Sheriff Fletcher defends his department against jail complaints

Sheriff Fletcher
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher,
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Cameron Kennedy, 19, of Mankato, was arrested last Monday, on the first day of the convention, after he and his friends joined a protest in downtown St. Paul.

The next night at the Ramsey County detention center, Kennedy says he witnessed a brutal beating of a young man named Elliot Hughes after Hughes and others chanted for food all day.

Elliot Hughes
Elliot Hughes, a 19-year-old member of the RNC Welcoming Committee, describes his arrest in downtown St. Paul and his alleged mistreatment in jail.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

"The guards tackled him, threw him to the ground. I saw him specifically hit his head against the concrete," said Kennedy. "That's when a bunch of guards swarmed him. I didn't see the rest because there were about 13 guards that swarmed him."

Kennedy also says many of his friends didn't get immediate medical attention for injuries they sustained during the arrests in downtown St. Paul.

He says one friend had an injured wrist, while the other had an injured ankle. Kennedy says he didn't have access to his asthma medicine, even on the day he was released.

"That morning I asked for my inhaler. I'm an asthmatic. I have an inhaler, and he said it was going to take him about 15 minutes to get it out of my property. And I never got it," said Kennedy.

Not getting medications or medical attention is the biggest complaint that lawyers with the National Lawyers Guild received throughout the week of the RNC. Gena Berglund, Coordinator of the NLG Legal Observer Program, has some examples.

Hundreds gathered outside jail
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center last week to wait for friends and family to be released from jail.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

The guild listed some of those complaints.

There was a hemophiliac who had a wound, and rather than being treated appropriately for that, the person was given a gauze for the wound.

There was a woman who was pepper-sprayed, who was not decontaminated in the jail.

There was one arrestee that had severe asthma and his medication was denied to him.

A man with schizo-affective disorder was not getting his medication.

Another person with gastrointestinal problems.

There was one other person on psychiatric meds that were denied.

Arrests during the RNC
Graphic showing the number of arrests by day during the Republican National Convention.
MPR Graphic/Rebecca Cioni

"I think we did a great job, to be honest with you," responded Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher. "We haven't received one complaint of the 750 arrests -- not one person has walked in here to complain about the treatment. This is the first I've heard of the medication being an issue."

Fletcher says it's possible that at the time people were arrested, the St. Paul Police Department may have kept backpacks containing their medication.

"In the confusion of those arrest scenes, I suppose some of them may not have had their medication with them when they arrived," he said.

Fletcher says if people did arrive without medication, jail officials made sure that they would quickly see a nurse.

"When you're looking at 700 to 800 arrests over a four-day period, there will be a handful of problems," said Fletcher. "But just clearly nothing systemic to indicate that our personnel didn't make every single effort to give people the best medication -- medical treatment possible."

Fletcher says he had three nurses and two doctors working around the clock. Fletcher says his department was fully prepared to handle up to 100 people per hour.

"I do not believe we were overwhelmed. Clearly we were pushed to the limit of our resources on both Monday and Thursday," said Fletcher, "but the medical staff reports that they were able to see the most serious in an immediate fashion. And those with less serious were seen at a later time."

Fletcher says he can't comment on the allegations that Elliot Hughes was beaten, because his department is conducting its own review, although Hughes hasn't formally filed a complaint.

As far as the methods deputies use to control disruptive behavior in the jail, Fletcher says his department does authorize deputies to use force.

Fletcher says the fact that there are only a handful of complaints indicates it was largely a successful operation.

But Garth Kahl, a medic from Oregon who was arrested during the RNC, couldn't disagree more.

"Frankly, it was disgraceful the treatment that we had here," said Kahl. "These people knew there were going to be hundreds or thousands of arrests. In my opinion, they were woefully unprepared for them and very unprofessional. The actions of the police in many cases exacerbated the situation."

Kahl says he witnessed the denial of medical attention to several people. He says the jail staff were incompetent.

Fletcher disagrees, and says he welcomes formal complaints so that the department can review the records and conduct an investigation.