Meet Bob Fletcher: Ramsey County's most controversial cop

Ramsey County Sheriff fends off charges of cronyism

That Monday, the first day of the convention, dozens of masked, black-clad anarchists marched down Fourth Street in downtown St. Paul. Arriving at the First National Bank Building on the corner of Robert Street, a protester kicked in one of the bank's plate-glass windows. Spider-web cracks expanded from the impact of the black-booted foot. Another kick. Shattered glass rained down on the sun-roasted pavement. A Macy's window on nearby Cedar Street met a similar fate. Other protesters, meanwhile, knocked over newspaper boxes and turned over garbage bins.

This went on for a full two-and-a-half hours before law enforcement mounted a concerted response.

Crowd control responsibility fell on the Mobile Field Force, a team of heavy-hitters in full riot gear presided over by Fletcher. For most of that day, however, in contrast to their name, they remained rather immobile. St. Paul police were in the vicinity of the chaos, and had radio communication with the Mobile Field Force, and yet no reinforcements came. Fletcher's men remained along the parade route on Kellogg Boulevard, five blocks away.

Bob Fletcher, Ramsey County Sherrif
Nick Vlcek
Bob Fletcher, Ramsey County Sherrif

As a result, the anarchists were allowed to wreak havoc on downtown for the better part of the afternoon, with professional photographers and videographers catching all the action.

Fletcher says the reason for the Mobile Field Force's delayed response was that his men and their St. Paul counterparts were on different radio frequencies. But both units' higher-ups were housed in the same command center, albeit in adjoining buildings. One could walk from one to the other without stepping foot outside. How could they not have caught word of the chaos?

"As it turned out, there was poor communication inside the command center," says Fletcher, quickly adding that he regrets his unit didn't respond sooner.

"However," he continues suddenly, "the good part, on balance, was that by allowing them their quote 'freedom' to destroy property, everyone in town suddenly understood that they were here with criminal intent. The benefit that occurred was that the citizenry and powers that be saw that there were 500 to 800 anarchists hell-bent on shutting down the convention by any means necessary. This was illuminating to the community to see that what we had warned about was, in fact, a true threat."

The totality of it—the clandestine investigation, the police state-like tactics—had many observers wondering how much of the overwhelming force was truly necessary. Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent-turned-whistleblower and a Time Person of the Year, has been especially critical of law enforcement's handling of the RNC, particularly Fletcher's decisions.

"When they started spending the money and started the investigation, they had already started writing the facts," she says. "You look stupid if you have all these robocops, these informants, and a yearlong investigation, and then nothing comes of it. It will prejudice you to expect the worst."

The "preemptive" raids alone were cause for concern among First Amendment advocates. "What happened during those raids is they went in and grabbed any materials they could find, anything Fletcher wanted off the streets," says Teresa Nelson, an attorney with the ACLU of Minnesota. "The First Amendment doesn't tolerate that."

Improper or not, the investment yielded heaps of information on protesters, as a few would later find out firsthand.

On the first day of the RNC, 56-year-old activist Besty Raasch-Gilman was locking up the RNC Welcoming Committee's convergence center when a voice called out.

"Hey, Betsy," she recalls hearing.

A black SUV had pulled up alongside the curb. Fletcher was behind the wheel, accompanied by two deputies.

Raasch-Gilman plodded toward the idling vehicle, sure she was about to be arrested. But Fletcher had a different idea, according to her version of events. He told her that, yes, she was next on the list, but he was willing to make a deal. Knowing her to be the oldest member of the anarchist group, Fletcher said he'd spare her if she would use her influence to quell her fellow anarchists' protesting.

"I think we can agree we don't want anyone to get hurt," he said, according to her recollection.

Raasch-Gilman declined the offer.

"You know, I have a pretty extensive file on you," continued Fletcher, pulling out a white loose-leafed binder. "Let's see...you were at the WTO protest in Seattle in '99...the IMF protest in D.C. in 2000...."

More than anything, it was the Orwellian accuracy of Fletcher's rundown that alarmed Raasch-Gilman.

"He was congenial, but in a threatening kind of fashion," says Raasch-Gilman. "He wanted to scare me with that file."

Fletcher has never disputed Raasch-Gilman's account. A pending lawsuit by Raasch-Gilman may shed more light on the incident.

   

THE ROOM WAS IN UTTER DISARRAY: shredded documents strewn about the floor, a security camera powered off, a dumpster outside brimming with ribbons of paper.

To Commander Chris Omodt, the Metro Gang Strike Force offices had all the appearances of a crime scene. Fearing the worst, he made a call to Hennepin County, his home department, and arranged to have crime technicians come in and collect evidence.

It had begun earlier that day, May 20, 2009, with the release of a damning report. That morning, the Office of the Legislative Auditor made public a special review examining the Metro Gang Strike Force's inner workings. What they found was so disconcerting that the Department of Public Safety immediately called on the Strike Force to suspend its operations.

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