On May 28, 2020, demonstrators took to the streets of Minneapolis once again to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the days following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer. Portions of protests devolved into mayhem, with some people looting stores and burning buildings, including a police station. A video showing a man smashing the windows of an AutoZone shop also started to circulate on social media.
The video seemed suspicious to many social media users. Why was this man carrying an umbrella on a sunny day in May? Why was he dressed head to toe in black? Why was this white man, in the middle of a protest about racial injustice, casually smashing the windows of an AutoZone?
The video began to be spread with the additional claim that the man was actually a police officer, not a protester, and that he was purposefully causing property damage as a way to incite demonstrators to violence. As the video went viral, some social media users claimed they had identified the man in the video as a police officer named Jacob Pederson.
Twitter user Dylan (@dyllyp) appears to have been the first to "confirm" the man's identity:
@dyllyp also shared a purported screenshot of a text message conversation the user allegedly had with a "close friend" who knew the person in the video:
The image of this text conversation was later shared by other social media users with the claim that @dyllyp's "close friend" was Pederson's ex-wife:
We reached out to @dyllyp for more information about the identity of the person in the text message but have yet to receive a response.
The St. Paul Police Department denied that officer Pederson was the man in the video. The police department issued a statement on Twitter calling the rumor "false" and claiming that "the person in the video is not our officer."
RUMOR CONTROL ...
We are aware of the social media post that erroneously identifies one of our officers as the person caught on video breaking windows in Minneapolis.
We've seen it. We've looked into it. And it's false.
So we also want to be perfectly clear about this: The person in the video is not our officer.
We don't know who that person is, but we hope he's identified and held accountable for his actions.
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.
On June 7, 2020, the Saint Paul Police Department released more information about Pederson's whereabouts during the incident, including a surveillance video which supposedly showed the officer at another location at the time the Autozone windows were smashed.
Saint Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said:
“We knew right away that our officer was not involved in instigating the unrest in Minneapolis because we knew exactly where he was at the time—and he was in Saint Paul. Unfortunately, some people continue to spread the lie—either out of genuine concern, a lack of knowledge about the situation, or maliciousness—so we’ve taken the extraordinary step of releasing the video that shows exactly where the officer was.
“This type of disinformation can jeopardize the officer’s reputation and safety and chip away at the trust this police department has worked so hard to build with its community.”
As it stands, scant evidence exists to support the claim that the man seen in the video dressed in black and smashing the windows of an AutoZone was Pederson, or indeed that it was even a police officer. For starters, the person's face in the video is covered by a mask that simply makes him impossible to identify. We've also seen dozens of similar rumors over the years that misidentified people because they had a passing resemblance to another person. Just this week, we saw rumors that falsely identified Derek Chauvin, the officer identified as kneeling on Floyd's neck before he died, as a man at a rally for U.S. President Donald Trump, and as a man wearing a "Make Whites Great Again" hat.
The evidence to support the claim that he is a police officer named Jacob Pederson is scant, and the St. Paul Police Department has issued a statement denying that one of its officers is seen in this video. However, as the identify of the "umbrella man" in this video is still unknown, we can't rule out that this person was a different undercover police officer and have therefore marked this article as unproven.