A controversy erupted this week on social media after a homemade police car flew a Confederate flag at an event during the Kandiyohi County Fair in Willmar, Minn.
During the demolition derby at last week's fair, a small vehicle bearing "Sheriff" markings and a law enforcement badge circled the racetrack, prompting complaints to the county sheriff as well as to county commissioners and the county administrator.
Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Holien moved quickly to distance his office from the clash, posting a statement on Facebook making it clear that the homemade car was not connected to his office.
"Even though it appears to be a badge on the side of the vehicle bearing the Confederate flag, that badge is a six-point star versus [the] five-point star worn by our staff," Holien wrote. "We wanted to take the time to [assure] everyone we took no part in and denounce this type of display at the Kandiyohi County Fair.
"The Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office values and continues to make concerted efforts to build those relationships we have built over the years with all members of our community."
Turns out, the little car was a riding lawn mower built as a tribute to Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, the cartoonish cop on the popular 1980s TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard."
A closer look at the markings on the car shows "Hazzard County" spelled out above the badge and "Roscoe P. Coltrane" in script next to the driver's seat.
The miniature sheriff's car is the creation of Michael Reynolds, who posted several photos of himself with the car on his Facebook page and defended himself against people who criticized his actions. Reynolds' photos show him with the sheriff's car as well as another lawn tractor made in the likeness of the "General Lee," the orange race car driven by the Duke brothers in the TV show.
"I'm not racist nor will I ever be and if everyone knows that flag it has history behind the flag," he wrote. "I love the show Dukes of Hazzard.
"I recently had problems at the Willmar fair. All I wanted to do was show off the Roscoe P. Coltrane and everyone in Willmar blew everything out of proportion, call me a racist and get out of the country and more.
"But u know what, let them keep talking cause I have lots of people behind me on support."
Efforts to reach Reynolds by phone were unsuccessful. Two numbers listed in his name were disconnected. The employer he lists as his workplace said there was nobody working there by that name.
In an interview Tuesday, Holien said he wanted to make sure the public understood that the vehicle did not represent the sheriff's office.
"I'm not denouncing the fact that you have your First Amendment right to fly the flag," he said. "We get that. But we are not associating ourselves with anything having to do with this."
John Reinan • 612-673-7402