FARGO — Members of Black Lives Matter are calling for an independent review of the conduct of a Fargo police officer who went undercover to infiltrate the march the group organized in support of civil rights and George Floyd here on May 30.
A spokesman for the group said members have reason to believe that the officer, former Deputy Chief Todd Osmundson, donned plain clothes and marched undercover with the knowledge and support of Chief David Todd.
Todd has said Osmundson acted without authorization when he pretended to be a sympathizer of the group and placed him on unpaid leave for a week, then Osmundson resigned from the force last week.
“It is our belief that the former deputy chief was made to be a scapegoat and the problems are deeper,” said Wess Philome, a spokesman for Black Lives Matter. "Lady Justice is marching in the streets. She has made her way to Fargo."
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The allegations were delivered Monday, June 8, from the gazebo at Island Park, which Black Lives Matter has nicknamed "Justice Island," the scene of protests in recent weeks spurred by the death of Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
Philome said Osmundson was part of a secret “illegal black op mission” against Black Lives Matter.
The group believes Todd was receiving “intel” from Osmundson during the march, which later erupted into a riot in downtown Fargo, a mission that continued throughout the night, ending when Todd told Osmundson he could go home at midnight.
Fargo police spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker, who is included in the accusations because organizers say she accessed traffic surveillance cameras to put the protest under surveillance, said there was no truth to the allegations. Police can use traffic cameras for surveillance, and police did not know of Osmundson's involvement in the protest, she said.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Mayor Tim Mahoney, the city's administration, and the city's human resources departments said jointly that plans are underway to review Professional Standards Office findings regarding the May 30 event.
City leaders, police, Black Lives Matter organizers and a representative from the OneFargo group met on Monday.
"Today's conversation was divergent from earlier discussions with the OneFargo organizing team," the city's statement said. "It was characterized by new demands and positions that were contrary to earlier agreements. Opportunities were offered to collaborate for change, but rejected."
City leaders say they remain committed to facilitating further dialogue, and stated that additional levels of reviews "during this unprecedented process" will be received, reviewed and acted upon by Mahoney, the administration and the city's HR office.
Black Lives Matter members have submitted open records requests to learn more, but Philome asked reporters at the news conference to do their own investigating to find out whether Osmundson’s undercover work was actually sanctioned, despite Todd’s characterization that Osmundson was acting as a rogue cop.
“This is not something that we can do ourselves,” he said, urging reporters to ask their own questions and delve into the matter.
Organizers also officially requested the immediate release and dismissal of all charges against 18 people arrested in relation to the May 30 riot in downtown Fargo, Philome said. He also stated that an independent body should take over any internal investigation into Osmundson's involvement within the police department.
"The truth will not be set free when the police investigate themselves," Philome said.
Philome would not answer any questions, including what proof he had for his allegations, but said the group's efforts to get to the bottom of what happened are continuing.
“It is a sensitive matter,” he said. “We do not want this to be viewed as us against the Fargo Police Department.”
Philome’s statement came after members of Black Lives Matter met earlier Monday with Fargo city officials. Because Todd's motives and actions are in question, he should not oversee the investigation into Osmundson's actions, Philome said.
WDAY checked with two city spokesmen who said that, as of Monday afternoon, the city has not received any open records requests from Black Lives Matter seeking information about Osmundson and Todd.