SchlagUmpierre

A Rochester police officer and a police lieutenant have both been disciplined for Facebook posts, though the cases played out very differently.

Lt. Eli Umpierre's case, which involved two posts, cost the city more than $1 million and led to the forced retirement of a 25-year veteran officer after a year on paid leave.

Officer Ben Schlag's case, which involved 12 posts, resulted in a 10-day suspension. He remains on the force.

Umpierre is Rochester's first full-time female officer and its first openly gay officer. She is of Puerto Rican heritage. She was accused of misconduct, including prejudicial bias, encouraging unlawful behavior and unprofessional conduct, for one comment about "white male cops" and another siding with the protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline that said, "sometimes laws have to be challenged and broken for the good of the masses."

Schlag is a white man who made postings that talked of shooting Muslims and running over people protesting the police shootings of black men.

Rochester contracted with the same consultant, Michelle Soldo of St. Paul-based Soldo Consulting, to investigate both the Umpierre and Schlag cases. The city paid Soldo $4,181 for Schlag's investigation. The amount that Soldo was paid for the Umpierre case was not available Tuesday, though the city's human resources department is collecting the information to be released to the public.

In Umpierre's case, Soldo went beyond the original complaint about social media postings. Her report included items cited as examples of the lieutenant favoring minority suspects and encouraging the arrest of men in domestic incidents.

Umpierre denied those claims.

When looking into the complaints about Schlag, Soldo interviewed him and gave him an opportunity to defend his posts.

Soldo's report stated that, "Officer Schlag acknowledged that some (not all) of the Facebook posts, considered in isolation by an uninformed observer (someone who does not know him personally), could be perceived as racially charged and offensive. However, Officer Schlag said the perception is inaccurate. He does not harbor any actual racial animus and his posts do not reflect any actual race-based animus on his part."

Umpierre's attorney, Clayton Halunen of Minneapolis-based Halunen Law, said Tuesday that Schlag and Umpierre made very different public statements. "One was trying to engage in public dialogue, and one was espousing hatred and violence toward a group of people."

While some in the community called for Schlag to be fired, Chief Peterson placed him on leave for 10 days. In addition, Schlag was required to personally pay for and attend classes on cultural sensitivity.

Umpierre said Peterson consulted his senior staff as a group before making that decision. He went around the group to ask each one individually what punishment they would suggest for Schlag, Umpierre suggested six months of unpaid leave, which upset many of the others in the room.

In May 2016, when talking to a Post Bulletin reporter about the Schlag discipline, Peterson said, "Let's say I did the easy thing: I fired Ben Schlag. Now, I'm not going to be criticized, but my department is going to be absolutely no better because I haven't addressed the issues that we need to address."

In Umpierre's case, Peterson wrote a letter to start proceedings to terminate her. That decision was later rescinded, and the settlement agreement was worked out through mediation after Umpierre filed a bias complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. 

"I don't think this is about one thing," Umpierre said. "This a reaction to a conglomeration of things. This is about the totality of everything I've been in my career."

While the city did not admit any wrongdoing or make any apologies in the settlement, Umpierre said actions speak louder than words.

"Any reasonable, thinking human being can come to the conclusion that you wouldn't settle for $1 million if you thought you were absolutely right," she said Tuesday.

Her lawyers will receive $400,000 of that.

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Business Reporter

Jeff has worked at newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editor, photographer and copy editor since 1992. He started at the Post Bulletin in 1999. Kiger is the PB's business reporter and writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street."