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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There were "eight hours of chaos and mayhem" on the streets of St. Paul during the Republican National Convention's first day, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said Wednesday.
He offered details of what he described as 500 anarchists and their affiliates, and their coordinated efforts to try to shut down the convention Sept. 1.
Fletcher also talked about how police stopped them and said if they hadn't by nightfall, "this town would have been destroyed."
Fletcher held a news conference just hours before Wednesday's "community conversation" about the RNC, which was hosted by St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune, and which the sheriff didn't attend.
"What Council Member Thune has indicated up to now is a huge sympathy for the anarchists," Fletcher said. "We're not going to be part of any gathering that implies that we should be sympathetic to the anarchists that were bent on destroying St. Paul."
Thune responded: "I have never sympathized with lawbreakers, and I continue to not sympathize with lawbreakers."
St. Paul police were in charge of operations during the RNC, but Fletcher's office played a key supporting role, including conducting a long-term investigation of the anarchist groups before the convention.
Fletcher said he didn't invite anyone from the St. Paul police administration to Wednesday's news conference because he didn't want to put them in the uncomfortable position of being present while he criticized a City Council member.
St. Paul police spokesman could not be reached for comment after the news conference.
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus, speaking at the same event, said Thune should be supporting officers.
"Did we do everything perfectly?" Titus asked. "... I'm going to guess that not everything was done just perfectly, but it was done in good faith, I will guarantee you that. Let's look at the overall picture. A minimal amount of force (by police) was used."
DAY 1 DETAILS
In advance of the convention, the RNC Welcoming Committee, a self-described anarchist group, had divided downtown St. Paul into sectors and asked anarchist groups from around the country to adopt them. They told people to "swarm, seize and stay," according to the group's literature.
The sheriff's office has been analyzing photographs, videos, police radio traffic and police reports from the RNC's first day as part of its investigation, Fletcher said. They've concluded that groups largely stayed in the sectors they had adopted -- many people from the same states or regions of the country were arrested in the spots they had claimed, Fletcher said.
They also generally stuck with their plan to begin creating trouble around 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 1, when the delegate buses started to arrive, Fletcher said.
The groups used two-way radios to communicate, Fletcher said. They had their own communications center downtown, where people were monitoring police scanners and conveying the information to those on the streets via text messages and other means, he said.
"To be candid, the (anarchists') plan caused us significant problems during the first two to three hours of this event," Fletcher said.
While the anarchists were making their moves, a permitted and peaceful anti-war march of about 10,000 people was happening downtown.
The first disruptions that day occurred about 11 a.m. on Smith Avenue, when a group of people blocked traffic and pushed a large trash bin into a squad car, Fletcher said. The conflicts ended about 7 p.m., when more than 100 people were arrested on Shepard Road, after sparring with officers for hours.
In the eight hours in between, officers were assaulted, business and delegate bus windows were broken and people blocked streets, Fletcher said. Police have said they responded with tear gar, pepper spray, flash-bangs, smoke grenades and projectiles made of plastic and foam. There were more than 3,700 law enforcement officers securing the RNC.
Police mobile field forces, whose officers had riot gear, responded about 3 p.m. on Monday, Fletcher said. Up until then, the response had mostly been individual officers on foot, on bicycles or in squad cars, wearing their regular uniforms.
Fletcher said some would argue the mobile field forces should have been used earlier in the day, though he said he wouldn't. When they were called up, "everyone was in agreement that they had stretched their liberties well beyond what they deserved and that group of 500 needed to be confronted."
Of the 500 people, Fletcher estimated 200 were bent on more serious criminal acts. There were about 300 people arrested on Sept. 1 and roughly 85 percent were from out of state, Fletcher said.
There was $3 million in property damage in Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization riots and "that same scenario could have happened here if it had not been for these officers," Fletcher said.