UPDATE: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is not impressed by Sgt. Jeff Rothecker's sudden change of heart. Hours after Rothecker's statement came out, Coleman responded with one of his own. “I continue to be outraged by the online comments," Coleman said. "While an apology is certainly in order, it is not sufficient to repair the trust that has been broken. Beyond that, Minnesota law prevents me from talking about disciplinary action until any employee appeals period is over.”
Jeff Rothecker, the St. Paul Police Department officer who encouraged drivers to run over Black Lives Matter protesters, released an extraordinary statement Wednesday afternoon, apologizing profusely for the offensive Facebook comment that might've jeopardized his law enforcement career.
Rothecker, a 22-year-veteran of the force, has been on leave since cop-watchers tipped the department and the city to a Facebook post from "JM Roth," and linked the account to Rothecker. In his message, the police sergeant told readers of the Pioneer Press they should not hesitate to drive right through crowds of protesters who had announced plans to shut down parts of Marshall Avenue on Martin Luther King Day.
"Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street," Rothecker wrote. He added that drivers should simply drive away, call 911, and explain that fear of a group with "a propensity for violence" had driven them to run over Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Cops would accept this, he reasoned, and a jury would likely side with the motorist in any lawsuit.
Rothecker's writing tone has changed a bit in the couple days since this story went public. On Wednesday, with the help of the Connolly Kuhl public relations firm, Rothecker issued a statement expressing contrition over his rotten advice.
In full, the statement reads:
“I am extremely sorry for posting what I did, I understand that the post was insensitive and wrong. My poor choice of words conveyed a message I did not intend and am not proud of. Shortly after submitting the post, I re-read it and deleted it. As a law enforcement officer, I would never intentionally encourage someone to commit a crime. I very much regret my actions. I apologize to all the citizens of St. Paul, the department, my fellow law enforcement professionals and my family for the scornful attention my mistake has brought upon them. I apologize for exposing all law enforcement officers to increased scrutiny, during this difficult time of ongoing conflict between officers and members of the community. I apologize to the community members who participated peacefully in the protest.”The same statement indicates that Rothecker is being represented by his union, the St. Paul Police Federation, though it's made clear that the labor unit "in no way endorses the behavior that the post seems to suggest."
He'll need their help. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has said he would support taking "the strongest possible action under law." The St. Paul Police Department has backed the hell away from Rothecker's sentiment, too. In a statement issued Tuesday night, the department said the offending post was "offensive, disappointing, concerning," and should not be taken as reflective of the department itself.
Similar to Coleman, the department promised to take the matter seriously, and come down hard on Rothecker if the facts bore out. "If it is determined that the comment was written by a member of the Saint Paul Police Department, swift, strong and decisive disciplinary action will be taken."