St. Paul police union head apologizes for 'political attack', won't resign

St.Paul Police Federation President David Titus.
St. Paul Police Federation Dave Titus speaks at a press conference on Nov. 4, 2016.
Sam Harper for MPR News 2016

Updated: Oct. 28, 10:45 a.m. | Posted: Oct. 27, 1:45 p.m.

St. Paul Police union president Dave Titus on Friday took "full responsibility" for an "ill-advised political attack" on St. Paul mayoral candidate Melvin Carter that centered on guns stolen from Carter's home.

Titus, however, turned aside calls by St. Paul's mayor and other leaders for him to step down immediately as head of the union.

Titus issued a contrite statement Friday, saying the union's board had "little to no involvement" in the week's controversies but that the federation would stop all political activities for the remainder of this election cycle, which ends Nov. 7.

On Tuesday, Titus slammed Carter, saying the candidate had not been cooperating with police on the search for two guns taken from Carter's home in an August burglary. He said the theft put two more untraceable guns on the street and that since police didn't have serial numbers of the pistols, they could be very difficult to get out of circulation.

The situation escalated Thursday after a mailer went out tying the theft of the guns to the rising number of shootings in the city.

The comments and the mailer triggered a backlash against Titus and the union. Carter's campaign argued the St. Paul Police Federation's actions were racially motivated (Carter is African-American) and showed how minorities are presumed guilty. The union later said it did not mean to "revictimize" the Carter family but said its earlier statements were not racist.

Mayor Chris Coleman, however, castigated Titus and called on the entire union board to step down, saying they'd embarrassed the force.

Pat Harris, the mayoral candidate Titus and the union endorsed, also slammed the federation leadership for engaging in "dirty political tactics and dog whistle racism" and called on the union board to quit.

In a statement released Friday, St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell condemned the federation's actions, saying their questions about the burglary were not in the interest of the investigation and instead were meant to further its own political agenda.

Axtell said he was proud of the officers and investigators who worked on the burglary case, and emphasized that politics play no role in the way officers respond to crimes.

While Titus initially responded sardonically to Coleman's accusations, on Friday the union president said the letter released by the federation on Tuesday "was an ill-advised political attack meant to highlight inconsistencies, that was in no way shape or form racially motivated," he wrote. "In no way were we implying these guns were used in the commission of a crime, rather that we need a mayor whose priority is public safety."

Responding to calls for his resignation, Titus wrote that he was elected by union members and had an open-door policy for members to talk to him, adding that "when my term expires, my members have the opportunity to judge me by my overall body of work."

He also said he called on Building a Better St. Paul, the group responsible for the campaign postcard critical of Carter, to stop because the controversy "had become racially charged which was not the intent of anyone involved."

In a separate statement, Building a Better St. Paul also apologized for the harm the mailer created and said it would be ceasing campaign activities and that all of its remaining funds will be donated to a nonprofit. Later Friday, chairman Brian Bergson said "the buck stops with me." He issued a statement saying he accepted full responsibility for the organization's actions and for the direct-mail postcard.

Building a Better St. Paul had received funding from several groups, including the St. Paul Police Federation. Organizers say they hope the incident doesn't discourage people from voting in the election.

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