Mother posts pictures on social media of encounter with biker gang in Stillwater
The downtown district of Stillwater is a magnet for visitors during the summer months.
Especially on weekends.
It was Saturday night about 9 p.m. when a mom, Sophia Rashid, brought her 4-year-old daughter to town for a meal and to see the St. Croix River. Rashid said they were sitting on the patio at Leo's Grill and Malt Shop when, according to her social media post, men wearing motorcycle vests with the words "Aryan Cowboys" with the insignia of a white supremacist biker gang, along with some Hell's Angels, made their presence known along Main Street.
Rashid stated she is Muslim and wore a hijab and clothing expressing her religion. She said she believes the group intentionally locked eyes on her, gestured something, said intimidating comments and made her uncomfortable to the point she was afraid. She blurted out as much to the restaurant staff.
Rashid also used her cell phone to take photos of the group just in case, she said. Three teenage servers who aren't being identified for safety reasons scooped up the little girl and carried her, with Rashid in tow, across the street to a hotel. Rashid also called Stillwater police.
Rashid filed a harassment report, and then officers escorted her and her daughter to their car and watched them safely drive away.
Sunday, Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway issued this statement:
"On June 27 at approximately 9pm an adult female was having dinner at a downtown Stillwater establishment and made contact with male subject who was wearing clothing often worn by motorcycle gang that displayed the words ‘Aryan Cowboys’. The adult female became uncomfortable and was escorted to her vehicle by employees of the restaurant and a Stillwater Police Officer.
"The incident will be reviewed by investigators of the Stillwater Police Department for potential criminal conduct.
"Stillwater, especially the downtown district, is a popular location for motorcyclists, including, on rare occasions, motorcycle gang members. Some motorcycle gangs wear insignia on their vests that is offensive to others.
"The Stillwater Police Department does monitor their activities when they are present and takes the appropriate action when criminal acts are committed. If we see an increase on motorcycle gang activity we will increase our presence, utilizing other jurisdictions and entities if needed.
"The City of Stillwater and the Police Department are committed to ensuring that everyone, visitors and residents, feel safe."
The Washington County Sheriff and Attorney's offices were alerted, too.
Mayor Ted Kozlowski said the bikers were not from Stillwater and don't represent the town:
"I'm incredibly saddened and disturbed that a visitor to Stillwater, and her daughter, didn't feel safe in our town. We welcome everyone here and do not abide racism or discrimination of any sort. I've reached out to Sophia to hear more about her experience and to assure her that she and her family are welcome here; I've not heard back yet. I've also reached out to my Chief of Police, County Attorney & County Sheriff. They are currently investigating the incident and I hope to know more soon including what action can be taken. I love this town and as Mayor I want everyone to feel safe in our community especially as the diversity of our residents and visitors continues to grow. As we learn more about what transpired this weekend, we want to ensure everyone is safe and want to encourage people to call the police if they feel threatened. Stillwater welcomes all and we commend those who stand up to racism."
Rashid's social media post went viral with more than 15,000 shares.
The mom of one of the teens who doesn't want to be identified said over the phone that she was proud of how the teenage servers helped out. The owner of the restaurant said his staff did the right thing and they're trying to process everything that happened.
Repeated efforts to reach Rashid in person, online and over the phone were unsuccessful.