He uses the hashtag #ProtestSeason like it’s a period set aside for hunting demonstrators as if they were deer. The Riverfront Times calls him the “police department’s protest hammer.” He tagged a picture of himself on a Facebook post for his side business with #RiotKing—a protester-given nickname that describes his behavior during the demonstrations following St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley’s acquittal for shooting and killing Anthony Lamar Smith.
His name is Brian Rossomanno.
Rossomanno is a 20-year veteran of the police force and a former Marine who owns 0311 Tactical Solutions, a company that offers security and training to law enforcement, military and security guards. He is also the supervisor of the St. Louis Police Department’s civil disobedience unit. He has become a lightning rod for the SLPD’s unapologetically violent and harsh treatment of protesters.
One of the methods Rossomanno’s officers have used on protesters is a tactic called “kettling.” Officers surround demonstrators on all sides and tell them to leave a certain area. When the protesters try to leave, sometimes by breaking through the police ranks, the citizens are often pepper-sprayed, have Tasers used on them and arrested, even though some of them may have surrendered.
After the first night of protests, Rossomanno surveyed the protesters who had Tasers used on them and were beaten by cops, and issued a warning: “This is going to happen every night.”
Indeed it has. But Brian Rossomanno does not back down. He has referred to Black Lives Matter in derogatory terms on social media and allowed his officers to chant “Whose streets? Our streets.” His officers have faced numerous charges of police brutality since the beginning of the current round of protests in the city.
With all of this, there are two reasons why Rossomanno has become the symbol of a police force that has no intention of protecting and serving its citizenry. The first reason is that much of what he and his forces do skirts the boundaries of the law.
Regarding Rossomanno’s supervision, Department of Justice attorneys, civil rights organizations and St. Louis residents have all decried his tactics as too brutal. The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed suit against the city for the unlawful and unconstitutional acts of police brutality during the unrest.
He is also accused of using his 0311 Tactical company to blur the line on whether he is acting as a police officer or a private security guard at the protests. The company’s website listed the city of St. Louis as one of its clients, until reporters asked about it, and then the notation was mysteriously removed from the site. (But of course nothing dies on the internet. You can see the screenshots here.)
The company does list the St. Louis Cardinals as a client, providing a “quick reaction force” of SWAT officers. However, when Rossomanno was on duty as a supervising officer for the city, he suddenly appeared at a protest outside the Cardinals’ stadium and declared that the protesters had to leave because they were on private property. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The 2006 ordinance that governs street closures during Cardinals games makes no mention of private property. Nor does it outline police authority to ban some members of the public while allowing others.
For whom is Rossomanno working?
His company will not reveal how many police officers it employs, but according to the Riverfront Times, a cached version of the site includes the name Ronnie Fowlkes, who was fired from the SLPD in 2008 after sending an email to a number of police officers and 0311 employees following the election of President Barack Obama that read, in part: “I can’t believe I live in a country of NIGGER LOVERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (Yes, we included all 31 exclamation points from the original email. You’re welcome.)
The second reason he has become such a lightning rod that St. Louis activists have gone from chanting “No justice, no peace!” to “Fire Rossomanno!” is even more important:
His tactics don’t work.
The methods employed under Rossomanno’s supervision (and often under his watchful eye) only serve to inflame and anger people who are already upset with the barbarity of police tactics. They don’t disperse crowds. They fail to calm protesters. They only net in arrests and more resentment between citizens and the law-enforcement officers they pay to protect them.
Take an incident that happened in late September. Video footage shows that as protesters crowded the street, cops put their cars in reverse, avoiding confrontation. They wanted to ensure that protesters didn’t turn violent or damage property.
But not Rossomanno.
He pulled his SUV into the middle of the crowd, video footage showed. When the demonstrators objected, he threatened them with “chemical munitions” and stepped out of the car to challenge them. He was not protecting. He was not serving.
Brian Rossomanno was being an asshole.
But the city of St. Louis stands behind his tactics. They say he is its most qualified leader and that he “plays an integral role in civil disobedience training.”
The citizens of St. Louis feel otherwise. He has become the symbol of law-enforcement overreach and oppression. While his methodology may be brutal and unapologetic, it has also proved itself fruitless at quelling civil disobedience.
Every day since the Stockley verdict, protesters have kept their vow to “shut shit down.” On many of those nights, instead of Jason Stockley’s name, you can hear the crowd chanting, “Fuck Rossomanno!” just before they are kettled, maced or beaten by the St. Louis Police Department’s “king” of riots.
Indeed, dear warriors ...