I-25 protest

Protesters block Interstate 25 in June.

A Colorado Springs police officer will be suspended without pay for 40 hours and reassigned to a different unit within the department after he called for protesters to be killed in a Facebook comment, according to a police internal affairs report.

The police chief's action after an internal affairs investigation was announced in a Monday news release. It fell short of calls to fire Sgt. Keith Wrede, who used the pseudonym Steven Eric on Facebook and commented “KILL EM ALL” and “KILL THEM ALL” on a livestream video of the Black Lives Matter demonstration on I-25, police confirmed Monday.

Police began investigating the accusation on July 3 after news channel KRDO notified the police department about the comments, a spokesman said. In the video, demonstrators blocked the interstate near a downtown exit for about 30 minutes while calling for an end to racial injustice and police brutality.

“I fully recognize that it will take time to rebuild relationships that have now broken,” Chief Vince Niski said in a letter posted online. He called Wrede’s comments “unprofessional,” “distasteful,” and “not reflective” of the department.

“The only thing I would ask of our community, is not to condemn every officer that wears our badge because of one individual’s actions,” Niski said.

Wrede, who has been employed by CSPD for 20 years, will receive a one-time pay cut of $2,044 because of the suspension, police said. He will be removed as the supervisor of the Strategic Investigations Unit and given an undisclosed assignment that has less public interaction for “an undetermined amount of time.”

He will also be required to attend training in the fall called “Unconscious Bias: Uncovering Hidden Assumptions,” according to an internal affairs report.

“While his statements were harmful and reprehensible, I cannot deprive the community of a good police officer and his services because of an isolated incident of an error in judgment,” Niski said, explaining why he declined to terminate Wrede.

Martin Lewis, a co-founder of the activist organization Colorado Springs Oversight, called the discipline insufficient and said firing Wrede would be the “only right thing to do.”

“I feel not only are they letting the community down but they are letting the police officers down,” Lewis said. “This was a chance for CSPD to make a statement that they are not going to accept that type of culture.”

Deputy Chief Pat Rigdon said Wrede’s comments failed to set an acceptable standard for the department and his comments could have prompted violence, according to a report.

Rigdon said the sergeant “still has a lot to bring to the organization and community in the form of experience, resilience and even leadership”, citing Wrede’s lack of internal affairs complaints or investigations, and numerous awards including one in which he received after he was shot while on-duty in 2017.

In an interview with an internal affairs sergeant, Wrede said he had no intention to kill protesters or wanted them to be killed.

He claimed he made the comments while he was off-duty after listening to a Metallica song called “Kill ‘Em All.” He later said he misspoke, and said he was listening to the band’s album with the same title, after a commander said the rock band did not have any song with that title or one which repeats “Kill ‘em all.”

Wrede said he became angry after the second night of protests, in which large crowds in Colorado Springs and across the country demanded justice for the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of white Minneapolis police officers.

Protests in Colorado Springs, as in other cities, were mostly peaceful during the day, but became more confrontational at night. While there was some vandalism — windows broken and graffiti spray-painted on buildings — there were none of the street battles, looting or arson that other cities, including Denver, have seen since Floyd’s death.

Wrede said the protests in Colorado Springs caused him anxiety after he saw a bullet hole in a fellow officer’s windshield. They also reminded him of the 2015 Planned Parenthood shooting, in which three people were killed and nine were injured, after he said he saw people with assault rifles on the steps of City Hall.

Under the same pseudonym, Wrede also made the comment: “Solid move BLM way to make your point. I hope you are proud you damn Terrorist.”

“I could not get out of my mind that they're gonna kill us and we're gonna die. I'm out there on the streets surrounded by guys by high powered rifles,” he said in an interview.

Wrede claimed his comments were not made specifically toward Black Lives Matter protesters and said his postings were “not motivated by race or bias.

“There’s not a racist bone in my body,” he said during an interview, according to a report.

 

Reach Olivia at olivia.prentzel@gazette.com.

Twitter: @oliviaprentzel

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