St. Paul police debunked an online rumor that a police officer named Jacob Pederson broke windows in an AutoZone store during Minneapolis protests following the death of George Floyd. Video of a mysterious man wearing all black and carrying an umbrella casually smashing the front windows of the auto parts store went viral on social media, with some users alleging the video was "evidence" of police trying to incite violence. St. Paul police said they do not know the identity of the person in the video.
St. Paul police said they are "aware" of the video in a series of tweets published late Thursday. "So we also want to be perfectly clear about this: The person in the video is not our officer," the police department said. "We don't know who that person is, but we hope he's identified and held accountable for his actions." The department continued, "Our officer? He's been working hard, keeping people and property safe, and protecting the right to peacefully assemble. It’s sad that people would post and share this untrue information, adding more confusion to an already painful time in our community."
After the video went viral, conspiracy theories surrounding the mysterious man began surfacing on Twitter, notes Snopes. One Twitter user claimed the video showed an "undercover cop" breaking the windows while members of the community were trying to stop him. The same Twitter user shared screenshots from a person who claimed to be a "close friend" of the person in the video. Later, other social media users claimed the "close friend" was Pederson's ex-wife.
Other social media rumors that surfaced during the protests have turned out to be incorrect, notes KARE11. Mall of America started trending after videos appeared to show looting there, but many others noted the videos were old or from malls not in Minnesota. A photo of a man wearing a "Make Whites Great Again" hat was passed around on social media as if the man was Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in Floyd's death. Another post claimed Chauvin attended one of President Donald Trump's rallies in Minnesota. However, neither photo showed Chauvin.
Floyd died in police custody on Monday. After he was arrested, Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, including almost three minutes after Floyd was unconscious. Following four days of protests, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin and three other officers at the scene were fired.