MINOT, N.D. — In a June 1 email sent to all of the police department, Fargo Deputy Chief of Police Todd Osmundson apologized for activities at the George Floyd protest in downtown Fargo that other officers have called into question.
Osmundson admitted, among other things, to carrying a beer can and shouting "f**k the cops" with protesters.
According to Osmundson's lengthy, five-page explanation email, after participating in uniform at a peaceful protest earlier in the day, he decided to change into civilian clothes, complete with a COVID-19 protective mask and sunglasses, and infiltrate the protesters in downtown Fargo.
I obtained the email by way of an open records request after being tipped off to its existence by a source.
It was redacted by the Fargo Police Department. The information obscured, they claim, is allowed to be redacted because it is related to undercover police work or law enforcement techniques and procedures.
Per the email, Osmundson was responding to numerous complaints from other officers related to activities, including the fact that he was supposed to be on light duty leave due to an injury.
He listed the concerns, as communicated to him by fellow Deputy Chief Joe Anderson:
By his own account, Osmundson spent most of his time with the protesters observing and taking photographs.
It's when things began to get heated that Osmundson's actions -- carrying a beer can and shouting expletives at his fellow officers with the protesters -- caused the most concern:
Osmundson indicates that he attempted to contact Chief David Todd about his decision to go downtown but could not get through. At no point does it appear he was assigned to do this. He notes multiple times that he was acting on his own.
He does indicate several times to checking in with department personnel about his activities.
"I took actions that forever many in this department will call me stupid," Osmundson wrote. "That is probably just. I can't argue that."
Osmundson's actions are deeply problematic for several reasons.
First, one claim made by the protesters is that they have been provoked by law enforcement into riotous behavior. A deputy chief in civilian clothes, with his face masked and joining in chants against the police, would seem to support those claims. Anyone who watched those protests unfold knows what a tense situation it was. Osmundson's actions contributed to that.
Second, do we know the beer can was empty? Osmundson says it was, and even if it was, he was pantomiming a crime. It is not legal to carry an open alcohol container around downtown Fargo.
Third, at a time when we are having a heated national debate about the trustworthiness of law enforcement, a prominent official at one of our state's largest departments went and did something that was deeply untrustworthy. This was not sanctioned undercover work, and even if it were, I would hope such work would not include inciting the crowd.
Fourth, many of the people arrested at the Fargo demonstration were charged with inciting a riot. The facts of those charges are going to vary from case to case, but I wonder if the defense attorneys can argue in court whether their clients did anything more provocative than the deputy chief.
Osmundson has apologized to his fellow officers. I feel like he owes an apology to the mostly peaceful folks who demonstrated in Fargo.
To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.