Beltrami County Sheriff Ernie Beitel has issued a statement in response to the rumors circulating about the past weekend’s events.
“Unfortunately, the rumors and misinformation, some shared by public officials, has fueled racial and cultural biases that we, as government leaders, have worked so hard to eliminate,” the statement reads.
According to the release, law enforcement learned that the peaceful protests scheduled to take place were being infiltrated by extremist organizations calling for “burning Bemidji down” with the threat being concentrated in the downtown area. This was learned Friday afternoon, with threats continuing throughout the day Saturday.
It was reported to law enforcement that multiple dumpsters were filled with gas and accelerants, as well as caches of hidden tools around downtown buildings.
One subject was arrested after Saturday’s demonstration, according to Beitel, after the planned peaceful demonstration become non-peaceful. Rocks and debris were thrown at the law enforcement center and a police squad car.
“The organizers of the demonstration were able to step in, calm and disperse most of the crowd and stopped any more damage from occurring.”
Beitel also said that a call for mutual aid was made to law enforcement agencies across the state, and many of the patrols were using dark SUV squad cars.
“At no time did the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office or Bemidji Police Department call for private security or citizens to assist our law enforcement response as it has been stated on several social media platforms and statements made by government officials.”
Some business owners and citizens, including State Representative Matt Grossell (R-Clearbrook), offered to assist and were with local law enforcement officers and a neighboring sheriff at a Bemidji Fire Station, which Beitel says was “unbeknownst” to him and Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin.
“At approximately 9:30 p.m., Representative Grossell reached out to me and offered assistance by being ‘eyes and ears’ for law enforcement,” says Beitel. “Prior to his call, law enforcement had received information that buses of protesters were coming to Bemidji, so when he asked how he could help, I intentionally directed him outside the city limits to watch for buses that may be coming into Bemidji and report his observations to law enforcement.”
Beitel says miscommunication then resulted in some of the citizens placed in fringe locations around the city of Bemidji. Beitel says they did not actively patrol city streets.
On Sunday, Bemidji Police began an investigation after one of the citizens “being the eyes and ears for law enforcement” used a social media platform to report what he was doing.
Prior to and after the curfew, this citizen was with a neighboring Sheriff and local law enforcement officers at the Bemidji Fire station. When directed away, they left what they thought were the city limits of Bemidji, according to Beitel.