Everyone has an opinion about Bob Fletcher and Bill Finney. The Ramsey County sheriff and the former St. Paul police chief inspire both devout loyalty and intense loathing.
"Like a dictator," says Brad Urban, a retired Ramsey County deputy, in characterizing how Fletcher runs the sheriff's office. "Like a cult system; like a god. I've heard people say they would die for him."
St. Paul Police Federation president Dave Titus describes Finney's tenure at the St. Paul Police Department almost identically. "He ran our department as a dictator," Titus says. "Finney's ego leaves no room for anyone else's presence."
Their supporters are equally ardent in singing their praises. "His personal integrity is one of the key facets of why I wanted to work for Bob," says Nicholas O'Hara, a former head of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who now oversees the narcotics division of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. "He anticipates, plans, analyzes, and makes things happen."
Ramsey County Deputy Cindi Bell is supporting Finney: "I think he has integrity beyond reproach. He is totally honest to a fault. I trust him with my job. I trust him with my future."
The contest between Finney and Fletcher for Ramsey County sheriff has become the most antagonistic, colorful local election of the year. It features two physically large St. Paul natives with super-sized egos who have profoundly affected Ramsey County law enforcement over the last two decades. On the rare occasion when they've been in the same room together, their contempt for one another is palpable. Among the shenanigans the contest has inspired: gunshots purportedly fired into Fletcher's campaign office, accusations of lawn-sign vandalism and tire slashing, and a ridiculous dispute over whether the candidates could be identified as "Chief" and "Sheriff" on the ballot. Ride through the streets of St. Paul, where Finney and Fletcher signs seem to sprout on every other lawn, and you'd think they were running for president—or at least mayor.
But what makes the race all the more remarkable is that the stakes are so slight. The Ramsey County sheriff's primary responsibility is administering the jail, securing the courthouse, and executing arrest warrants. In addition, the office is charged with enforcing the laws in seven contract cities—including Shoreview, Arden Hills, and Little Canada—that don't have their own municipal police forces.
Finney and Fletcher are both redoubtable characters. The former grew up in the Rondo neighborhood, joining the St. Paul Police Department in 1971, at a time when there were just four black officers on the force. He rose to become the first African American police chief in Minnesota's history, serving 12 years at the helm of the SPPD. Fletcher joined the force a decade after Finney, ascending through the ranks to head up the juvenile unit prior to being elected sheriff in 1994. In both posts, Fletcher has been widely praised for attacking the problem of youth gang violence, particularly in the Asian community.
Both men, however, have accumulated their detractors along the way. And both camps project a strong sense that you're either with them or against them—that those who remain loyal will be rewarded handsomely, while those who dare dissent will be punished mercilessly.
The root of the animosity between Finney and Fletcher is difficult to pinpoint. The sheriff, for his part, insists that there is no personal antipathy between the two men. "We didn't have any bad relations," he says. "Most of that is hype. It's primarily generated by the media. I think that's a natural outcome of politics. I think people would probably assume that any two individuals running in a hotly contested race don't like each other."
Finney's explanation for the tensions is only slightly more satisfying. "It stems from our views on race," Finney says. "That's where the friction started, the whole philosophies of how we serve the community. I believe the police department should be inclusive. I believe the police department should serve the community rather than police it. The philosophy in law enforcement when I came on is, you police anybody who didn't look like you. People who were poor, people of color, were policed rather than served."
Bill Snyder, a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy who has worked under both men, professes ignorance about the source of the ill will. "I don't know," he says. "I can't even give you a reason why those two don't like each other."
"I don't think they're friends," offers Ron Ryan, a veteran St. Paul cop and head of the state gang strike force. "It's an ego thing. They're both big-time egos. That isn't a negative thing. You have to have a large ego to be in the position they're in."
To reach tonight's fundraiser for Bill Finney in an empty warehouse on the eastern edge of downtown St. Paul, guests must traverse an alleyway and then enter through a door marked by a blue light. At the bottom of the stairs is Herbie's, a private club.
The stone walls of the basement space are adorned with Japanese hangings. Exposed pipes run overhead and the floors are decorated with oriental rugs. Dean Martin's singing "That's Amore" through the stereo system. There's a spread of cheese and fruit, along with a seemingly unlimited supply of wine. A high-powered air filter system sucks the cigar smoke from the air the instant it's exhaled. There are leather chairs to lounge in while watching the flat-screen TVs. Donors have paid $100 to attend the soiree in the 120-year-old former candy factory.
This hush-hush club was started by David Brooks, a downtown developer as well as the brother of the late hockey legend Herb Brooks, in whose honor the place is named. A diminutive man with a garrulous personality, Brooks explains that he opened the place in response to the passage of the smoking ban last year. He rents the swank club out to groups interested in watching a Vikings game or celebrating a birthday in a smoke-friendly environment. "No broads," Brooks explains is the only rule regarding such gatherings. "We don't want to have a Vikings boat cruise incident down here."
Brooks is an avowed Republican. He proudly claims that he hosted an earlier fundraiser at the club for former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly and that there wasn't a single Democrat in the house. Nevertheless, Brooks is unstinting in his praise for the DFL-endorsed candidate for sheriff. "He was a good chief of police for St. Paul," Brooks says. "You won't find a better, more honest, hard-working guy than Bill."
As tonight's event indicates, William "Corky" Finney has come a long way since growing up in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul in the 1950s. He was born in 1948 to Lola Vassar and Maceo Finney. His father was a train attendant and waiter on the Northern Pacific Railroad line, working there for 50 years. He was also one of the principal organizers and the first president of the Local 516 of the Waiters and Cooks union. "They were very successful, and they laid the foundation for a very high standard of living that helped elevate the African American community," says Marvin Anderson, whose father was the first secretary-treasurer of the predominantly black union. "I'm sure Corky picked up on that. I know I did. I know that meant a lot to me, seeing my father organizing people."
Finney's mother was 20 years her husband's junior. She originally worked as a beautician for Maceo's first wife at Finney's Beauty Parlor. But after his first wife died, Maceo and Lola got married and she took over the salon. The business was operated out of the first floor of their house at 437 Rondo Street, near Western Avenue. "Barbershops and beautician shops, that's where people get together and talk," Finney says. "So the women would come in and my mother would kick me out."
He is recounting these childhood memories while seated at the dining room table of the St. Paul house that he shares with his second wife, Linda, and a nephew. (Linda Finney herself is a respected law-enforcement officer, having retired earlier this month from her post as superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.) Finney wears a tan SPPD pullover, jeans, and cowboy boots. It seems unlikely that the former police chief had much say in decorating the room, which is overwhelmingly pink: pink placemats, pink artificial flowers, pink curtains.
Finney was an only child. His two half-siblings were already grown and living on their own by the time he was born. In fact, they were both older than his mother. "My brother was a World War II veteran," he says incredulously.
The stretch of Rondo where the Finneys lived was largely poor and derisively referred to as Cornmeal Valley. West of Dale, where the incomes were a little loftier, was dubbed Oatmeal Hill. But the Finney family, despite residing in the wrong stretch of Rondo, was far from destitute. In addition to their St. Paul residence, they owned a house near what is now North Oaks that was rented out to a white family, as well as a lake cabin in Wisconsin. "The term then, and it sounds so vulgar now, but I think many people considered us 'nigger rich,'" Finney recounted in the book Voices of Rondo: Oral Histories of Saint Paul's Historic Black Community.
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, on Mackubin Street, was another important locale in his upbringing. "Back then it was the powerhouse in black St. Paul," says Finney, who served as an altar boy at the church. St. Philip's was also attended by pioneering black police officers such as James Griffin and Jimmy Mann.
Finney was 11 years old when his family's house, and much of the Rondo neighborhood, was torn down to make way for Interstate 94. "People were unhappy they were breaking the community up, but still there were some opportunities," he says. "People that owned their homes didn't do bad. We were able to buy another house." The family moved several blocks to the northwest, on Central Avenue.
Finney graduated from Central High School and went on to Mankato State University. His initial plan was to study physical therapy, but he eventually switched to sociology. During his senior year, on the strength of a dare from a cop, he joined the Mankato police reserves. Black faces were uncommon enough in southern Minnesota at that time, and unheard of on the police force. "It's pretty much German territory down there," he laughs. "Guys were real intolerant, but after a while they got to really appreciate me."
Finney liked the work so much that immediately after graduating from college in 1970, he took the exam to become a St. Paul police officer. In January of the next year he entered the academy. Even though the force had employed a black police officer at least as early as 1892, there were just four African American cops in the department at the time. And only one, James Griffin, had ever been promoted.
At the time Finney joined the department, there was an intense distrust between the black community and the police force. Just the prior May, officer James Sackett had been gunned down while responding to a call in the Selby-Dale neighborhood. The men responsible for his death, fledgling Black Panthers Ronald Reed and Larry Clark, were finally convicted of first-degree murder earlier this year. "Brothers were killing each other, cutting each other, beating each other up—and the police looked the other way," says Nathaniel Khaliq, who grew up in Rondo and is now president of St. Paul chapter of the NAACP. "Those were very treacherous times back then."
"They didn't like the police," Finney recalls of the black community. "They didn't trust the police. They thought that anybody who was African American and wanted to be a police officer was a sellout. They knew that I wasn't a sellout, but they couldn't figure out why in the world I wanted to be a cop."
Finney sought to emulate certain characteristics of the two black cops that he knew growing up, James Griffin and Jimmy Mann. Griffin was a conservative, hard-working man who tried not to rock the boat. "He just believed in trying to work through the system to get things done," Finney avers. "He wasn't asleep at the switch." Mann was more volatile, unwilling to overlook any acts of racist behavior. "When he was confronted with race stuff, he hit it head on," the former chief notes. "He wouldn't tolerate much."
Finney's first post was patrolling West Seventh Street, then a predominantly white, working-class neighborhood. In the ensuing years he was detailed to Selby-Dale, Como Park, and the downtown skyway system. He was promoted to sergeant in 1978 and then lieutenant in 1982. The latter promotion, however, was not without controversy. The tradition in the SPPD had always been to promote the officer who scored highest on the lieutenant's test. At the time that Finney was tapped, however, there were two white officers higher up on the list of candidates. Many veteran officers felt that racial politics, rather than merit, guided the selection.
Not surprisingly, Finney's quick rise through the department elicited a backlash. He recalls being called into a deputy chief's office during the time he was being considered for promotion to lieutenant. "We've got a rumor," the deputy chief informed him, "that you're a cocaine user. And not only that, but that you're selling cocaine." Finney says his response was adamant. "I said, really?" he recalls. "Well, I'll tell you what we do. We're going to leave here right now and we're going to go right over to the hospital and I'm going to give you a urinalysis." Finney also says he offered to take a lie detector test. "I will voluntarily sit on the box and you can ask me anything about drugs you want to ask me," he says he told the deputy chief. "But I've got a caveat on this one. The guy making the complaint? He's got to sit on the box first." The rumor was put to rest. Finney was promoted to lieutenant.
When Bill McCutcheon announced that he wouldn't seek a third term as police chief in 1991, there was significant pressure on then-Mayor Jim Scheibel to appoint an African American to the post. The video of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles had recently surfaced, and cities across the country were leery of urban unrest. Locally, the issue of predominantly minority youth gangs was increasingly touted as a significant public safety threat. "People were wondering, can an African American guy handle all this?" Finney recalls. "So I got named and the spotlight's on [me]."
Khaliq, of the NAACP, says that the appointment was significant to the black community in St. Paul. "When Corky got the job, we figured now we're on our way," he recalls. "We got somebody down there we can relate to."
Bob Fletcher was born in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, but moved to Maplewood as a toddler. He grew up just north of Lake Phalen, in the Gladstone neighborhood. A younger brother died shortly after birth. His parents subsequently adopted a daughter eight years his junior.
He attended Gladstone Elementary School, developing an early affinity for science. "I grew up in that era of science, moon missions," Fletcher recalls. "Science was really my first love. I came downtown as a young boy to the science museum every Saturday." He went on to John Glenn Junior High School and then North St. Paul High School. He was a lifeguard and became an Eagle Scout.
Sports were also a major part of Fletcher's life growing up. In high school he was a three-sport star—football, track and field, and wrestling. "I was a good wrestler, an all-conference wrester, but I was cautious, in that I never wanted to get pinned," Fletcher recalls. "What you learn there is you cannot live life being cautious all the time, because you'll be destined to mediocrity."
Fletcher is recounting this early history on a recent Saturday morning from a table at Key's Café in downtown St. Paul, where the entire waitstaff seems to know him. He's wearing a forest green sweater and jeans, and eating a late breakfast of grapefruit juice and oatmeal. His salt-and-pepper hair and raccoon eyes bring to mind the late Jerry Orbach, of Law & Order renown.
Fletcher went on to Hamline University, intending to play football and study chemistry, with the goal of eventually becoming a doctor. But he says that that plan was scuttled after an event late in his sophomore year. He was in a third-floor lab waiting for chemicals to react, on one of the first beautiful days of spring. "Most everyone else was out on the plaza playing Frisbee, throwing the baseball around, and just interacting with people," he recalls. "I realized at that point that I needed to have a job working with people rather than working with objects."
Fletcher switched his major from chemistry to political science. He did continue playing football, though, suiting up 38 times for Hamline as linebacker. "I had some opportunities to try out for some pro teams, but what happened along the way was I had seen a flyer for the police officer test in November of my senior year," Fletcher notes.
Fletcher joined the force fresh out of college. His first assignment was midnight patrol in the northwest quadrant of the city. This was when he first crossed paths with Bill Finney. Their respective patrol areas intersected at University Avenue, then a hotbed of open-air prostitution, and they would occasionally respond to the same calls. Fletcher was promoted to sergeant in 1981—at the same time that Finney made lieutenant.
The next year, Fletcher decided to run for City Council. The city was in the process of switching over from seven at-large council seats to having each elected official represent a specific section of the city. Fletcher says that he was put off by the fact that the districts were being drawn so that each sitting council member was ensured his or her own district. "You can imagine how difficult that was since five of the members lived west of Lexington," he says. "I found it reprehensible." He was also motivated by drastic cuts in personnel at the fire and police departments. By Fletcher's recollection, the city was set to lose nearly 100 cops and firefighters. Running as a Republican, he narrowly outpolled his opponent. Fletcher served two terms before stepping down.
After this brief foray into politics, Fletcher returned to the SPPD, moving into the homicide/sex crimes unit. The next year he was back on the campaign trail, running unsuccessfully against John Marty for a seat in the state Senate. He was promoted to lieutenant the next year, once again at the same time that Finney took another step up the ranks. Fletcher was eventually tapped to oversee the burglary division.
In 1989 he challenged Jim Scheibel in the mayor's race, but again was defeated. Immediately after the election, Fletcher was detailed to the records division of the SPPD. "I lost the election for mayor and I got transferred the next month," Fletcher laughs. "I assume that the call came from City Hall." Two years later he was in the headlines again, helping to lead the campaign to rescind St. Paul's gay rights ordinance, which explicitly made discrimination against homosexuals illegal. That initiative, too, was rebuffed by the voters.
Also in 1991, Fletcher took over the juvenile division of the SPPD. He'd seen the increasingly violent impact of youth gangs on the city in recent years and was interested in investigating this development. Gangs such as the Gangster Disciples that were originally composed of transplants from other cities were now attracting local adherents, and drive-by shootings were a growing phenomenon.
In particular Fletcher was intrigued by the rise of predominantly Asian gangs, many based out of St. Paul's housing projects. In the late '80s and early '90s there was a rash of gun-store burglaries committed by Asian youths. The modus operandi was to crash a stolen car into a gun shop and then loot the store's merchandise for personal use. In October 1991, for instance, a group of Asian kids crashed a vehicle into the front of Midwest Gunworks in Blaine and made off with 16 guns. "Those guns were ending up in Wisconsin and Denver and California," Fletcher recalls.
He believed part of the problem was a lack of activities for kids in housing projects such as Mt. Airy and McDonough. At the same time there were discussions about closing Oxford Pool because of a lack of swimmers. Finally, Fletcher notes, a couple of Hmong kids had drowned recently while fishing. In the summer of 1992, Fletcher worked with city officials to arrange for a bus to stop at the six major public housing projects and transport kids to Oxford Pool. "That swimming program that summer was the genesis of how do we get kids involved in activities," he says.
Fletcher and gang investigator Rich Straka also started a Boy Scout troop at McDonough around this time. "That lasted for 10 years, primarily to Rich's credit," Fletcher says. "I was the chairman; he was the scoutmaster. I helped find the resources and he ran the troop."
Lee Pao Xiong, who at the time was head of the Hmong Youth Association, says Fletcher was passionate and relentless in dealing with the gang issue. "Whenever I received a page from Bob, I always dreaded it," he recalls, knowing that it likely meant another Hmong youth had been killed. "I just think the world of Bob. He reached out to the Hmong community at a critical time."
In 1994, Fletcher was elected sheriff. He continued to focus on gang issues, helping start the Joint Asian Task Force in 1995 with the SPPD. Then in the summer of 1996, four-year-old Davisha Brantley-Gillum was killed when she got caught in gang crossfire while sitting in a car at the intersection of University and Hamline avenues. Fletcher says he was attending a vigil for the girl when he saw Ramsey County Lt. Art Blakey out in the street conducting traffic on his own time. "I said, What's wrong with this picture?" Fletcher recalls. "We've got people being shot and I've got an African American lieutenant working as an administrator inside a jail. That's when I decided I needed to make better use of Art."
That was the genesis for the creation of the East Metro Gang Task Force. Nicholas O'Hara, who was then superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, heard about the program and helped jumpstart talks about making it a statewide initiative. In 1997 the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill establishing the Minnesota Gang Strike Force. O'Hara says that it never would have happened without Fletcher leading the way. "My best friend as I tried to push this forward was Bob," O'Hara recalls. "He was the guy that kept this alive. I know why it survived. It's purely because Bob wouldn't let it die."
Fletcher is also widely praised for the prevention efforts that he continued in the Asian community while serving as sheriff. He started the Sheriff's Literacy Program aimed primarily at Asian kids living in the housing projects. Fletcher and his allies also helped organize hockey, baseball, and softball programs for Hmong kids. "I think through his efforts, not only intervention but prevention work, we were able at that time to stem gang violence within the Hmong community," says Xiong.
Bill Snyder is no longer angry. The 31-year law-enforcement veteran laughs easily as he recalls his nearly decade-old run-in with Bill Finney. At the time, Snyder was considered among the premier Asian gang experts in the state. He worked for the St. Paul Police Department but was detailed to the fledgling Minnesota Gang Strike Force. Over the prior six years Snyder and a handful of other officers had worked hard to develop expertise and credibility in the Asian community.
But then, on April Fool's Day 1998, Snyder learned that he was being transferred to the northwest investigations unit of the SPPD. He was flabbergasted and went to Finney's office to get an explanation for the move. The welcome Snyder received wasn't pleasant. "'Get out of my office,'" he recalls the chief telling him. "'I have nothing to say to you.' That's the only conversation I ever had with him about the transfer. I was very, very angry about the whole thing. After all the work I had done, I felt I at least deserved an explanation for why I was being transferred."
Members of St. Paul's Hmong community were equally upset by the move. They held a protest outside City Hall that attracted roughly 100 people. "Bill Snyder symbolizes hope in our community," Michelle Yang, one of the protesters, told the Star Tribune at the time. "We don't understand why Chief Finney would take him away from our community."
Snyder filed a grievance through the St. Paul Police Federation claiming that he was being retaliated against for working too closely with Fletcher and the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. To this day, Snyder says he can think of no other explanation for why he was removed from the gang strike force. "It was the best theory I knew," he notes. "I couldn't come up with anything else."
After four months, Snyder was transferred again, this time to the traffic accident division. At this point Fletcher offered him a job with the sheriff's office, promising to put him back on the gang beat. Snyder says he agonized over the decision. "I had grown up to be a St. Paul cop," he explains. "The proudest day of my life was when I became a St. Paul cop." Ultimately, though, he took an $8,000 pay cut and lost three weeks of annual paid vacation to make the job change. "When I came over here I was beat up bad," he recalls. "This department brought me in like I was a brother."
Today Snyder heads up the sexual-predator-tracking unit for the sheriff's office, working jointly with the SPPD to keep tabs on such offenders. He says such a partnership between the law enforcement agencies would have been impossible during Finney's tenure as chief. Snyder also says that he'll retire if his former boss becomes sheriff. "I would say his leadership style is abusive," Snyder explains.
Snyder is not the only person who believes that Finney's ego sometimes took precedence over effective police work. Inspector Nicholas O'Hara says that it was widely known that Ramsey County deputies weren't welcome at crime scenes in St. Paul, even if they had information or expertise relevant to an investigation. "That's a policy that came right down from the top," O'Hara notes. "It was so obvious that the word had come down that we were not to show up at those St. Paul crime scenes." He says that the belief among rank-and-file St. Paul cops was, "If the chief finds out you're here, I'll be in trouble."
Finney says such a characterization is "untrue," but then proceeds to undermine this assertion. "You don't even let in other police officers from the St. Paul Police Department into a major crime scene, so why would we allow another police agency?" he asks. "This is our bailiwick, Bob. We'll let you know if we need help. He wants to come in and take over things."
O'Hara also says that Finney failed to take an active role in setting up the state's gang strike force. "I had the impression that it wasn't important to Bill," he says. Finney acknowledges that he only participated in a single meeting related to the gang strike force, designating one of his top assistants to deal with the matter. "The reason I did that is because I'm a delegator, not a dictator," he says. "I didn't need to be there except that one meeting."
Ron Ryan, a veteran St. Paul cop who has run the gang strike force since its inception, also takes issue with Finney's management style. "Early on I suggested I thought he would be a good guy for chief," Ryan says. "He's a local kid. He's a black guy. He carries himself well.... Over the years I changed my mind." Ryan says that he came to take issue with the way Finney ran the department. "He would beat people down," Ryan says. "I didn't like that about his management style."
Police federation president Dave Titus, to cite one example, says that Finney once attempted to have all the union stewards and board members rotated in to be his personal driver for a week. Titus himself spent a week detailed to the chief's office, performing mundane tasks such as filing and chauffering Finney around town. "It was clearly an unfair labor practice and he was clearly trying to show the members that the federation was insignificant," Titus says. The union eventually succeeded in halting the practice.
Finney has also come under fire in recent months for his association with Aaron Foster, a friend since their days growing up in Rondo. As reported most exhaustively in the Pioneer Press, Foster remains a suspect in the 1981 Maplewood slaying of his then-girlfriend Barbara Winn. The deceased woman's family has raised questions about why Finney (then a St. Paul sergeant) attended Winn's autopsy and whether he hindered the investigation. Foster was arrested, but never charged. Finney also interceded after Foster's estranged wife accused him of assault in 1985, discussing the case with a Ramsey County prosecutor who was looking into the matter. Foster was not charged in that incident, either.
Finney's relationship with his childhood friend resurfaced this year after a St. Paul cop questioned why Foster was given a gun permit. The Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, which is responsible for issuing concealed weapons permits, determined that "probable cause exists to believe Aaron Walter Foster Sr. is responsible for the death of" Winn. Of course, given the heated political contest between Finney and Fletcher, the timing of the renewed probe seems suspicious.
In mid-July, 2001, John Moore was drinking at Alary's in downtown St. Paul. A well-known cop hangout, the bar has walls that are decorated with various police paraphernalia: patches, uniforms, sirens. In fact, hanging from the ceiling is a much-abused patrol car door that Moore himself gave to Alary's. It hangs next to doors from other local law enforcement agencies.
At the time, after two decades on the job, Moore held one of the most important positions in the sheriff's department. As the lieutenant in charge of patrol, he supervised roughly 80 officers working the Ramsey County streets. Over the years he'd worked in the jail, been a patrol officer, investigated narcotics violations, and probed biker gangs.
On this occasion, according to Moore, he struck up a conversation with Dennis Flaherty, at the time executive director of the Minnesota Peace and Police Officers Association. Moore was growing increasingly disgruntled with the way the sheriff's office was being run under Fletcher's watch and informed Flaherty that he intended to run against the incumbent in the 2002 election. Unbeknownst to Moore, however, Flaherty was also a confidant and political supporter of Fletcher. (Flaherty did not return repeated calls seeking comment for this story.)
The very next week, Moore was called to a meeting with Fletcher at the Flameburger restaurant on Rice Street. Over lunch the sheriff informed him that he was being removed from the patrol division. Effective August 6, Moore was to be in charge of the apprehension division, a position of considerably less authority. Instead of supervising 80 patrol officers, he'd be responsible for eight deputies charged with executing arrest warrants. Moore was also instructed that henceforth he would report to Inspector Nicholas O'Hara.
The reason given for the personnel move was purported communication problems with his present boss, Undersheriff George Altendorfer. As the two were leaving the Flameburger, however, Moore says that Fletcher made this comment: "Oh, by the way, I spoke to Flaherty." The implication was unmistakable, according to Moore. He was being transferred because word had gotten out that he intended to challenge Fletcher in the next election.
As Moore tells the story, that lunch meeting was just the prelude to months of retribution and ostracism at the hands of Fletcher and his allies. He was repeatedly punished for alleged wrongdoing. A letter he wrote on department letterhead asking a female medic for a date was one offense held against him. That resulted in a two-day suspension. Moore was also accused of stealing department property. His theft? The battered patrol car door and other cop paraphernalia that he'd donated to Alary's and another bar. That offense resulted in a 30-day suspension.
Moore says his initial assignment overseeing the apprehension division rapidly disintegrated into simply executing warrant arrests. Then, when he was deemed unfit for that duty, he became O'Hara's executive assistant, constantly at his beck and call. Moore claims that he was constantly berated by his superior and expressly confined to the office except for a one-hour lunch break. In the months leading up to the 2002 campaign, he was required to keep a daily log of his activities.
"They were trying to draw me out into a fight," Moore says. "There is no doubt that O'Hara was trying to get me to take a swing at him, and then this whole thing would be over. It was very difficult going to work at that time. You never knew if your next step was going to be on a land mine."
Joyce Shockency tells a similar story. She was hired by Ramsey County in 1974, intially as a hospital clerk. She became a deputy sheriff in 1989 and was promoted to sergeant six years later. When she made the decision to support Moore's candidacy for sheriff in 2002, she was supervisor of the patrol division during the overnight shift. Shockency was actively involved in Moore's campaign, marching in parades and handing out literature.
Almost immediately after the election, in January 2003, Shockency was moved to the newly created "midnight transportation" division. The mission of this unit was to transport prisoners to and from various facilities. They were also charged with monitoring inmates who were receiving medical treatment at Region's Hospital. But according to Shockency, there were rarely any inmates to transport during her shift from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., and consequentially little to do. She was explicitly forbidden from going out on patrol during this downtime. "In those eight hours I read the Bible, I was on the computer, and I learned how to do eBay," she recalls. Shockency says she repeatedly tried to get back on active patrol, but her entreaties were ignored. "Every single time there was an opening on the street, I put in for that," she says. "I tried desperately." Shockency says that the ordeal led her to seek medication for depression. "If I hadn't taken the meds, I wouldn't have been able to go to work," she insists. "He destroyed my career with the stroke of a pen, thinking I would sit back like a little mealy mouth and take it." When Shockency reached 30 years on the job in September 2004, she opted to retire.
By that time she had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming that her First Amendment right to free speech and association had been violated. Moore subsequently joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff. Fletcher and O'Hara were named defendants, along with the Ramsey County government. The defendants sought to have the case dismissed, but in July of this year Judge Ann Montgomery ruled that there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed. In particular, Montgomery cited conflicting testimony from Fletcher and his underlings regarding the reasons for the transfers. "Plaintiffs have demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact as to whether they were retaliated against because of their political activity," Montgomery wrote in her decision. "Viewing the facts in the requisite light most favorable to Plaintiffs, a reasonable jury could find that the reduction in responsibilities and duties to both Plaintiffs were the result of the exercise of Plaintiffs' protected free speech rights." That decision has now been appealed by the defendants to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Fletcher insists that their charges are groundless and that the lawsuit is politically motivated. He says that Moore actually caught a break when the sheriff's department didn't fire him after the incident of distributing police equipment to bars surfaced. "That act of unlawfully taking property that you know does not belong to you is certainly under some definitions a theft," he notes. "We didn't proceed with criminal proceedings against John...frankly, if he hadn't run against me, I might have fired him. But I knew that the criticism would have been significant."
O'Hara backs up his boss. "John came to me with a clean slate," he insists. "Initially he showed a lot of promise, but he became a guy who tried to divide and conquer the unit. He was very divisive, unresponsive to my requests of him, and ultimately was a failure in the unit."
As for Shockency, Fletcher maintains that the midnight transportation unit was developed in order to deal with budget cutbacks. "Nothing changed except that she was responsible for managing the transportation unit," he says. "Same days off, same vacation, same hours, except the functions that she was responsible for supervising did change. That happens in every single department across the entire country. You're not guaranteed any one job your entire career." Furthermore, he claims that Shockency had the authority to go out on patrol if she had finished her duties in the transportation division. "If she chose not to do work, that was her decision," he says.
But Shockency and Moore are not the only employees who claim that they've been unfairly retaliated against by Fletcher. Brad Urban's initial run-in with his boss occurred in 1996, when he was criticized for rigorously enforcing Vadnais Heights's 10:00 p.m. curfew for minors. Most other towns in the metro area had a midnight curfew for minors. After parents complained about their kids being picked up for violations, Fletcher suspended enforcement of the northern suburb's curfew rule. Urban claims the policy was only changed because it affected wealthy suburban kids. Eventually, Urban was completely removed from the curfew detail.
Urban sparked controversy again in 1999 for his vigorous pursuit of drunk drivers. In January he was ordered by superiors to stop targeting patrons of bars on Rice Street in Little Canada. In the prior two years Urban had arrested nearly 450 people for drunk driving. After a backlash from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, as recounted in the Star Tribune at the time, Fletcher relented and agreed to keep Urban on the DWI beat. But Urban says he was never provided the proper equipment to fulfill this mission.
The disgruntled deputy was eventually transferred to the property room, working the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. The only problem? The property room closes at 3:45 p.m. Urban claims there was literally nothing for him to do on his shift. "I didn't have a desk, I didn't have a phone," he recalls. "I didn't show up most of the time. If I did show up, I'd watch TV and work out. I wouldn't stay past 7:00. I basically had a government no-show job for three years. I did absolutely nothing." Urban retired in 2003.
Fletcher's purported tendency to retaliate against those who disagree with him is a constant theme of Finney's campaign. "People don't want to be scared or intimidated by their chief law enforcement officer," says Finney. "And there's a lot of people in this county who feel like they've been intimidated and they're scared to speak out against him."
But Fletcher insists that the perception that he's a bully is completely misguided and only held by people who don't know him very well. "I think it's a typical political allegation, but I don't think it has any foundation," he says. "Do I look like a bully to you?"
On a Monday morning in September, Sheriff Fletcher is meeting with his inner circle. Sitting around a conference table on the third floor of the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center are seven of his closest associates, plus a secretary. Fletcher is dressed in civilian clothes: a blue blazer and yellow tie.
First on the agenda is personnel matters. Dimitri Burroughs, who oversees the jail, reports that he had to send an officer home with pay on Friday after he got into an altercation with a superior. George Altendorfer, who manages the transport division, states that he needs two additional officers. "When do you need them?" Fletcher queries. "As soon as possible," is the response. The possibility arises that the St. Paul police might add an additional drug dog.
Then it's on to operational issues. The pros and cons of entering into a transportation agreement with other law enforcement agencies are weighed. It's noted, however, that as one of the larger law enforcement agencies in the area, Ramsey County would likely end up getting the short stick in any such pact. Preparations for the upcoming jail open house are discussed, along with plans for the looming North St. Paul parade.
About the only item of a non-administrative nature is a recent drug bust in Dakota County. Inspector Nicholas O'Hara reports that officers seized nine ounces of heroin, some methamphetamine, and $12,000 in cash during the raid. The investigation that led to the raid was initiated by a Ramsey County deputy. "There's a lot more heroin coming in of late," Fletcher notes.
Then it's back to the mundane: preparations for the White Bear Lake Senior Triad Dance. "Ninety-nine percent of the time we're not worried about politics," Fletcher notes at one point. "We're worried about running the department."
At present it's difficult to handicap the sheriff's race. Fletcher has the support of the St. Paul Police Federation and a strong base in the suburbs, while Finney boasts the coalition that propelled Chris Coleman into the mayor's office last year. But whatever happens, one thing is certain. Come November 8, whoever is assigning parade marshals in North St. Paul and battling street crime in Gem Lake will have fought tenaciously for the privilege.
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