Eden Valley police chief endorses force to put down demonstrators; petition circulates

    Retired cops join in, launch racist memes

    Eden Valley is about 30 miles southwest of St. Cloud. Photo courtesy of Lakesnwoods.com.

    A rural Minnesota police chief has come under fire for a Facebook post calling for the use of force against “criminal thugs” during the August Kenosha riots.

    Last month, Eden Valley Police Chief Ernie Junker posted the comment under his own status, “Kenosha courthouse on fire here we go again.” The comment rippled through Eden Valley, inspiring some to petition for better training and accountability.

    Eden Valley is a small city in central Minnesota about 30 miles southwest of St. Cloud.

    “This is a joke. The only way you deal with these criminal thugs is force PERIOD,” Junker commented on his own post about the Kenosha riots. 

    In another, Junker wrote, “I only have one thing to say about this. FOLLOW ORDERS AND DIRECTION OR BAD THINGS CAN HAPPEN.”

    Morgan Meyer, who grew up in Eden Valley, started a petition demanding a public apology, accountability for racist and violent speech and training centered around anti-racism and de-escalation. The petition had more than 950 signatures as of last week.

    Eden Valley Mayor Brent Bengtson told Meyer he is creating a social media policy, but he has not committed to any other actions, according to Meyer. 

    Junker referred inquiries to the mayor. Bengtson declined to comment, saying it’s a personnel matter. 

    “I think the social media policy will stop the situation from happening going forward,” Meyer said. “However, I think that this is a deeper issue. It’s the mindset of the police department that’s clearly stated here.”

    Junker last made headlines when he was tased in the neck by a former Meeker County sheriff’s deputy, as reported by the Litchfield Independent Review. The former deputy alleged the tasing was a response to “workplace sexual harassment.” At the time, the sheriff told the newspaper he was unaware of any allegations of sexual harassment.

    As other officers commented on the post, Meyer said she was concerned that this is a broader problem of police relying too readily on force.  

    One recently retired officer, Todd Rohloff, responded to Junker’s post with a comment: “Start shooting these (expletive)!” 

    Rohloff was the chief of police of Kimball Police Department until 2007. He retired as a patrol officer from Glencoe Police Department in 2018. Since the killing of George Floyd, Rohloff has posted multiple racist memes. 

    In one July 18 post, a flag is decorated to look like a watermelon with the caption “The new flag for Black Lives Matter.” Rohloff responded to his own post with more racist stereotypes. 

    Rohloff posted an image on July 27 with still more stereotypes about Black people, drugs and prostitution. 

    Conspiracy theories and warnings of a coming civil war are also a common theme among Rohloff’s posts. One image, shared Aug. 19, paints the civil war as being between military veterans and Black Lives Matter supporters, ending with “Y’all better work this (expletive) out before we do, because I guarantee you are not ready for this.” 

    At the end of August, Rohloff shared a picture of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been charged with murder for the killing of two people during the Kenosha riots, captioned with: “kenosha kid for MN governor 2020.” 

    Rohloff changed his name to “Tig Moe” on Facebook shortly after Junker’s comments were shared widely through the community.

    Glencoe Police Chief Jim Raiter condemned Rohloff’s posts in an email. He said Rohloff’s views “do not express or reflect the past or present culture or views of this department.” Glencoe officers must go through cultural differences training, including specific training around implicit bias, Raiter said.

    “It is very unfortunate that a past employee’s post-employment behavior is reflecting poorly on the department and all the police officers who are doing good work,” Raiter said in the email.

    Martin Althaus, a former patrol sergeant who retired from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office in 2015, also engaged with posts by these officers, including liking some of Rohloff’s racist memes. Althaus has made posts comparing Antifa protesters to Nazis. 

    Althaus published a Facebook status Aug. 28 that reads “My prediction. Shortly before Christmas someone will post something about a white Cop shooting a Black person in Minneapolis so people can loot for Christmas presents.” 

    In an emailed statement, Chief Deputy Dan Miller with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said the posts do not represent the department and, “We expect our employees to be professional in and outside of the workplace.”

    Some former Eden Valley residents who signed the petition seeking accountability for Junker’s posts said they are worried about how officers act in private based on their public social media posts.

    “I’m disappointed in the community that raised me, because they can’t find any faults with those officers’ actions,” said Kayla Ehresmann, a 2016 graduate of Eden Valley High School, referring to many comments by residents who support Junker’s words. “Their own children could be these victims of ‘Follow directions or bad things can happen.’”

    Junker has not apologized. Before making his Facebook settings private, he said Meyer made him famous by misrepresenting his statement.

    Some other community members have rallied around Junker since his posts, with many thanking him for his service. One Facebook post shows Junker in multiple photos with children, high-fiving or smiling.

    One person commented, “You have always lead [sic] with your heart in the right place and it shows! Keep up the good work.”