Letter: Strand's attorney says DL police chief must go
As Police Sergeant Robert Strand's attorney, I held on to hope that the City of Detroit Lakes and Chief Todd would be reasonable and move on after Strand was found not guilty on the misdemeanor charge that Chief Assistant Clay County Attorney Pamela Foss brought against him.
We won the case because the evidence showed my client wasn't guilty, and acted in self-defense, it's as simple as that.
Up until now, I declined to publicly comment about the city's attempt to discipline Strand, in hopes that I could work within the administrative process with the city to reach a reasonable path to move forward.
However, it is clear to me now that city leadership has no interest in a reasonable resolution, it cannot respect the rule of law, and needs to save face. I now plan to initiate a federal lawsuit against Chief Todd and the city, alleging invasion of privacy and violation of my client's rights.
I am certain it will cost the city a heck of a lot more going forward than if they would have done the right thing and let it go. I feel strongly that the citizens need to be told the real story of the nonsense happening at City Hall.
When Sgt. Strand was initially charged, Chief Todd made a very poor decision to place Strand on paid administrative leave within days of the incident before Strand was even charged.
This cost the city a lot of unnecessary overtime and a huge strain on the other sergeants in such a small department.
By way of background, I've been representing law enforcement and public employees going on 20 years now in discipline and discharge cases. Trust me when I say this — in 20 years I've never had another case where the city put an officer on leave due to misdemeanor fighting and brawling charges.
Mainly, I suppose, because most places believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty, especially on such a minor charge. Regardless, the charge against Strand was so minor that even if found guilty, he would not have had to report it to the POST licensing board, nor would it have resulted in a loss of his police license.
In fact, even if the city tried to terminate him, he would have been reinstated at arbitration, if precedent in similar cases were followed.
In short, there was no need to incur this cost by the city, the city paid him not to work for over a year, and believe me, my client did not want this — he wanted to work. Ironically, when the city investigated Chief Todd (for an incident involving a boy he thought was stealing his bike) Chief Todd wasn't put on leave. So much for equal treatment.
Fast forward to the trial January earlier this year. My client asserted self-defense in the case, and legally speaking, if my client was the aggressor or provoked the fight, as a matter of law he would not be entitled to the self-defense instruction — the judge correctly ruled that Sgt. Strand could assert self-defense, and upon acquittal, this became conclusive fact.
After the not guilty verdict, the city paid a lot of money to an outside Twin Cities lawyer consultant, Michele Soldo, to re-investigate the matter. I'm not sure why, they had all the reports and evidence from the case, and it was a huge waste of money.
Now that my client was not guilty of a crime, the city couldn't use a conviction to discipline him, so they had to dig for something else. Literally, the case began to morph and change into other petty allegations.
My client was then served with new disciplinary allegations, with the city asserting basically that Strand somehow provoked the fight. Not only is that factually not true, conclusively as a matter of law it isn't true.
The city wrote that it is attempting to impose an outrageous seven-day suspension on Robert Strand, despite being told repeatedly and in writing by me that there was no just cause and the law doesn't support it.
Keep in mind, the chief was suspended for five days for the incident with the 12-year-old boy he thought was stealing his bike at the ballpark, and yet they want to suspend Strand for even more days?
After the suspension was served, the chief disciplined him again by de-facto demoting Sgt. Strand by removing all of his supervisory authority — he is now a sergeant who isn't allowed to supervise the patrol officers.
I immediately filed a union grievance, and I will take the case to arbitration. I am confident it will be overturned. The arbitration will cost the city about $5,000 for the cost of the arbitrator and another $12,000 to $15,000 so they can pay their Twin Cities lawyer Brandon Fitzsimmons to try and prove the unprovable. Again, a total waste of taxpayer money.
In addition, the city is so desperate to make something stick they alleged that my client, in reporting that he was just assaulted in his call to dispatch, was rude and used profane language. Seriously? The man was bleeding from the head and needed to go to the hospital for treatment. Who wouldn't be upset? And it wasn't the dispatcher who complained nor initiated the complaint — it was Chief Todd.
To take the cake, Chief Todd also initiated a complaint alleging that my client was rude and disrespectful in his private hospital room while getting medical treatment and giving a statement to the deputies! First of all, it isn't factually accurate: None of the hospital staff complained, and those we spoke to said there was nothing out of the ordinary.
When my client sought medical treatment, he was not in police custody, nor a suspect, and was brought to the hospital by a private citizen. On the way to the hospital, Sgt. Strand called Chief Todd to inform him of the situation, which is customary and pursuant to policy. At this point, Chief Todd had already indicated the case was being turned over to the county due to a conflict of interest, so he had no legitimate law enforcement purpose to be at the hospital.
The most disgusting part about this case is this — when the case started, why couldn't the chief and the city simply put out a statement to the effect of "Sgt. Strand is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty and we will let the legal process take its course."
Instead of standing by Strand, the city needlessly made the costly decision to put him on leave and isolate him for over a year. And to top it off, the city chose to "re-investigate" the case at public expense and make petty allegations. This to me shows incredibly poor leadership by Chief Todd, and an inability to admit he was wrong.
So don't blame me for doing my job and holding Chief Todd and the city accountable in civil court — that's on them. What I ask of you as citizens is to call, write or visit your City Council members and the Police Civil Service Commission and demand a new chief of police.
Chief Todd and city administration has cost the city so much money already and it's about to go up. My client didn't do anything wrong under the law, yet the city spends a ton of public money on this to your detriment, while the only people who have gained from this folly is Twin cities lawyers.—Robert Fowler, Little Canada, Minn.
(Fowler is senior partner at the Fowler Ditsch law firm, and general council for Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police and the Minnesota Public Employees Association)