Officer’s Facebook post about upside-down flag scrutinized by IA

MINNEAPOLIS, MN &#8211 A 15-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department is under investigation after he allegedly posted on his Facebook page that while on duty, he saw an upside-down American flag near a “Somali hangout spot” and demanded the owner hang the flag right-side up.

“If I find it upside down the next time I work, the (expletive) will hit the fan and there will be trouble,” the officer, Steve Loeding, warned Sunday night on his page.

“Let me know and I will go with you Steve!!” one of his friends replied.

The message was posted sometime after 8:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18, but it appears Loeding, 40, had removed it by Monday morning. During that time, some people who saw it forwarded screen images of it to police and city officials, including the office of Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said that he could confirm Loeding was under investigation by the internal affairs unit but that he could not discuss specifics.

Loeding joined the police department in 1996 and is assigned to the traffic enforcement unit. Palmer said he remains on duty during the investigation.

Palmer said Loeding declined to comment. The officer also did not respond to a request for an interview sent through his Facebook account.

A spokesman for Rybak did not immediately return a call for comment.

In 2009, the Minneapolis Police Department amended its policy and procedures manual to add a section on social networking sites such as Facebook, advising employees to “exercise caution and good judgment when social networking online.”

The policy, last updated in September, also bars employees from using social networking sites “to harass or attack others.”

Loeding’s Facebook page does not identify him as a member of the Minneapolis Police Department. On the “About Steve” part of his info page, it lists him as “Owner/trainer of Top Gun CrossFit. I also love riding my Harley and warm weather -so why do I stay in MN?”

According to a screen capture of the post in question, Loeding wrote:

“drove by a Somali hangout spot off 26 av s / 25 St e when I see the American flag hanging upside down on the wall. I, of course, promptly stop my squad, get out, walk in and tell them to hang it right side up. If I find it upside down the next time I work, the —- will hit the fan and there will be trouble.”

A few comments later, Loeding wrote that, “it has nothing to do with a cop enforcing a Non-law… it has everything to do with me, an American citizen, who loves and respects my country and it’s (sic) symbols (the eagle, the flag).”

He went on to write: “It pisses me off that these immigrants have been ‘forced’ to live in a free country that would actually allow them to do this and they fly it upside down – a big ‘—- YOU’ to the country that has given them the ability to work, practice their religion and treat our flag like a piece of —-. And I’d much rather teach people the proper respect than investigate a stolen bicycle from an unlocked garage.”

He went on to say, “if I can educate the newest immigrants on the proper way to be respectful to the flag, then that is what I will do.”

Flying the U.S. flag upside down is an international sign of distress. It also has taken on political overtones across the political spectrum; inverted flags have popped up at tea party rallies and Occupy Wall Street encampments.

In his post, Loeding did not specify which building was nearest to the flag he allegedly saw.The area around South 26th Avenue and East 25th Street is largely industrial, but a mosque is on the corner.

Those who work in the area said the mosque keeps its curtains drawn. Nobody was there when a reporter stopped by Monday afternoon.

The business just north of the mosque on 26th Avenue is a new restaurant, An-Nuur, and the owner, Abdulcadir Haji, said he’s never seen an upside-down flag in the area. He also resented any implication he would fly an American flag upside down because he is also an Army sergeant, currently on inactive reserve.

“I’m not a guy who would allow something like that to happen,” said Haji, 55, who came to the U.S. from Somalia when he was 22 and became a naturalized citizen in 1986 during his third year in the military.

“I want to see the son of a gun, excuse my language,” Haji said when shown a printout Loeding’s Facebook comments. “It’s pure hatred. I’m very upset.”

Haji opened his restaurant in January; it features American, Somali, Middle Eastern and Italian cuisine. Kitchen manager Angie Johnson said she also has never seen an upside-down flag in the neighborhood and wouldn’t abide it if she saw one.

“I’m American. Everybody here is American. Why would I allow that to happen here?” she said. “That guy needs to come and try our food instead of criticizing us.”

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From The Pioneer Press.

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