Minnesota police officer Kiel Rushton, 40, said the day he left his “fairytale” job felt “surreal.”
Rushton wore many hats during his 12 years as a sworn officer for the St. Anthony Police Department, from community engagement officer to detective to patrol officer, and he loved every second of the job.
“I couldn’t believe they were paying me to do it. I would’ve done it for free. It was an amazing job,” he said.
Rushton spoke with Liz Collin this week to discuss why he left policing at just 40 years old — ultimately, to keep his family safe.
The beginning of the end
For Rushton personally, the downturn began in 2016, the year Philando Castile was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer. Rushton was wrongly identified as a cop on the scene.
“[That is] a crazy part of life that I never want to experience again, the doxing, the personal attacks, the news media coverage. It was all pretty awful,” Rushton said.
His family received death threats and messages demanding his wife leave him, calling him “scum” and a “psycho.” His family wasn’t able to leave their house for almost a month; when they did get out, they came back to even more death threats and property damage.
And Rushton was not even an officer on the scene of Castile’s death.
He was critical of how the media handled the Castile shooting and its framing of all police incidents as race issues.
“Back then you got your information from the news media, and there was something very sneaky, pervasive, [with] undertones that they’re only reporting in certain directions, on certain things,” Rushton explained.
“It’s a shame because [the media] have so much power to do good, and they choose not to. It’s sad.”
The St. Anthony PD held community events, engaged with concerns, and “really took to heart everything” community members said, explained Rushton.
Today, the hyper focus on race “does nobody any good at all.”
Rushton said he acknowledges that people of color have been “wrongfully assaulted” and felt “targeted and uncomfortable.”
“I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that those things don’t happen and don’t exist, because they do, and people’s perceptions are reality,” he said. “However, the news media and the way that they frame every incident involving a person of color as a race issue is not only wrong and false, but it waters down and is disrespectful to people who’ve actually experienced racism at the hands of a police officer.”
Criminals run the streets
Rushton also spoke to the “insanity” of what’s happening to criminals — nothing.
As a detective, he prepared cases against criminals, many what he called “open and shut cases,” with solid evidence to prosecute, and still toward the end of his career those perpetrators were not getting charged.
He explained how a person could be arrested for being in a stolen vehicle, booked in jail, and out in six hours.
“The [cops] that still serve today are encountering folks who are out on bail and bond on shootings, multiple shootings. The violence is out of control,” he said.
Now more than ever, cops are doing “good, constitutional” work, due to “all the pressures,” Rushton said. Cops are held accountable, as they should be, but so should criminals.
George Floyd’s death in 2020 was a “big changing point” for Rushton, he said. It became clear to him that even if a cop wasn’t directly involved in an incident, they could still be charged for being on scene.
“That’s when I started to really take a good, hard look at what was going on,” he said.
The defund the police movement made it clear that some people did not want police at all.
“All the good intentions and all the great police work in the world won’t change that,” he said.
He was no longer willing to put his family at risk.
“The judicial system will come after you at the hands of some of these elected officials that have chosen to take the criminal justice system in the direction that they have … and I’m not gonna be a part of that,” Rushton explained.
A few months before he left the job, he was assaulted on duty, and the first thing he thought was, “How did my reaction to getting assaulted look on camera, am I gonna get jammed up?”
“Cops are scared,” Rushton explained, of the violence, but also of what happens to their families if they get locked up.
To encounter “sheer disrespect” toward officers is a common occurrence, even during minor traffic stops.
“I have partners that say, ‘I made my last traffic stop years ago, I’m just not going to engage if I don’t have to.’”
Rushton is focusing now on bettering himself and his mental health, and being a good father and husband.
“I feel like [speaking out] is a way that I can serve my fellow law enforcement officer who still has to go to work and go around with these stresses,” Rushton said. “I need to tell this story so people know what’s really going on.”