A police chief in Washington state was replaced on Monday after spreading a conspiracy theory that antifa activists were planning to destroy the community, the latest in a slew of law enforcement officials disciplined or ousted for their conduct during nationwide protests against the killing of George Floyd.
Keith Rogers, now the former Snohomish police chief, referred to a May 31 demonstration, in which armed residents turned out to protect the city from supposed leftist looters, as a “festive” night of tailgating. He was reassigned amid public calls for his resignation. A spokesperson for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to The Daily Beast that Rogers was demoted, but will stay on as lieutenant with the sheriff’s office.
Rogers is among several law enforcement leaders to be punished for questionable, and sometimes downright ridiculous, handling of protests over the last two weeks. From New York to Oregon to Illinois, officials have pushed conspiracy theories, physically fought with protesters, attempted to infiltrate demonstrations, and used excessive force during a historic reckoning for police reform.
“At this moment in time, I believe reassigning Lt. Rogers is in the best interest of our community and our agency,” said Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney, whose office often contracts with the city for police services. “With over 25 years in law enforcement, I am looking forward to Lt. Rogers’ new opportunities for growth and leadership within the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.”
Rogers became the target of scathing criticism in the city of 10,000 after armed vigilantes swarmed the town on May 31 to protect it against a non-existent mob of antifa activists threatening to loot. According to the Everett Herald, the vigilante group included a man with a Confederate flag and several residents with patches of hate groups on tactical gear.
The previous day, hundreds of residents had staged a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in the city. Shortly after, police spread secondhand reports from a deleted social media post by an apparent anti-fascist group that suggested “opportunistic punks” were planning to descend on Snohomish “as a target to deploy mayhem and violence.”
“Antifa showed up in little groups, saw everyone was armed and waiting, and they decided to move on,” Republican State Rep. Robert Sutherland touted on Facebook, noting he had joined the May 31 conflict armed to defend the town against “antifa thugs.” “And a big shout out to the Snohomish City police who were there with us, shoulder to shoulder, helping to defend our little town.
Rogers told a Snohomish City Council meeting last week that the social media post had warned of “destructive protest” and listed a start time and detailed plan “to descend on the downtown corridor” of Snohomish—but the sheriff's office later said they had not confirmed any antifa presence. The accused leftist group denied responsibility for the post—and a chorus of citizens have stated that the town was instead overrun by armed right-wing vigilantes.
Rogers even went so far as to call the May 31 showdown a “festive” night of tailgating with “no really harsh terms of anything.” He and Mayor John Kartak have faced intense criticism—and calls for resignation—for allowing the armed crowd to intimidate residents this week, and insisting they somehow saved the city from looters.
“I can’t imagine someone could’ve said that with a straight face, because what I saw was the farthest from festive tailgating,” Terry Lippincott, the president of Snohomish Friends of the Library, told the Everett Herald after Rogers described the night as festive. “I saw intimidation. I saw people being afraid. I saw what looked like to me to be an absolute disaster waiting to happen.”
The next state over, in Oregon, Portland Police Chief Jami Resch resigned on Monday amid condemnation over the department’s handling of the ongoing protests. Just six months into her tenure, Resch announced she would step down after clashes between demonstrators and police. The protests, which began peacefully, delved into chaos Sunday evening after police used tear gas and sponge-tipped projectiles before arresting at least 20 residents.
“To say this was unexpected would be an understatement,” Chuck Lovell, the new chief, said at a Monday news conference. “I’m humbled. I’m going to listen. I’m going to care about the community, and I’m looking forward to this journey.”
Across the country, more officials were facing a reckoning for their conduct during the protests. Bob O’Dekirk, the mayor of Joliet in Illinois, was being investigated after a now viral video surfaced showing him in a physical confrontation with a protester. O’Dekirk was filmed wrestling with a demonstrator as police attempted to disperse a group of protesters.
He grabbed the man by his collar and forcibly walked him toward a police car before another individual attacked the mayor from behind. O’Dekirk, a former police officer, and the man he was holding then appeared to fall on the ground before other officers intervened.
On Monday, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office asked the Illinois State Police to investigate the incident.
In Fargo, North Dakota, Police Deputy Chief Todd Osmundson also resigned amid criticism for attempting to infiltrate protesters in an unsanctioned undercover operation on May 30.
According to the Grand Forks Herald, several officers complained after spotting Osmundson, a 31-year veteran, joining the protest out of his uniform. The officers claimed that Osmundson was in the riots downtown holding a beer can and a sign that read: “Fuck the Police.”
While Osmundson told KFGO that he was doing intelligence work, he had not informed superiors of his plans. He was initially suspended, but said in a June 4 Facebook post that he made the decision to quit.
“It is with a proud heart that after 31 years I lay my badge down with as much honor to the City of Fargo that I can gather,” he said. “As of today, Thursday, June 4th, I am voluntarily resigning as Deputy Chief of the Fargo Police Department.”
Meanwhile, in New York, a dispatcher with the Buffalo Police Department was suspended without pay on Monday evening after posting a “reprehensible” post on social media against protesters.
In a statement, Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood said the civilian employee was disciplined after the department became aware of his tweet comparing protesters to “wild animals” who are “rabid out of control.” The post also called for Mayor Byron Brown to allow officers to “shoot to kill” the protesters.
“The Buffalo Police Department has become aware of a reprehensible social media post by a civilian employee of the Department on his personal Facebook page,” Lockwood said. “I have immediately suspended the employee without pay and opened an internal investigation.”
The suspension came less than a week after two Buffalo police officers shoved a 75-year-old protester in front of City Hall, leaving him bleeding on the sidewalk. The two cops are now facing felony assault charges.