Rochester cop on leave over alleged Facebook posts

Posting on the Rochester for Justice page
The group Rochester for Justice has posted a series of images on their Facebook page, saying they are screen shots from a Rochester police officer's Facebook account.
Facebook

Updated: Feb. 23, 6 a.m. | Posted: Feb. 22, 4:37 p.m.

The Rochester Police Department has put an officer on leave while it investigates allegations he posted an image on his Facebook page of a car running over protesters and another that talked about shooting Muslims in the face.

Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson said officer Ben Schlag was put on paid administrative leave Friday after the police department was contacted about the posts.

Schlag is in the department's investigative unit. He has been with Rochester police for five years. Reached by phone, Schlag referred all questions to the police department.

The letter alerting the Rochester Police Department and Mayor Ardell Brede came from a group called Me to We Racial Healing.

"Nobody would look at that and say 'Gee, this officer is clearly going to respect me if he pulls me over,'" said Andrea Morisette Grazzini, the group's founder and CEO.

Grazzini's Minnesota-based group began by explaining the history behind civil disobedience and street activism in online discussions about race.

"This is been a group that came out of us seeing a lot of racism online and some really brutal, ugly stuff, and trying to de-escalate," she said.

But when Jamar Clark was fatally shot by Minneapolis police last November, and watching the protests that followed, Grazzini said her group decided to take a different approach.

"When this was all happening, we just looked at ourselves and said, 'We're not getting anywhere.' There is violence happening and it's flooding from online into real life, human environments, into the occupation or into activist protests and so forth," she said. "We're failing in our efforts to talk people down."

Grazzini said that when members of the group find online comments that are racist, she reports them to employers both public and private. She's sent over 70 letters so far to employers nationwide including Best Buy and Target.

Two police departments in Minnesota and the Department of Corrections are among employers who received complaints.

Grazzini said it's hard to strike a balance between a mission to de-escalate versus actually creating more tension by bringing those online posts to light. She said she copied Gov. Mark Dayton on the letter about Schlag, because the post appeared at time when the governor is talking about closing racial disparity gaps.

The group doesn't typically ask employers to fire people. But they did in the case of St. Paul police officer Jeffrey Rothecker when they saw a historical pattern showing discrimination. Rothecker allegedly urged drivers to "run over" protesters during a Martin Luther King Day march. Rothecker has apologized for the posts and resigned last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.