FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — Prosecutors allege that an Otter Tail County sheriff's deputy had fentanyl in his system at the time of a high-speed chase and fatal crash in downtown Fergus Falls, Minn., in October.

Deputy Kelly Backman was charged in Otter Tail County District Court on Friday, Feb. 19, with one gross misdemeanor count of misconduct by a public officer/exceeding authority and one misdemeanor count of fourth-degree driving while intoxicated. The latter charge alleges Backman had fentanyl in his system at the time of the Oct. 2 crash, which killed a husband and wife.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent.

According to court papers, the event in October began when Backman and another deputy, Michael Wing, lured Cody Freitag to a gas station in order to arrest the 31-year-old for outstanding warrants for domestic violence and drugs.

Freitag became aware of the presence of the officers and fled, with both deputies giving chase in separate vehicles, court documents stated.

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Wing's cruiser later broke down, leaving Backman the only deputy continuing the chase. Court papers say Backman was still in pursuit when Freitag ignored a stop sign in downtown Fergus Falls and hit another car at high speed.

The crash killed 72-year-old Steve Christianson and his 71-year-old wife, Diane.

According to court documents accompanying the charges against Backman:

Following the crash, a blood sample provided by Backman indicated he was under the influence of fentanyl when operating his squad car.

An investigation also uncovered discrepancies involving Backman's work as a narcotics investigator.

In one instance, Backman stated in a report that a pipe laced with methamphetamine residue was found in a vehicle during a search in August 2020, but the item was not logged into evidence and was never accounted for.

In another case from August, Backman said in a report following a traffic stop that a vial believed to contain cocaine or fentanyl had been discovered, but there is no record the evidence was ever logged or sent for testing.

According to the court documents, when authorities went through Backman's desk and lockers a large baggie of glass pipes and grinders were located and seized. Authorities also found a small plastic vial in Backman's office that appeared to be empty with a few small areas of what appeared to be white residue.

When authorities searched a small evidence locker that only Backman had access to, they found a case containing a small plastic bottle that held a white powdery substance as well as a scale, court documents stated.

Regarding the high speed chase, Backman indicated the vehicle he was pursuing was not stopping at intersections during the chase and that speeds reached between 70 and 80 mph, court documents stated.

Backman said he saw a cloud of dust in front of him and surmised a crash had occurred before he arrived at the crash scene, where he said he found Freitag's vehicle had struck a vehicle occupied by two people who were later pronounced dead.

Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons said Monday, Feb. 22, that the allegations contained in court documents "are disappointing and not indicative of the high standards we set for law enforcement personnel."

He said an active administrative investigation is ongoing and that Backman remains employed with the sheriff's office.

"Until the completion of the administrative investigation, I will be unable to comment further," Fitzgibbons said.

The sheriff's office has said Wing was suspended for 24 hours for his role in the failed ruse that led to the crash and that he had violated the department's pursuit policy.

The charges against Backman were filed on Friday in the form of a summons to appear in court. The court date was not available Monday. Court records did not list an attorney for Backman.

Freitag has also been charged in connection with the crash. He faces four felony counts, including two counts of criminal vehicular homicide.

Cody James Freitag
Cody James Freitag

Correction 6 p.m. Feb. 22, 2021: Cody Freitag's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It has been corrected. We regret the error.