ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell announced Thursday he terminated five St. Paul police officers for "significant policy violations" that occurred during an incident last year.
In a press conference, Axtell said an individual assaulted another person, and the officers did not intervene.
“Our officers are expected to intervene when criminal acts happen in their presence," said Axtell. "Officers are expected to protect the vulnerable. I demand officers tell the truth."
The chief also alluded to behavior following the incident, saying there was a "violation of trust and deceit."
Axtell said he made his decision following an internal investigation. He met with the officers Thursday morning. Due to privacy laws, Axtell would not give further details on the officers.
"This is disappointing for our department, and a disappointing day for me personally and professionally," said Axtell.
Axtell said there is video of the incident. The investigation into the case is ongoing.
A source told FOX 9 the five officers who were fired Thursday are Christopher Rhoades, Nicholas Grundei, Robert Luna, Jordan Wild and Nathan Smith.
FOX 9 News has learned the incident in question was an assault involving former St. Paul Police Officer Tou Cha at Checkerboard Pizza, a restaurant he owns on the city’s east side.
According to the charges, a fight broke out at Checker's on June 17, 2018. Police responded and dispersed the crowd. One of the police squad cars then moved to across the street and parked with its lights off.
Another fight started and the camera in the squad car captured Cha swinging a baton over his head and hitting a defenseless man who was down on all fours. When Cha appeared to notice the squad car, he moved away and others went to help the man on the ground.
The victim later told police Cha pepper-sprayed him on the sidewalk and then hit him with the baton. The victim suffered a concussion and needed two dozen staples to close cuts on his head.
Cha was charged with second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon causing substantial bodily harm, second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and third-degree assault causing substantial bodily harm. In April, he pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has a pre-trial sentencing scheduled in July.
Response to firings
St. Paul Police Federation Pres. Paul Kuntz says Axtell's decision is “unprecedented.” He says never in the history of the federation have five officers been fired at the same time.
“The punishment is outrageous compared to what’s been alleged,” said Kuntz.
Kuntz also says Axtell has not been transparent with the officers involved, claiming the five officers did not know the status of the investigation.
The federation is planning to fight the firings.
"We want you all to know, we intend to vigorously pursue every lawful avenue possible to ensure our fellow officers are afforded the due process they are entitled," read a statement posted on the organization's Facebook page. "We know and understand it can be extremely frustrating to fully comprehend how and why something like this happens without all of the facts, however, we have an obligation to our entire membership and must maintain the integrity of this process by not divulging the specifics of this situation. This is vital for the officers involved to ensure their rights are protected."
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter released the following statement regarding Chief 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. 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.”