Roseville MN April 2 2017 A man who Minnesota legislators think looks a bit too much like a cop for comfort says he’s allowed to have his own style. But police believe that style borders on the illegal and have charged him with a crime.
The charges against David A. Singleton, chief executive of Minnesota Community Policing Services Foundation Inc., indirectly stemmed his group’s “investigation” into a lynching photo at a Roseville restaurant, to work he did for a St. Paul health clinic that serves the poor.
Singleton, of Maplewood, attained brief television acclaim as a spokesman for the mother of a missing boy — who later turned up murdered — in Crystal. The attire he and his staff sometimes wear — closely resembling that of law enforcement — and the way he talked during the 2015 Barway Collins case distressed police officials, who thought the public could be fooled into thinking he was either an officer or speaking for them.
Last month, Singleton was one of two examples brought up during a legislative hearing on a bill to strictly limit how closely a citizen’s attire can mimic police, language that’s now included in the House’s public safety omnibus bill.
Singleton has said that was not his intention, that his organization is allowed its own identity and has done no harm.
But police believe he’s taken too many liberties with that identity: In December, he was charged in Ramsey County District Court with doing security work without a license, a document he can’t get, given his prior criminal history. Police found out about that work because a restaurant manager allegedly mistook Singleton’s staff for cops.
Reached this week about the charge, Singleton at first said he wasn’t aware of it. Then, after reading the complaint against him, he said it — like the effort at the Legislature — was part of a concerted effort to harass him.
Roseville police “have been leading the charge here for the past year to try and find something to try and discredit our organization,” Singleton said. “This is just one more example of how far they would go to use their public position to make us look bad.”
Roseville police started looking at Singleton’s organization in early 2016, when they got a call from Joe’s Crab Shack on Snelling Avenue.
A manager there — following media reports that one of its tables was embedded with a photo of a lynching — told police that a couple of customers had turned up to “investigate” that photo. Were they legit law enforcement, the manager asked?
According to an incident report, the two women identified themselves as “investigators” for Minnesota Community Policing Services, and the manager said he thought they were law enforcement. At his request, they showed him a badge, and some official-looking IDs.
Singleton said he got calls from people worried about the lynching photo, and “I wanted to see if there was anything we could do to try to bring some calm.”
The manager told the women the photo had been removed, and the two walked around the restaurant to check for other “negative things,” before leaving, the report said.
The women, who told police they worked for “Chief” Singleton’s group without pay, said the group had been retained by the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions to look into the picture.
The league, it turned out, was another organization run by Singleton, its president. The women told police that they never told the manager they were law enforcement and even went so far as to say they weren’t.
A police investigator looking into a possible charge of officer impersonation was later unable to contact the restaurant’s manager, so no charges were brought.
But one thing the women told the investigator still nagged him: a comment he says was made when he asked what else the group did. Provide “security,” they allegedly said, for a St. Paul clinic in the city’s North End.
The gross misdemeanor complaint against Singleton and one of the women, Michelle Ho, notes that Minnesota statutes require a “protective agent” license from those who “provide guards, private patrol, or other security personnel to protect persons or their property” in exchange for “a fee, reward, or other valuable consideration.”
The investigator warned Ho during their interview that if she worked as a security guard, she’d be committing a crime. But when he drove by the clinic that evening, he found Ho there, in plainclothes and armed. She admitted that she was “providing security services,” filling in for Singleton, the complaint said.
Singleton sent a letter to St. Paul’s Open Cities Health Center, at 916 Rice St., assuring “a special public safety consultant that will have a uniform presence” who would be “on duty” in the early evening. In return, Singleton’s organization was paid an $18-per-hour “financial contribution consideration.”
“We look forward to keeping you and your staff safe and deterring any criminal element that may be present in your area,” Singleton’s letter ended.
The letter, as given by clinic staff to police, was two pages. But when the Pioneer Press asked Singleton for a copy of it, he produced a three-page letter — with an extra page in the middle bearing different letterhead. That page had some phrases underlined and in bold, including that the group was “retained as consultants” and was being paid “consultant fees.”
Singleton said he didn’t know why the police’s letter from the clinic was short that page, but said that he was not providing security. He said he was hired to analyze and assess the clinic’s security needs.
In a phone interview, Ho said she felt intimidated and “under duress” during the police interview and doesn’t remember saying she provided protective services. Those words appear in a statement that she acknowledged Singleton helped her with. When asked what she did for the clinic, she hesitated and asked to call back. When she did about a minute later, she said she was there to observe.
The health center’s executive director did not return a request for clarification on what Singleton was hired to do.
When asked what the $18 per hour was used for, Singleton said it went to the general fund, from which “I don’t draw a paycheck. I might get some expenses paid.” He acknowledged that those expenses included his own rent and groceries — a reimbursement, he said, to pay back money he’d given the organization.
He also told police the “financial contribution” was used to provide training for Boy Scout Explorer youth.
For a time, Singleton’s organization had a charter allowing it an Explorer troop. But in the fall of 2015, the Boy Scouts revoked it. At the same time, they added a policy saying that such charters can go only to law enforcement groups.
“We had never had such a chartering organization before (like Singleton’s), so we didn’t understand that there was a problem with such a partnership,” said Kent York, spokesman for the Boy Scouts’ Northern Star Council.
In response, Singleton filed a complaint against the group with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging racial bias. He claims the council’s exploring director asked why there were so many non-white explorers shown on his group’s web page. York called the allegation “baseless,” and the department has yet to rule on it.
He’s’ also filed complaints against the Roseville investigator, as well as Crystal’s chief of police, with the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
When the investigator first told Singleton he’d need a license to do security work, Singleton argued that he didn’t, because he was a nonprofit.
To support this, he produced a 2003 document published on the IRS’s website that states licese exemptions for nonprofit “activities in the general areas of public safety and crime prevention … including contracting for security patrols designed to increase public safety and reduce crime in the community,” provided that the organization is promoting the common good.
Still, the same document noted that nonprofits paid at an hourly rate don’t qualify for such an exemption, because that would make them too similar to a for-profit enterprise.
Police also question whether Singleton’s group is actually a nonprofit.
Secretary of State records note that on the day after his April 11, 2016, police interview, Singleton filed for and received a nonprofit certificate of incorporation.
“I think that (the date of filing) was probably just coincidental,” Singleton said. “We were prepared to file. … After getting those questions, it was like, no time like the present.”
Nonprofits making more than $25,000 a year from charitable donations, or with $25,000 in assets, must also register with the state attorney general’s office. Singleton said his group has never reached those numbers.
“I asked him, ‘Why don’t you just get a license?’ ” said the Roseville police investigator, Lt. Lorne Rosand. “It’s actually pretty easy.”
Singleton told the Pioneer Press he didn’t want to.
“If I wanted a protective license, I could go out and get one,” he said. “We have looked into it, but it wasn’t in the goals and objectives; it wasn’t in the business plan.”
But Singleton can’t get a license. As a felon, he’s prevented from getting one by state law, a fact Singleton said he wasn’t aware of.
In 2002, Singleton pleaded guilty in a theft-by-swindle case for selling phony Radisson Hotel invoices to an associate in St. Paul.
At the time, Singleton operated a temp agency called Metro Employment Group. An associate paid him several thousand dollars for the invoices for temp work. But payment never came.
According to court documents, Singleton told police that the Radisson had ordered the work, then canceled, but he didn’t get a chance to tell his associate that. But Radisson staff told police they had no records of any of that, and police noted the “work” on the invoices was purportedly completed the week before Singleton sold the invoices.
Singleton acknowledges mistakes in his past, which he says he’s moved on from. Now, he says, he’s trying to better the community.
“Do you want people out there getting in trouble, or do you want people that know both sides of the system, and using their knowledge for a good benefit and not a bad benefit?” he said.
“I’m not looking for anything, for anybody trying to make me the big man or big hero. I’m just looking for a little respect.”
For roughly eight years, Singleton was a member of Roseville’s human rights commission, a volunteer position confirmed by the city council. He also serves as vice chair of a police and community relations board for Maplewood.
And since 2012, he’s been a member of Ramsey County’s personnel review board, which hears disciplinary appeals and reviews the county’s human resources department, at the county board’s request.
He will appear in Ramsey County District Court on Tuesday.