The non-lethal arrest of an 18-year-old in St. Cloud just after midnight Monday was misreported all over social media as a fatal officer-involved shooting, leading to a large crowd marching toward police headquarters in the middle of the night.
The true story, rather, was that officers were alerted to someone with a handgun in the 1000 block of 18th Ave., and on arrival the officers pursued the suspect on foot before a physical struggle ensued and the suspect shot an officer in the hand, according to St. Cloud PD.
Neither officer involved in the arrest returned fire, and they were able to detain the suspect without using deadly force. Despite the situation being resolved within about 15 minutes, the misinformation spread rapidly on social media, leading to a crowd of about 100 marching toward police headquarters.
During the march, numerous properties were damaged, including the police station, which was pelted with rocks.
"Things can get blasted all over creation right now and it is very reckless, in my opinion, it is very dangerous. This is the kind of thing that could have escalated, and I am deeply concerned about that kind of stuff," said Police Chief Blair Anderson.
"I'm deeply concerned that if we continue to alienate, there's going to be a lot of good police officers that are going to walk away and we're going to be in a lot of trouble. We really truly are."
Anderson referred to social media as a "demon" on multiple occasions, adding that he "might be the only person left on the planet that hasn't been on Facebook.
A tweet that has since been deleted was captured by Heavy.com. It read: "POLICE INVOLVED SHOOTING IN ST CLOUD RN …. reports saying one person is dead," with another tweet from the same account later saying police had shot and killed a 15-year-old.
"It is abhorrent to me that within minutes the story that went out, went out. This place could've been on fire over a lie. Not just some misinformation, not just a few facts here and here. It was flat out untrue," he said.
It's not clear which media outlet reported the misinformation, but Anderson said false reports based on social media nonsense have become commonplace.
"It's not the first time it's happened to us. In my 8 years here, I can't tell you how many times and how many days we've spent debunking myths that started on the social media platform," he said. "They're scary. They get certain segments of our community whipped into a frenzy, some of them flat out in fear and it's just not true."
The officer who was shot in the hand – a 14-year veteran of the force – underwent surgery Monday morning and was in good spirits, the chief said. The suspect suffered minor injuries and was taken to the hospital.
Multiple charges against the 18-year-old are pending.
It should be noted that for Anderson's criticism of social media in this instance, it was a bystander's recording and the subsequent social media uproar that led to accountability in the death of George Floyd, about which Minneapolis Police Department initially issued a misleading press release.