ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - A Minneapolis police union official claimed she heard Gov. Tim Walz order a police precinct abandoned at the height of the May rioting, then appeared to backtrack after the governor's office said the statement was false.
The decision to abandon the Third Precinct is among the most controversial decisions made by government officials during the civil unrest that followed the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man held to the ground by a now-fired Minneapolis police officer. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has long said the decision to give up the precinct was his, to avoid a clash between police and demonstrators.
Wednesday, three union officials told a Senate panel investigating the spring rioting that morale among Minneapolis cops has dropped to an all-time low. But it was Sgt. Anna Hedberg's comment about the precinct that drew the most attention.
"I was in the command post and I heard it. I heard the governor say, 'Give it up,'" Hedberg, a Minneapolis Police Federation director, told senators. "Wasn’t directly to me. It was through a phone call of how the governor says, 'Give up the precinct.'
In an interview after her testimony, Hedberg told FOX 9 she heard the information "third-hand." She declined to name her source.
Seconds after Hedberg made her comments in the Senate hearing, a Walz spokesman texted to say, "that's not true." The governor never called the Minneapolis Police Department command center and did not given any orders to police during the unrest, he said.
“The only decision Gov. Walz made involving the Third Precinct was the mission he ordered to reclaim the building early Friday morning after it was abandoned Thursday night," said Teddy Tschann, the Walz spokesman. "That mission was carried out successfully by the Minnesota State Patrol at the governor’s direction after he assumed operational control following the loss of the police station.”
The city still had operational control over the rioting on Thursday. The state didn't take over until Friday, and the governor has said Frey's decision to abandon the precinct was the main reason why he stepped in.
A spokesman for Frey said the mayor discussed the matter with Walz frequently, including "immediately before" the decision.
“Ordering law enforcement to stay at the Third Precinct would likely have resulted in hand-to-hand combat and injury or even worse," Frey said in an emailed statement. "The anger and devastation that would have followed would have made the destruction we experienced that week even worse."
The three police union officials told senators that 35 officers haven't been showing up to work because they're physically and mentally traumatized by the rioting or the aftermath of Floyd's death. Minneapolis City Council is currently weighing plans to dismantle and replace the police department with a separate public safety force.
Officer Rich Walker, a police federation director, said he went to the Third Precinct to clean out his locker on May 28 and said he was "humiliated."
"I’m watching pictures yanked off the walls, computers being unplugged, memorabilia being taken. I’ve never seen anything like it," Walker said. "I've never been more broken as a police officer than I was to watch our leaders give up on our home."
Some officers have contemplated suicide in the weeks after the incident, said Sgt. Sherral Schmidt, the union's vice president.
"It’s not just because of the riots. It’s everything else after the riots," Schmidt said. "It’s the constant reminder of how much people think that we suck."
Many officers believe city and state officials failed them, the union leaders said.
No focus on Floyd's death
The Senate panel wrapped up its inquiry into the rioting after four lengthy hearings, none of which focused on Floyd's death that sparked the unrest. Republicans who control the Senate canceled a planned Thursday hearing with Frey after the mayor never said if he would actually appear.
Republicans pointed to ongoing criminal and civil rights investigations into Floyd's death, and said they wanted to look into the rioting instead. But Senate Democrats said the hearings only gathered half of the story.
"For those who were not invited to this table, I’m sorry we have failed you," said state Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina.
Republicans disputed claims that they were playing into President Donald Trump's talking points about rioting.
"President Trump never entered my mind one time for the purposes of these hearings. I didn’t care about that," said state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who chaired the panel. "I wanted to have these hearings as a fact-finding mission. Nothing more, nothing less."
Wednesday, the three union officials said little about Floyd's death. Walker briefly referenced the bystander video that shows former officer Derek Chauvin holding his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes, even after the man said "I can't breathe."
"You’re not going to find one Minneapolis cop that agrees with that video," Walker told senators. "Having said that, that’s all I’ll say about that scenario."