Independent Investigation Declines Prosecution of Alleged Bemidji Curfew Violation
An independent investigation was launched in regard to concerns over citizens violating a Bemidji city curfew. Today, the Crow Wing County Attorney’s office has said they will not prosecute.
On May 30th, 2020, a demonstration in reaction to the murder of George Floyd was held in Bemidji. A curfew was enacted for the city from 8 pm to 6 am on both Saturday and Sunday. This was an action taken by the Mayor’s office. In a statement made on Facebook, Mayor Rita Albrecht wrote, “The implementation of a curfew yesterday and today is not in reaction to peaceful protests, but in response to a specific series of credible threats to property and people.”
There were reports of web posts made threatening to “burn Bemidji down.” Sheriff Ernie Beitel reported dumpsters filled with debris and accelerants found in the downtown area. In a press release, today Chief of Bemidji Police Department Mike Mastin confirmed they had also received information about a bus traveling into the city with the intent of destruction. No such bus was reported over the two nights of curfew.
On the night of the 30th, Representative Matt Grossell came to law enforcement along with a group of private citizens and asked what he could do to patrol. They were instructed to watch the city limits for an incoming bus.
Due to concerns that these citizens were out past 8 pm and therefore in violation of the curfew, an independent investigation was carried out by the Crow Wing County Attorney’s office. They ruled today that they will decline prosecution.
In a press release, Crow Wing County Attorney Donald F. Ryan wrote, “I do not see where a crime was committed.”
He went on to say, “local law enforcement put out a mutual aid request to surrounding agencies. At 8:00 pm, several of those who responded were at the Bemidji Firehall. Several concerned citizens offering to help, if they could, were present with said officers… Upon being informed of the individuals willing to assist, Sheriff Beitel directed these individuals to locations to watch for buses of anticipated protesters coming into Bemidji. If anything was witnessed theses individuals were to call The Emergency Operations Center (EOC).”
He also writes “Sheriff Beitel intended for these individuals to be outside the city limits of Bemidji. Regardless, as a Chief Law Enforcement Office staffing the EOC, Sheriff Beitel had the authority to act the way he did.” He cites that this is within compliance of section 2C. of the curfew order which allows for the exemption of “any person needed for logistical purposes authorized by the City of Bemidji.”
Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin wrote in a press release today,
“I’m not afraid to admit when I made a poor decision, and this was one of those times. On this evening the situation was fluid and rapidly evolving. Sheriff Beitel and I were handling large amounts of information and trying to do our best. State Representative Grossell’s offer regarding citizens that wanted to help came at the same time we received information regarding a bus of individuals traveling to our city with ill intent. Rep. Grossell was informed he could station these individuals to watch for this bus and inform us if it arrived. This allowed citizens to participate in keeping our city safe while keeping licensed peace officers available to respond when needed. At no point were citizens recruited to actively patrol the streets of Bemidji. This is a duty that will always remain a function of licensed peace officers or through authorized organizations such as the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Posse or the Bemidji Police Departments Reserve Officer programs.
“Although my intentions were good I now recognize that this decision has left some members of our community feeling unsafe and further marginalized, for that I apologize. Moving forward, I assure you that I will consider how my decisions affect everyone.”
No arrests were made for violating curfew either night. There have been no reports of a bus trying to enter Bemidji either night.