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Street Debacle In St. Paul: The Return of Sideshow Bob

Last week, I had pointed out the high-profile role played by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher in the raids being staged on various St. Paul and Minneapolis homes and buildings prior to the start of the Republican National Convention. Today, I got two other reminders of the role he played – and how his actions have besmirched the good name of my home town.

The first, from our own Lindsay Beyerstein, covering the arrests that took place last night on the I-94 overpass, where protesters, reporters and persons with families were trapped by teargas and pepper spray:

Riot police held approximately 300 people, including journalists and observers for nearly an hour on an overpass spanning Interstate 94. Police instructed the crowd to get on the bridge, then announced that everyone on the bridge was under arrest.

The Joint Information Center offered conflicting accounts about the status of the assembly permits for last night’s gatherings. When I called at 4pm, a spokesman told me that the organizers of the March were slated to march from the capitol, through downtown, around the xCel Center and back to the capitol and that the protest was set to go until 7pm.

By 5pm, CNN was reporting that the cops on the ground were telling protesters that their permit had expired. According to some reports, Sheriff Bob Fletcher announced that he was rescinding permits at news conference late Thursday afternoon, but when I called to confirm, the Joint Information Center told me that no permits had been revoked.

Yup, that’s Sideshow Bob all right.

If you’re wondering where all the people that have been arrested in St. Paul have taken, wonder no more – they’re locked up in Sideshow Bob’s gleaming $45 million citadel at 425 Grove Street over by University and Lafayette:

The overall atmosphere at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center is almost surreal. The building’s normal security has been amped up to the point that the entire facility is surrounded by 8- or 9-foot-high chain-link fencing. The perimeter is patrolled by the National Guard, (I’m guessing, I didn’t ask), and you have to pass through a security checkpoint to get within the fenced-in perimeter. Attorneys with their driver’s license and attorney license are allowed to enter with their briefcase but no cell phone. Everybody else must present their ID and they are not allowed to have any bags or other property. Once inside the perimeter, you walk down a fenced corridor to the main doors where you are greeted with another checkpoint where you again show your IDs and have your bag and shoes run through an X-ray machine. As I walked the fenced corridor for the first time, I though how ironic it was that this center routinely houses people who are accused of murder and other horrible violent crimes, all without these massive security precautions.

And what about all those arrests? The numbers so far show that as of Thursday afternoon, about 300 people have been arrested in St. Paul and about 100 in Minneapolis. All but a handful of the Minneapolis arrestees were cited and released immediately.

St. Paul is a different story. Some people were cited with misdemeanors, processed and released within a few hours; but the vast majority of people were charged with "gross misdemeanors" or felonies. They were held up until their 36 hours expired. (Minnesota law requires individuals in custody to be charged and brought before a judge or released after 36 hours, not including the day of arrest, weekends and holidays.)

See the difference here? Most of the people arrested in Minneapolis were simply cited and released on the spot. In St. Paul, they were teargassed, pepper-sprayed, and then heaved into Sideshow Bob’s multimillion-dollar dungeon for a few days, until they were allowed to make bail. What’s more is that the bail in even the most trifling cases has been set sky-high, especially for simple disorderly-conduct charges. $2,000 is a typical amount.

Sane persons have looked at Fletcher’s actions and wondered why he was being so crazy. Why was he putting Ramsey County and the City of Saint Paul on the hook for what will likely be dozens, if not hundreds, of lawsuits – especially by the various press outfits, big and small, whose reporters got trapped in his net?

It could be that he figured that the $10 million policy taken out by the RNC to cover the costs of police-brutality settlements – the first time such a policy has ever been taken out for an American political convention – would suffice to protect his butt. (One wonders if any insurance company will ever again be so foolish as to approve the sale of such a policy, particularly to the Republican National Committee.)

But there’s another explanation that comes to mind – to my mind, anyway: He knows he’s very likely doomed, so there’s nothing to hold him back from exercising his bent for thuggishness.

In last Sunday’s Pioneer Press, while the pre-convention busts were still going on, this little story appeared:

FBI agents had been investigating allegations of corruption in the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department for some months; while they had strong suspicions and tantalizing leads, the pieces didn’t yet add up to a case they could take to court.

Then a motor-mouth meth dealer named Shawn Phillip Arvin Sr. walked into their lives.

Arvin was facing a long prison stretch after being charged with trafficking more than 10 pounds of methamphetamine in 36 days. Hoping to reduce his time, he told FBI agents he could provide information on a longtime St. Paul street cop — who also is a longtime friend of Sheriff Bob Fletcher — temporarily assigned to the sheriff’s elite Special Investigations Unit.

More than four years later, Arvin’s cooperation resulted in federal convictions last week for the cop, Timothy Conrad Rehak, and the sheriff’s spokesman, Mark Paul Naylon. Naylon himself is a close friend and confidant of Fletcher — he was best man at the sheriff’s second wedding — and colleagues say he was given carte blanche in the department to do whatever he wanted and answered to no one except the sheriff.

Although Naylon wasn’t a licensed peace officer and had no law enforcement training, he spent virtually all his time playing cop, testimony in the trial in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis showed. He was assigned to the investigations unit, and Fletcher let him carry a sidearm, participate in arrests, conduct searches, seize and handle property and do other work that state law generally reserves for licensed peace officers.

When the need arose, deputies even used him as their "confidential reliable informant" when they filled out requests to judges to grant search warrants, according to testimony.

Oooh! A "confidential reliable informant", eh? Gee, why am I suddenly reminded of all the wild and as-yet unproven informant-driven accusations in the search warrant used in the pre-convention busts?

The story gets juicier from there. The FBI’s probe is still open, and there are copious indications that their main target is none other than Bob Fletcher himself. It may well be that Sideshow Bob may soon know what it’s like to spend some quality time behind bars.

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