MINNEAPOLIS — Mayor Jacob Frey has often said he made a call to Gov. Tim Walz the night of May 27, asking him to deploy the Minnesota National Guard to the streets of Minneapolis. That would've been a full 24 hours before the city evacuated the 3rd Precinct headquarters, allowing it to burn.
Newly released text messages and emails confirm that part of the mayor's story. In response to a Freedom of Information data requests from several news agencies, including KARE, the city released a trove of texts and emails between members of the mayor's staff and police department commanders from the days following the killing of George Floyd.
A screen grab of a text from Frey aide Mychal Vlatkovich, dated 6:28 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27 reads:
"Mayor just came out and said the chief wants him to call in the National Guard for help at Third Precinct. Mayor appears intent on doing, talking w/ Mark."
In another exchange with mayoral staff at 8:05 p.m., someone asks Vlatkovich, "What's happening? As far as the Guard."
He responds, "He said Walz was hesitating."
The mayor's staff went as far as drafting an press release at 9:00 p.m. that same night, announcing that Frey was requesting the National Guard. That release was never sent. According to sources at City Hall, Mayor Frey didn't want to appear like he was using the media to pressure Walz.
Officers from the Minnesota State Patrol, DNR and other state agencies were already on the ground across the Twin Cities working in support of local police operations, but they were outnumbered.
The governor agrees he got an informal, verbal request from Mayor Frey late Wednesday. And the mayor submitted a formal, written request on the morning Thursday, May 28. But the governor has consistently said it takes time to deploy citizen-soldiers and a brand-new mission with little advance notice.
"The average person maybe assumes that there’s soldiers waiting in helicopters to drop in like they do in movies," Walz told reporters Tuesday.
"Actually, they’re band teachers and small business owners. They’re folks working in a garage in Fergus Falls who get a call that says you’ve got 12 hours to report to your armory."
He also pointed out that the Guard isn't a police agency but will do missions in support of local police. He noted that 18 months of planning went into security for the RNC in 2008 and Super Bowl 52 in 2018.
The governor had already put National Guard commanders on notice that they may need to deploy some members on Saturday, May 30 because law enforcement agencies were expecting tens of thousands of protesters to converge upon Minneapolis for marches.
But after a night of rioting and looting Wednesday, the governor on Thursday went ahead and requested a force of 700 guard members.
Lack of clear mission
The first contingents arrived Thursday in the late afternoon and evening, and took up positions defending the State Capitol, St. Paul Police Department headquarters and the BCA offices. Some units were also assigned to escort firefighters battling blazes set by arsonists.
Major General Jon Jensen, who was at the time Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, say his forces didn't go to the 3rd Precinct immediately on that Thursday, because they were awaiting more specific instructions from the Minneapolis Police Department.
He said the guard members always act in support of local civilian authorities, rather than just picking their own mission.
"It’s very important we know exactly what we’re being asked to do so we make sure we have the right equipment, we mobilize the right number of soldiers and airmen to support those soldiers that are going to conduct the mission," Gen. Jensen told reporters May 29.
"We never got such mission assignment. We never got such mission description."
But the newly-released documents reveal that Chief Medaria Arradondo sent a letter to Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington at 9:11 p.m. Wednesday laying out specifics of the request.
Arradondo asked for 600 soldiers to work under MPD commanders, to assist in the following:
- Area security and force protection operations
- Area denial operations
- Transportation assistance for law enforcement officers
- Logistical assistance for overall security operation
It's unclear how and whether that information was communicated to the National Guard leadership.
Jensen said at the time he had concerns about sending Guard members who weren't familiar with the city into the hot zone in the dark of night before they'd had a chance to become familiar with the terrain.
Walz echoed that concern Tuesday, pointing out that most Guard members aren't trained as law enforcement officers or for riot control and arresting people.
"In a chaotic situation in Minneapolis and St. Paul, putting a young troop with limited experience in the military with a loaded automatic weapon in the middle of a system with nobody giving them direction," Walz explained.
"They don’t have zip ties; they don’t have legal authority."
Thrown under the bus?
At the same May 29 press conference where Jensen spoke, the governor decried the looting and burning that had taken place across the Twin Cities on Thursday night, referencing a panicked call he had received from Sen. Patricia Torres Ray.
"That is an abject failure. That cannot happen!" Walz declared.
He went on to say that as of Friday morning, the State would be taking control of the situation in Minneapolis and that a unified command center had been set up so that dozens of different agencies could coordinate with the Minnesota State Patrol.
"You will not see that tonight. There will be no lack of leadership, and there will be no lack of response on the table."
The newly released documents include exchanges between a member of Mayor Frey's staff and a member of the Governor's team as that May 29 press conference was being broadcast.
"Any way mid press conference to adjust the tone? It feels like Minneapolis is getting thrown under the bus," read a text from a Mayor's aide to a person on the Walz team.
She responded, "I'm madly trying to text Teddy to divert" -- a reference to the Walz's spokesperson Teddy Tschann, who was at the press conference.
Walz later did clarify later in the same event that he understood Mayor Frey and his St. Paul counterpart, Mayor Melvin Carter, were in the midst of unprecedented challenges.
"I think we’ve been in contact with the mayors. They are doing everything they possibly can in a situation."
When asked Tuesday about the new documents, Walz reiterated his support for Frey.
"Mayor Frey’s a friend of mine. I trust him. These are difficult situations," Walz remarked.
"I think some of the critiques leveled at the mayor have come from areas where people don’t know the complexity of this."