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St. Paul Police Federation president blasts Police Chief's handling of officers' terminations

June 14, 2019 06:14 PM

The St. Paul Police Federation president Friday blasted Police Chief Todd Axtell for his handling of the termination of five officers accused of failing to intervene in a physical altercation that occurred while the officers were responding to a call.

Axtell said Thursday that he would not give out specific details on the matter, citing privacy laws, but stated his objection to the events that led to the terminations.

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"It involved deceit and went against everything I stand for and what we stand for as a department," he said.

RELATED: St. Paul Police Chief announces termination of 5 officers for not intervening in assault

But SPPF President Paul Kuntz said that kind of rhetoric undermines the officers' rights to due process.

"The facts of this case are far different from those broadcast by Chief Axtell," Kuntz said. "He has done a disservice to his entire sworn staff and to the citizens of St. Paul by intentionally undermining the bargained-for process that insures fairness, justice and public safety.

"The facts in no way support termination of these five officers. And to try this case in the court of public opinion, at a stage where the officers are unable to defend themselves, is a serious breach of his responsibility as the chief law enforcement officer in the city."

RELATED: Source: Termination of 5 St. Paul police officers stems from assault at Eastside Checkerboard Pizza last June

Axtell did not identify the officers, but sources identified them as Nicholas Grundei, Robert Luna, Christopher Rhoades, Nathan Smith and Jordan Wild.

A source also said the allegations stem from an assault that occurred on June 17 of last year at Eastside Checkerboard Pizza (listed in a criminal complaint as Checker's Pizza) on the 900 block of Arcade Street in St. Paul.

In that case, a now 50-year-old man, Tou Mo Cha, of Vadnais Heights - himself a former St. Paul police officer - was charged with two counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of third-degree assault.

He pleaded not guilty to those charges this past April and pre-trial is expected to begin on July 15.

Kuntz said the manner in which Axtell went about announcing the allegations against the five officers will create prejudice against them.

"These officers are now deprived of unbiased and genuine due process because of his statements," Kuntz said. "They have been painted in a false and unfair light due to his actions."

Following Kuntz's statement, Axtell issued the following statement to KSTP:

"My administration values accountability, transparency, trust and honesty. These are our guiding principles. As we have proven time and time again, we do not deviate from them, which is why the untrue allegations made by the Federation are so disappointing. 

"But we will not let this distract us from continuing to do our jobs with integrity, purpose and a commitment to the community and our officers. 

"I look forward to hearing the Federation's position on this matter once they have taken the initiative to request and review the investigative files."

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Frank Rajkowski

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