Son of a Chief

A probe into the bar brawl involving St. Paul police Sgt. Jon Loretz (inset) seems to have stalled. His father is police Chief William Finney.
St. Paul Police Department

Around 1:00 a.m. on October 19, St. Paul police officer Jon Loretz was involved in a brawl at Lucy's Saloon, a bar in the Frogtown neighborhood that caters to a largely lesbian clientele. Several patrons of the establishment claimed that the 6'5", 250-pound off-duty sergeant had yelled homophobic slurs, brandished a gun, and cracked one person over the head with a beer bottle.

The incident initially drew intense media scrutiny not only for the salacious details of the brawl, but because of Loretz's background: He's the son of outgoing Police Chief William Finney. Because of the conflict, the criminal probe was turned over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). But even this did not stem concerns that Loretz would get favorable treatment since Finney's wife, Linda (who is not related to Loretz), is the acting superintendent of the BCA. Within days of the beginning of the probe, Lucy's owner Areanna Coale was accusing investigators of asking leading questions and calling for the inquiry be turned over to the state attorney general's office.

The BCA probe was completed in late December. The results were turned over to the Olmsted County Attorney's Office to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Loretz. But after five months of waiting, there's still been no decision. The inaction has left everyone involved in the case--city officials, bar patrons, people in the gay and lesbian community--flummoxed and frustrated.

"It just seems as if it's gone into a black hole," says Phil Duran, legal and policy analyst at OutFront Minnesota, a gay and lesbian advocacy group that has been tracking the case. "This is not securities and exchange litigation. It's a bar brawl. How tough can it be?"

Bar owner Coale, also an assistant Ramsey County public defender, likewise has become exasperated by the delay. "There's such a thing as reasonable, and as far as I'm concerned this investigation and what has occurred has not been reasonable," she notes.

Even BCA officials express bewilderment at what has become of the investigation. "If you could find out, we'd be interested to know," says spokesman Kevin Smith.

The Olmsted County Attorney's Office is mum on when a conclusion might be reached. Jim Martinson, head of the office's criminal division, would say only this: "It's under investigation. No decision has been made."

As the investigation has dragged on, Loretz has remained on the job (although he is prohibited from working in uniform and from taking off-duty jobs). Shortly after the brawl at Lucy's, he was providing public tours of the police department's new headquarters northeast of downtown. Then in February, Loretz decamped to Louisville, Kentucky, to attend the Southern Police Institute, a prestigious law-enforcement training academy to which St. Paul sends just one officer each year. The 13-week, $7,500 program was paid for with taxpayer dollars.

This has led to considerable grumbling among rank-and-file cops--although few are willing to go public with their complaints. "My feeling is, if you're under investigation you shouldn't be able to attend those institutions," says Frank Foster, a retired St. Paul cop. "I think a lot of people feel that Jon was rewarded for his situation."

City officials and Loretz's attorney point out that Loretz was selected by a panel of Southern Police Institute graduates to attend the academy long before the incident at Lucy's. They say it would have been inappropriate to punish him prior to the conclusion of the investigation. "It would be a shame for someone who had been waiting for years to go to this prestigious school to have that taken away from him just because someone makes an accusation," argues Loretz's lawyer, Kevin Short.

But Loretz's treatment contrasts sharply with that of another St. Paul officer who allegedly ran afoul of department policies recently. Cornelius Benner IV was at Arnellia's Bar on February 20 when a Cameroonian immigrant named Stephen Kuma was shot to death. Rather than assist at the scene, Benner took off. Finney immediately criticized the cop in the media, and subsequently decided to terminate his employment. After Benner filed a grievance through the St. Paul Police Federation, he was reinstated.

Interestingly, the Benner and Finney clans have deep ties. Cornelius Benner's dad, Cornelius "Butch" Benner, is a retired St. Paul cop and was Finney's partner when they came on the force back in the 1970s. For unknown reasons, the two subsequently had an acrimonious falling-out. This has led to speculation that Finney's handling of the Arnellia's situation was colored by the past. "A lot of people feel like Neil got a raw deal," says Foster, who was on the force with the elder Benner and Finney.

Others, however, don't believe Finney would allow such petty personal differences to affect his judgment. "I just don't think that Finney is that shallow," says Art Blakey, a retired Ramsey County Sheriff's Department officer who's known both families for years.

(Butch Benner declined to comment for this story. Finney also declined to speak, citing the ongoing investigation.)

Even so, the long delay in the Loretz investigation has sparked all manner of speculation. "There's not a day that goes by that someone doesn't say to me, 'Whatever happened with that Jon Loretz case?'" says Coale. "'Are they just going to let him walk on this?'"

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