never there," says a former deputy. "'Oh, he left five minutes ago,' he'd say. He always had an excuse."

He also had a connection.

Naylon met Fletcher through a mutual friend within the St. Paul Police Department. Their first encounter came at a 1993 fundraiser while Naylon was mounting a long-shot run for mayor. Fletcher took an immediate liking to the amiable smooth-talker. Although Fletcher describes their friendship between 1993 and 1998 as "sparse," at some point after Fletcher hired Naylon in 1998, they grew tight. In 2004, Fletcher asked Naylon to be the best man at his wedding.

"He handled all of the media calls," Fletcher says of Naylon's job duties. "And I asked him to use any sources that he had on the street to provide our deputies with information. If you knew Mark Naylon, you would know that he has so many friends and associates in all parts of the community."

Eight days after Naylon's and Rehak's March 4, 2008, indictment, Fletcher announced the duo would be put on paid leave and would be fired if convicted. In a released statement, he urged the public to "resist the temptation to try this case in the media."

During the trial in the summer of 2008, Naylon's defense argued that he and Rehak had taken the money as part of an elaborate "practical joke" that they were playing on their immediate supervisor.

The jury didn't buy it. On August 27, 2008, Naylon and his partner were convicted of theft and conspiracy, for which they were sentenced to 30 months in jail. The convictions and accompanying headlines beset Fletcher with charges of cronyism.

But the scrutiny was short-lived. In just five short days, the Republican National Convention was coming to town. As the city geared up, Fletcher prepped for his close-up.

   

ONE DAY IN THE FALL OF 2007, while Fletcher was surfing the 'net, he came across an online video that sparked his imagination.

To the uninitiated, it appeared to be your typical YouTube fare: a crudely edited parody, replete with in-jokes and visual gags. Set to Blondie's "One Way or Another," it portrays a shrouded-in-black anarchist jumping out of bed, slipping into combat gear, and sprinting through the streets of Minneapolis. She lights a Molotov cocktail and heaves it. It lands in a grill and ignites the charcoal, much to the delight of the black-clad cooks. She hurls a bowling ball at a Navy recruiting center. We see the acronym RABL taped to the ball as it topples over bowling pins, a cheeky nod to the '80s-era Minneapolis-based Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League. The video ends with the tagline: "We're getting ready. What are you doing?"

As if to answer the chiding slogan, Fletcher immediately began getting ready in a most unorthodox and ferocious way: He launched an investigation into the group without notifying anyone—not other police departments, not the people who would be tasked with prosecuting any criminals he turned up, not even those on whom his budget depended.

"We did not advise the city of St. Paul or their Police Department on this," Fletcher says. "We didn't advise the City's Attorney's Office, because knowing about this investigation could have complicated this investigation."

He forged ahead, hiring a paid informant to infiltrate the group, in addition to sending his undercover men to major cities across the nation. In doing so, he wracked up more than $300,000 in overtime pay and traveling expenses. And since no one had approved the expenditures—the County Board of Commissioners would have been the entity to do so—he was under unusual pressure to produce results.

Which may be why, during the months leading up to the RNC, Fletcher, more than any other official, remained convinced that St. Paul would be under siege when the convention rolled into town. He sparked an internal yet much publicized debate with St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington over how many officers were necessary. Fletcher was adamant that more bodies were needed and implored Harrington to recruit the difference. As he usually does, Fletcher won the argument, and St. Paul scrambled to hire 350 additional troops during the three weeks leading up to the RNC.

Then he went after the anarchists. On the weekend immediately preceding the convention, Fletcher's agents executed warrants on four residences housing allegedly violent protesters. Armed, riot-gear-clad troopers stormed through the homes, detained dozens of activists, and confiscated political literature as evidence. The raid on the so-called RNC Welcoming Committee's Smith Avenue headquarters in St. Paul resulted in felony charges levied against eight anarchists, later dubbed "the RNC Eight."

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