A Golden Valley bank robbery broke out on social media. It never really happened.

One morning in March, a man handed a note demanding money to a teller at a bank branch in the Golden Valley and then walked out. The cashier pressed a panic button to call the police. Hennepin County officials received a report and classified the incident as an “attempted robbery.”

Online, sharing a note took on far greater dimensions. A former city council member posed a question to online forum Nextdoor after learning third-hand what happened: Did anyone know of an armed bank robbery where the police didn’t respond?

Crime and policing are key issues in the Golden Valley, where political factions are divided over why the police force is understaffed – with 13 sworn officers last week, less than half the number budgeted for – what to do about it and if the city has information on crime that can be trusted.

Joanie Clausen, the former council member who wrote the Nextdoor post, has raised concerns about the police department’s staffing levels for years, including during a 2021 council campaign.

“I pointed out two years ago that the police would leave,” said Clausen. “I was called a liar and [accused of] scaremongering.”

Police data shows most crime rates have fallen since 2020, but Clausen worries — loudly and publicly, to the dismay of Mayor Shep Harris and other city advocates — about the public safety impact of so few officers.

“I wish this false narrative would just stop,” Harris said in an interview. “Support the police. Assist the sheriff’s office.”

Clausen’s now-deleted post was the first police chief Virgil Green heard about an armed robbery in the city. He said he scanned the call logs and found nothing, so he issued a statement saying there had been no bank robbery and vaguely railed about spreading misinformation.

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Harris, suspecting that the Nextdoor post was aimed at undermining Green, published the chief’s statement on Facebook with his own introduction.

“WARNING!” Harris wrote. “A former City Council member has stated that a local bank was recently robbed and no one from the GVPD was available to respond to the situation… The fact is THERE WAS NO BANK ROBBERY.”

In dozens of comments on Harris’ post, local residents tried to find out the truth.

Clausen said in an interview that while she believed Green didn’t understand Minnesota and that she wished someone else would be boss, she only covered the robbery to find out what happened at the bank.

Green and Clausen ended up talking on the phone, they both recalled.

“Why didn’t you just call me?” Instead of asking on Facebook and Nextdoor if anyone had heard of an armed bank robbery, Green asked Clausen.

“I do not trust you. I don’t trust the city,” Clausen told him.

“The city,” Clausen thinks, has become too aligned with Harris, with whom Clausen has been at odds for years, as Harris champions racial justice initiatives that Clausen finds “too much.” Harris is completing his last term as mayor, and Clausen has no plans to run for elected office in the fall.

After Green spoke to Clausen and she told him which bank she was talking about — the Wells Fargo on Golden Valley Road — Green said he spoke to the branch manager. The manager explained that a man strolled through the bank before handing a teller a bill and walking out the door. The cashier pressed a panic button, Green said, the manager told him to, and Hennepin County officials responded. The bank was closed for a few minutes as officials worked, but then reopened and business continued as usual.

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The headline of the Hennepin County deputies’ report said “attempted bank robbery,” but Green said he didn’t think that characterized the incident. Nobody showed a gun. Nobody made any threats. A seemingly concerned man gave a cashier a piece of paper and left.


“If the number had escalated to the point that it was indeed an attempted bank robbery, we would have notified the public,” Green said.

Clausen said she was frustrated that Green and Harris initially dismissed the incident. Something happened at the bank, she said, and she fears the city tried to sweep it under the rug.

Green said the incident showed poor communication between the city and the county. Hennepin County has not notified Golden Valley leadership of the incident, and Golden Valley has not read every report made by the Hennepin County legislators.

“The bottom line is that the community continues to be a safe place,” Harris said.