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SPPD apologizes for abandoning endangered family

EXCLUSIVE: An African American mother was left to fend for herself after calling the Saint Paul Police to help bring her four children to safety. Her children were alone in her home with her ex-boyfriend who was armed with a gun. He had fired several shots, including one that went into a neighbor’s home.

Responding officers - including a negotiator - surrounded the home and contacted the suspect. According to the incident report, after about three hours of no progress Watch Commander Kent Cleveland and Deputy Chief Matt Toupal gave orders to *tactically disengage. They cleared the scene, leaving the four kids in the home with the armed suspect.

In a written letter, Police chief Todd Axtell admitted the department made a mistake. Senior Commander Nicole Spears says she believes the root of the error was a miscommunication. She says no one was reprimanded because the department didn't feel as though it was any one person's fault. Instead, she said, they believed a policy change would fix the issue.

“We realized there was a breakdown of communication between people on scene, between our command staff making the decisions, but in order to change course for future incidents we looked at what we could do to revise our policy to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” says Spears.

The mother did not want to be identified due to concerns for her safety but in an exclusive interview she said she didn’t believe officers would have left her if she were a white mother. She says her children were not physically injured, but is seeking to get them mental health services to help them cope with this traumatic incident. Lastly, she says she wants the individual who made the decision to leave her and her children in danger to be fired.

Police Chief Todd Axtell apologized in a letter to the city attorney and to domestic violence advocates. Axtell is scheduled to retire in June.

*Tactical disengagement was originally implemented by the Saint Paul Police Department to give officers an option to de-escalate a situation. Commander Spears says it's only to be used in situations where others are not in imminent danger.

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