Five St. Paul police officers were fired Thursday for allegedly failing to intervene in an assault that reportedly was carried out by a former officer.

Chief Todd Axtell announced the firings at an emotional news conference, calling the officers’ actions “a violation of trust.” But Axtell gave almost no details except to say the assault happened at a business a year earlier and did not involve violence by an officer.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, both citing unidentified people in the department or familiar with the case, said the incident happened in June 2018 when officers responded to an incident at an east side bar involving former St. Paul officer Tou Cha.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell speaks during a news conference, Thursday, June 13, 2019 in St. Paul, Minn. St. Paul's police chief has fired five officers for allegedly failing to intervene in an assault at a business. (John Autey/Pioneer Press via AP)
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell speaks during a news conference, Thursday, June 13, 2019 in St. Paul, Minn. St. Paul’s police chief has fired five officers for allegedly failing to intervene in an assault at a business. (John Autey/Pioneer Press via AP)

A criminal complaint charging Cha with felony assault described a pair of fights breaking out at a gathering at the bar, with Cha caught on video swinging a baton on a defenseless man, the Star Tribune reported. The man was later hospitalized, according to the complaint.

Neither Axtell nor a police spokesman would confirm or deny that the firings were related to the Cha case. “The law won’t allow me to say anything further about that,” Axtell told the Star Tribune.

At his news conference, Axtell said officers are expected to intervene when a violent act occurs in their presence and to tell the truth.

“When officers fail to live up to these standards, it affects everyone who wears the badge, and that’s why I’ve taken this action,” Axtell said. “This community deserves to know that its St. Paul police officers will always do the right thing and to tell the truth.”

Axtell said he learned of the incident last summer. The decision to fire the officers was made after an investigation by the police department’s internal affairs unit and after recommendations by the Police Civilian Affairs Review Commission, the chief said. The review was completed this week.

Cha has pleaded not guilty. He did not immediately reply to a phone message The Associated Press left Thursday at the restaurant. His attorney, Jack Rice, told the AP that Cha’s wife owns the bar, Checkerboard Pizza, and Cha works there.

An attorney for the St. Paul Police Federation, Christopher Wachtler, said the officers did not deserve to be fired, and the union will fight their terminations “all the way.”

Wachtler, the union attorney, said the incident was captured on squad car and body camera video.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said in a statement he supports the chief’s leadership and the work of the Police Civilian Affairs Review Commission “to enforce strong ethical standards in our police department.”

“While the vast majority of our officers meet and exceed these standards every day, the trust we place in them demands accountability for actions that fall below our high standards,” Carter said.

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