COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) - A sergeant with the Colorado Springs Police Department has been temporarily suspended and transferred following an internal affairs investigation that confirmed he posted comments on a livestream of a protest in late June. The CSPD investigation found Sgt. Keith Wrede responded to a news crew's coverage with "KILL THEM ALL" and "KILL EM ALL" while using a Facebook profile with the name Steven Eric. The news station, ABC affiliate KRDO, approached police days later after receiving a tip that Sgt. Wrede was the source of the comments.
In an letter to the public, CSPD Chief Vince Niski on Monday called the comments "unprofessional, distasteful, and not reflective of our department."
The sergeant was penalized with a 40-hour suspension and loss of more than $2,000 in wages, plus removal from his specialized unit and reassignment to a different position in the department.
But the chief also asked the public not to judge the officer on a single act and to consider Sgt. Wrede's successes during two decades of service.
"It was determined," Chief Niski wrote, "that the comments were made off-duty out of frustration and there was no indication of any physical action or intent to cause harm. I am in no way minimizing Sergeant Wrede's words. His comments were unacceptable, have damaged our relationship with members of our community, and fell short of our standards."
Sgt. Wrede's disguised comments came during a June 30 incident. A group of demonstrators blocked traffic on Interstate 25 with about a dozen cars, then exited the vehicles with placards and signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The blockade last little more than an hour and most left before CSPD officers responded.
Chief Niski wrote a letter to the public then, too, supporting the community's frustration with the recent string of protests and resultant damage to property, as well as explaining the reasons behind his department's delayed response.
In all, 13 people were cited for their role in the incident.
In his latest letter, Chief Niski defended his decision not to fire the officer, despite calls from the public to do so.
"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 stated. "We hope that you can accept our apology and be assured that the CSPD and Sgt. Wrede will continue to faithfully serve the public."
The chief's letter:
To Our Community—
As your Chief of Police, I will always be transparent and honest with our community— during both good and bad times. As many of you are aware, one of our officers was accused of writing inappropriate comments on social media using a pseudonym. The investigation and review process into that incident is now complete. It has been found that the Facebook profile used to make those comments did in fact belong to Colorado Springs Police Department Sergeant Keith Wrede. We offer our organizational humility and a heartfelt apology to our entire community. Please make no mistake that I do not condone his actions, or attempt to minimize the severity of harm it has done in a time of rebuilding between law enforcement and the community. We do however, want to provide full context of the events that occurred.
On June 30, 2020, a small group of protestors blocked traffic on I-25, causing serious potential danger to themselves and drivers. The incident was being covered by multiple local news crews, one of which was live-streaming the demonstration. During that live-stream on KRDO's Facebook, the comments "KILL THEM ALL" and "KILL EM ALL" were made by someone named "Steven Eric." A few days later, on July 3, 2020, the CSPD Public Affairs Office was contacted by KRDO, who brought these comments to our attention and stated they received a tip that "Steven Eric" was a pseudonym, and the account actually belonged to CSPD Sergeant Keith Wrede. Due to the inappropriate, unprofessional, and unacceptable nature of the comments, we immediately began an Internal Affairs investigation to determine if the comments were in fact made by Sergeant Wrede. Based on preliminary information in the early stages of the investigation, we believed Sergeant Wrede was the individual who made the comments.
Although we were able to quickly determine Sergeant Wrede's involvement, he was still afforded due process as required by law. At the end of the investigation, Internal Affairs submitted their findings, which included previous personnel history, interviews, etc., to Sergeant Wrede's Chain of Command. His chain of command made the decision to issue a discipline of a 40 hour suspension (which results in approximately $2,044 in lost wages), the removal from his specialized unit, and reassignment to a different position within the department. It was determined that the comments were made off-duty out of frustration and there was no indication of any physical action or intent to cause harm. I am in no way minimizing Sergeant Wrede's words. His comments were unacceptable, have damaged our relationship with members of our community, and fell short of our standards.
We have heard concerns from many community members and are also aware of misinformation or misconceptions regarding our role and response to this investigation. I would like to first start by addressing the demand for termination. These requests were for immediate termination before our investigation was even completed. While I understand frustrations, Sergeant Wrede, just like our community members, are afforded due process whenever any type of investigation takes place. I have also heard from many that I did not address these comments or refused to provide information during the internal investigation. From day one, I have taken the stance that the comments made on the live-stream were unprofessional, distasteful, and not reflective of our department. As mentioned earlier, public employees are entitled to due process under the law, and in any investigation, we do not release details as it is on-going. We owe it to our community and our employees to make sure a thorough and fair investigation is completed without any undue influence.
I fully recognize that it will take time to rebuild relationships that have been broken. The only thing I would ask of our community, is to not condemn every officer that wears our badge because of one individual's action. Please remember officers are human too and make mistakes. Throughout his 20-year career, Sergeant Wrede has professionally served this community. 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. I also want to reaffirm that the regrettable comments made are not reflective of our department's character or expectations of how we serve, or talk about, our community. We hope that you can accept our apology and be assured that the CSPD and Sgt. Wrede will continue to faithfully serve the public. We will always aspire to be worthy of your trust in all we say and do.
In the interest of transparency, we have provided the Internal Affairs investigation to our community, which can be found on our website here: https://coloradosprings.gov/police-department/page/cases-interest