The City of Richfield Police Department gave themselves a well-deserved pat on the back and boasted on social media in early October about three gas station robbery suspects that had been apprehended and subsequently charged. That is until city administrators apparently deemed the post to be politically incorrect with bad “optics” and took it down two days later.
The post, replicated verbatim below, appeared on the Richfield Police Department (RPD) Facebook page within a day or two following the Oct. 8 early morning robbery at a BP gas station. The post described the robbery and how the three suspects, two juveniles and one adult, were captured a short time later and subsequently charged. A photo of the adult suspect arrested and charged, Abdimalik Hassan Abi, was included in the post.
(Post replicated exactly as it appeared on Richfield Police Dept. Facebook page in October)
Alpha News reported on Abi in May when he was charged in a St. Cloud aggravated robbery case. Alpha News planned to link the October RPD Facebook post in a follow up report about the new charges against Abi in the Richfield robbery. However, the post disappeared from the RPD Facebook page within two days of being posted. An inquiry was subsequently made by an Alpha News researcher through the RPD Facebook page about the disappearance. An unidentified Richfield page administrator replied that they “removed the post due to complaint(s).”
The RPD Facebook page administrator refused to give any further information about who had complained about the post or about the nature of the complaints which led to its removal. Since it seemed unusual that there would be complaints about robbery suspects being arrested and charged, a data practices information request was submitted to RPD to learn the nature and source of the complaints, as well as to learn who was responsible for removing the post. Additionally, the Alpha News researcher subsequently called Richfield Police Chief Jay Henthorne to inquire about what led to the removal.
In the Oct. 14 telephone conversation, Chief Henthorne tried to explain that the “social media team along with our city administration pulled it” because they were looking at different options for posting in the future “with possibly not using pictures.” When pressed about the report of complaints received, Chief Henthorne indicated that the concern about the post had come from inside the city administration, not from an outside source. He stated further that the post was taken down at the direction of “city administration” following an “internal discussion” about social media posting policies between himself, his staff, city administration and the social media team. Chief Henthorne acknowledged that they had never removed a post from Facebook previously, but insisted that the post, which he said “got a ton of hits,” was removed after 48 hours because it wasn’t getting any more shares or interest on Facebook. When specifically asked, Chief Henthorne emphatically denied that any politically correct motivation was involved in the decision to delete the post.
However, the documents received by Alpha News this week as a result of the data practices request tell a different story. The documents received include a copy of one apparent complaint, below, indicating it was sent via an iPhone. The complaint wasn’t addressed to anyone by name and stated, “Good morning friend. I just saw this on our Police fb page. I think it adds very little at [sic] value and is problematic on several fronts.” The documentation received did not include any information about who sent the complaint or who received the complaint within the City of Richfield administration. Nor did the document include any information about the date when the complaint was received, but it did include a screen capture of the robbery related Facebook post.
Another piece of documentation received, below, is what appears to be a portion of an email or text conversation between two unidentified City of Richfield staff, employees or officials on Sat., Oct. 12, that requests that the “FB picture of the robbery suspect” be taken down because “the optics are not great right now.”
No further information about who was making the request was included, but two people named “Brad” and “Neil” were referenced by the responding party in the reply as the people who should be asked to take down the posts on the respective police and city Facebook pages. Based on information from the City of Richfield website, Brad Drayna is the police Administrative Lieutenant who serves as the department’s media liaison and public information officer, and Neil Ruhland is the city’s Communications and Engagement Manager.
Contrary to being merely the result of a happenstance discussion among city staff and administrators about social media posting procedures, as the police chief had implied, the removal of the post appears to have been directly motivated by one or more people within the City of Richfield who were more worried about the “optics” of the post than letting the public know about a dangerous, repeat offender.
(Note: The documents received as a result of the data practices request were paper copies and were photographed for this report)
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