Ramsey sheriff hit over ‘sundown’ remark; critics say reference has racist history
Sheriff Bob Fletcher said he made the comment on a livestream Monday, July 5, based on old Westerns, not race.
ST. PAUL — Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher is taking heat yet again over his “Live on Patrol” broadcast, this time after making a comment that suspected criminals would have been told at sundown to “get outta town.”
Fletcher’s critics say the comment during his broadcast Monday, July 5, refers to so-called sundown towns, communities that for decades kept out Black people or other groups by warning them to leave or stay away before the sun went down.
On Thursday, July 8, Fletcher’s comment was denounced by three elected officials, including St. Paul City Council Member Mitra Jalali, who called it “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”
In a statement to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Fletcher said that until Thursday he never had heard of the negative connotation.
“Obviously they never watched the same Westerns that I did where the Sheriff told gunslingers to get out of town,” his statement read. “There were no racial connotations intended whatsoever. The bad guys in the Westerns were white.”
Fletcher started streaming his patrols live on Facebook and YouTube at the end of July 2020, saying that he wanted “to help inform and educate the public regarding the job of law enforcement in hopes of building community trust and relationships through transparency.” There have been over 12 million views of the videos on YouTube.
Fletcher’s comment came during Monday night’s broadcast, which was his 160th and ran for 3 1/2 hours. After muting the video feed, he explained that he and his broadcast ride-along partner Pat Scott did so because they had been “exchanging some intelligence information” with St. Paul police on “possible addresses of some criminal suspects, which we didn’t want aired before we actually go swing by those addresses.”
“Yep, we don’t want … we don’t ’em to know that we know the addresses,” said Scott, who is a part-time crime analyst for the Ramsey County sheriff’s office and a retired, longtime St. Paul police officer.
Fletcher then said, “100 years ago, though, we woulda just told them, ‘OK, son, you got ’til sundown to get outta of town.’” Scott can be heard in the video laughing.
Social media backlash
The Twitter account Whittier Cop Watch shared a video clip of the comment Tuesday night, resulting in nearly 300 retweets, 25,000 views and plenty of social-media backlash. Soon, Twitter users tagged the accounts of Ramsey County, county board member Trista MatasCastillo and others in an attempt to bring it to their attention.
MatasCastillo called it “horrendous.”
“It is appalling to me that people speak without thinking and with no concern for the harm it causes,” she said. “In Ramsey County, we have been so committed to racial equity and to breaking down barriers of systematic racism and white supremacy, and to have an elected official like the sheriff just blatantly ignore those efforts and to speak that way, it’s really awful.”
Council member Jalali turned to Twitter, saying that Fletcher should resign.
“Wistful callbacks to ‘sundown towns', where police violently harassed/killed Black people after dark, are disgusting & unacceptable,” her Tweet read.
Jalali said she hopes the Ramsey County board investigates the video and that “necessary consequences are brought” against Fletcher and the sheriff’s office.
County Board Chair Toni Carter said she also saw the clip of what she described as Fletcher’s “cavalier comment,” adding that she did not watch more than that and did not know the context.
“But I feel that the statement, the use of that reference, was unfortunate and an unnecessary reminder that even unconscious bias can continue to live in and breathe through and permeate law enforcement,” she said. “When those kinds of references are made, I think it … brings to mind those kinds of times. So as we’re moving forward in the 21st century and focusing on the kind of law enforcement that prioritizes keeping everyone safe, those kinds of cavalier remembrances, whether it’s intentional or not, simply have no place.”
As an independently elected official, the sheriff is directly accountable to voters, not the board. That hasn’t stopped commissioners from expressing their displeasure with Fletcher over the past year, going so far as to research how to change his position from elected to appointed.
In December, at the board’s direction, four online listening sessions were held with residents that focused on Fletcher’s accountability and trust with residents.
The board’s action followed the incarceration of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin at the Ramsey County Jail. In June 2020, eight minority employees of the jail filed complaints with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, saying they were discriminated against when their supervisor prohibited them from interacting with Chauvin. Last month, a Hennepin County judge sentenced Chauvin to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd .
Fletcher said at the time that he directed his office to make changes immediately and indicated a willingness to work with the department.
Ramsey County commissioners continued to raise concerns about Fletcher following his Nov. 18 pursuit of a stolen vehicle in St. Paul.
Livestream raises eyebrows
In May, the St. Paul City Council passed a resolution on a 5-2 vote requesting the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training evaluate whether Fletcher’s “Live on Patrol” violates sheriff’s office policy and the Minnesota police code of conduct.
The council’s resolution, which was sponsored by Jalali, council President Amy Brendmoen and Rebecca Noecker, says Fletcher’s patrols in St. Paul with “broadcast dash-camera style videos of his ‘tours’ to curate a crudely-produced reality show” have “recorded his patrol decisions and actions which have been characterized as both reckless and in specific violation of both the St. Paul Police and Ramsey County Sheriff Departments’ official policy and protocol, and as such have raised the ire of community members and elected officials.”
On Thursday, Jalali suggested through Twitter that Fletcher’s comment should be added to the review.
Council members’ concerns include vehicle chases that Fletcher has taken part in. Chris Tolbert pointed to a time during a “Live on Patrol” on Nov. 18 when Fletcher pursued a stolen vehicle the wrong way down a St. Paul residential street and told Scott, “Keep that off, OK? The wrong-way part.”
Tolbert said he took Fletcher’s words to mean, “I know what I am doing is wrong. Don’t let the people see it.”
But Fletcher said that was not his intention. He said he knew the one-way street was “extremely short” and was asking Scott to not dispatch the information to St. Paul officers because he “didn’t want us to project a level of danger that wasn’t there.”
Fletcher has said that he believes there “is a political agenda” behind the city council’s action, though he said he welcomes any review.