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Jeff Rothecker: The unflattering history of the cop who'd run over black people

Jeff Rothecker's colorful history with the force includes past issues with public protests, and a few moments of bad driving.

Jeff Rothecker's colorful history with the force includes past issues with public protests, and a few moments of bad driving.

Sgt. Jeffrey Rothecker is very, very sorry about a recent Facebook post advising Twin Cities residents to run over Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrating on Martin Luther King Day. We know this because Rothecker issued a statement to that effect, with the help of a PR firm, saying he was "extremely sorry" to everyone: the people of St. Paul, his fellow officers, his family.

What we don't know is whether Rothecker is sorry for leaving nearly identical and equally offensive Facebook posts in November, back when Black Lives Matter protesters were trying to draw attention to Jamar Clark's death at the hands of Minneapolis police. 

If Rothecker didn't regret those posts before, he probably does by now. 

Posting under the moniker "JM Roth," Rothecker took the fight right to the people he disagreed with, replying to posts on the Facebook page of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a local progressive nonprofit. According to Becky Dernbach, communications director for NOC, Rothecker was a "serial troll" around the time of Clark's death and the resulting protests.

Ultimately, she banned "JM Roth," but not before taking a screenshot of a few posts that will sound pretty familiar to anyone following Rothecker's case. Referring to drivers held up by Black Lives Matter protests, Rothecker wrote, "They should've ran them over. Obviously their parents never taught them not to play on the highway. If drivers would've just kept driving, any idiot that wants to walk onto the highway and risk getting hit, it's their fault and not that of the driver." 

He added, "F BLM," and "any others that support what they are doing." 

Rothecker tried arresting this protester for wielding what he thought might be a knife; the protester said he'd been holding a marker.

Rothecker tried arresting this protester for wielding what he thought might be a knife; the protester said he'd been holding a marker.

In a later exchange in the same thread, Rothecker espoused a similar legal viewpoint, writing that drivers are within their rights to deliberately run someone over, so long as they "stop and speak with police." 

It should be noted that Rothecker's not a particularly accomplished driver himself. According to police department personnel records, complaints have been filed against Rothecker over the years, and seven were upheld, resulting in discipline. Three of those were for car accidents. 

In 1998, Rothecker was blamed for not turning on his lights and siren while heading to an "emergency," resulting in an accident. In 2007, Rothecker was "pulling out of headquarters to respond to a call when [he] hit a post," which internal affairs ascribed to "driver inattention." And in May of 2014, Rothecker was in another accident while driving his cop car, this one blamed on his failure to yield.

 

This also isn't the first time Rothecker's come off as being hostile to protesters.

In 2008, he was one of many St. Paul cops trying to handle the influx of people rallying against the Republican National Convention. During the protests, Rothecker tried to arrest one protester, Daniel Bono. He later told an appeals court that he saw Bono holding what looked like "either a large knife or a screwdriver," and was going to damage a bus tire. Bono's version: the object he was holding was a washable marker, and he was using it to write on the bus.

After Rothecker tackled Bono, two protesters tried to pull Bono free. Rothecker responded by spraying mace in every direction, peppering journalists and nonviolent bystanders alike, before letting go of Bono and walking away. The incident was documented on YouTube, and in a series of photographs by Matt Mead, then a photographer for the Minnesota Daily. 

Rothecker has been placed on leave for the January posts encouraging drivers to plow through crowds of protesters on Martin Luther King Day. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and the city's police department have strongly condemned his message. Just about the only people supporting Rothecker are under professional obligation to be in his corner. The St. Paul Police Federation helped Rothecker release his statement of contrition earlier this week, and, in their own release, noted that Rothecker is an honorably discharged military veteran with 22 years on the force. 

"He has many supporters in the community and among his fellow officers," reads the statement. 

At the time of that statement, Rothecker was telling them — and the public — that he would "never intentionally encourage someone to commit a crime." Only he had already, just months before.

Rothecker's statement added that, after taking a moment to think about it, he'd deleted the social media post that's got him in so much trouble. These days he's probably looking for a button that would delete Facebook itself.