MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell announced that five officers have been fired over “significant policy violations.”
Axtell spoke from a press conference at the St. Paul Police Department headquarters Thursday afternoon. Axtell said the firing is connected to an incident in 2018 where an assault occurred and officers did not intervene.
Axtell said he couldn’t talk about the incident, but sources familiar with the case tell WCCO the assault happened last summer at Eastside Checkerboard Pizza, a restaurant run by Tou Cha.
Cha resigned from the St. Paul force 14 years ago after his police pistol was used in a shooting. Sources say several fights were going on inside the pizza shop when officers arrived.
According to court documents, Cha is charged with beating a man with a baton and pepper spraying him at the restaurant last June. The man was taken to the hospital, where he was treated for a concussion and had to have two “significant” head lacerations closed with seven and 17 staples. Authorities say the lacerations were caused by two different blows to the man’s head. The man allegedly told police he was “terrified of retaliation” from Cha.
The criminal complaint says one officer’s squad parked across the street and another squad drove by and captured the attack on camera. Cha pleaded not guilty to the charges. He will be in court next month.
Axtell says a civilian filed a complaint, which led to an internal investigation of the incident.
“The officers I terminated responded to an incident. An individual assaulted others and the officers did not intervene,” Axtell said. “Officers are expected to intervene when criminal acts occur in their presence. Officers are expected to protect the vulnerable.”
Axtell says the actions of the terminated police officers do not reflect the values of the St. Paul Police Department.
“It’s not an action I took lightly,” he said. “This is a disappointing day for our department.”
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter released a statement in support of Axtell’s decision.
“I fully support and appreciate Chief Axtell’s leadership and the work of our PCIARC to enforce strong ethical standards in our police department,” Carter said. “While the vast majority of our officers meet and exceed these standards every day, the trust we place in them demands accountability for actions that fall below our high expectations.”
Due to state law, Axtell did not give many details and did not identify the officers.
The St. Paul Police Federation also released a statement regarding the officers’ termination.
“I believe the punishment imposed is neither fair nor appropriate under the given circumstances and I am extremely disappointed with the Chief’s decision. The Chief speaks of transparency but cannot be transparent with his own employees leaving these officers in limbo for a year,” the statement said in part.
Attorney for SPPD union Christopher Wachtler tells WCCO they plan on starting the appeal process for the fired officers Friday, calling Axtell’s decision “outrageous.”
He’s seen the body and squad camera video from the incident and says it doesn’t warrant termination.
Watch the full press conference below: