ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The home of an officer assigned to the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy was recently photographed with the officer’s marked take-home police car in the driveway next to a Three Percenters flag.
Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
5 On Your Side obtained a photo of Officer Michael Coletti’s home with the group's flag flying underneath an American flag in his front yard. His marked police car was parked in the driveway just feet away.
The flag reads: “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty.” It also includes the Roman numeral for three in the middle of the flag with the year 1776 written underneath it. Thirteen red stars representing the 13 colonies also adorn the flag.
St. Louis County Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said department leaders told Coletti more about the organization after receiving a complaint from a community member about it.
"When we brought it to his attention, then it was taken down, he did some research on it and better-educated himself," Panus said. "He took it down on his own, and decided he did not want to support that organization."
The St. Louis County Police Association said the department asked Coletti to take the flag down and he "immediately complied with the request," according to business manager Matt Crecelius.
"He is conservative in his political views, and as soon as the department brought to his attention the controversy surrounding the organization, he took it down," Crecelius said. "He does not support anarchy, he was merely trying to express conservative political views.
"He was unaware of the radical actions of some of the people who carry this flag since Jan. 6 and before. He just thought he was expressing his conservative views. It has nothing to do with ties to the organization or anything," Crecelius continued.
On Thursday, 5 On Your Side saw Coletti had replaced the Three Percenters flag with a Thin Blue Line flag, which depicts the blue line police officers maintain to protect the innocent. He also had a Police Lives Matter sign in his front yard. The house next to his was flying the Three Percenters flag.
The photo is the latest in a string of culturally insensitive incidents involving county police officers in recent months.
5 On Your Side reported earlier this month the department is now conducting an internal investigation into a series of Facebook posts Sgt. Grant Rummerfield made during the past year, which included statements about the officers who killed Jacob Blake in Wisconsin as well as offensive messages about little people. 5 On Your Side has since learned Rummerfield is assigned to the Bureau of Professional Standards, the department’s internal affairs division.
The Ethical Society of Police, a membership organization for primarily Black officers, has criticized Chief Mary Barton for her leadership during the racial incidents – one of which included her brother-in-law using the n-word on an open police radio mic.
Barton posed for a picture next to Coletti during a groundbreaking ceremony this week at the police academy in Wellston — after Coletti removed the flag. The St. Louis Police Foundation donated a training scenario house.
The Ethical Society is calling for Coletti's termination.
In a statement, retired St. Louis Police Sgt. Heather Taylor and spokeswoman for the organization wrote: "The employee is of questionable character and should be fired. Days ago the FBI warned of planned violence in Washington D.C. from the 'Three Percenters' on March 4, yet this officer believes it is acceptable to fly a flag supporting an extremist group with members who have violent and racist ideologies. Members of the 'Three Percenters' were arrested for their involvement in the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. A police officer was murdered and over 100 police officers were injured during the insurrection. Continued incidents like this in the St. Louis County Police Department demonstrate significant changes are necessary to change the culture that perpetuates and accepts racism and violence from its employees."
Coletti is assigned to the police academy where two instructors were recently fired for using racial slurs during training sessions with officers.
Coletti appeared Aug. 14 in a picture accepting a letter of appreciation from a Commanding Officer of the United States Marine Corps Recruiting Station in St. Louis for CPR training he did during his free time to the Marines assigned to that station, according to the police academy’s Facebook page. In that picture, Coletti is wearing a blue polo shirt.
“This training allowed the Marines to continue their assigned mission without interruption,” according to the post.
The picture of the flag in front of Coletti’s house was taken during February’s snow storm. The flag is no longer in front of the officer’s house.
The Three Percenters (also known as III%ers, 3%ers or Threepers) are part of the militia movement in the United States and are anti-government extremists, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
They view themselves as defending Americans against government tyranny, and several were photographed carrying the flag during the attack on the nation’s capital.
During the Trump administration, the group didn't focus its attention as much on the federal government, but directed its ire at leftists, antifa, Muslims and immigrants, according to the ADL.
The group's name comes from an inaccurate claim that only 3% of people in the 13 colonies armed themselves and fought against the British during the Revolutionary War, according to the ADL.
The photograph also shows a yellow Gadsden banner near Coletti’s front door. The flag includes a coiled rattlesnake over the phrase, “Don’t Tread on Me.” It’s a symbol often associated with gun rights and limited government.
In June 2014, assailants with connections to white supremacist groups draped the bodies of two murdered police officers with the Gadsden flag during their shooting spree in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The symbol also is offensive to some Black people because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a slave trader during the Revolutionary War.