FARGO - The Cass County Sheriff's Office has decided not to discipline an employee who was investigated over heated social media posts about gun control.
Sgt. Jon Morse, 44, an administrative sergeant at the Cass County Jail, engaged in a profanity-laced debate on his personal Facebook page and posted a flag associated with the militia group known as The Three Percenters or III%.
The complainant in the case said he felt threatened by the post. It also seemed Morse may have identified himself as a Cass County sheriff's employee during the exchange.
However, an internal investigation found the complaint "not sustained" because there was no proof Morse made any threats, and no proof he claimed to be with the sheriff's office in the private group discussion.
"The conversation happened. We just didn't find any misconduct or any violation of policy," said Capt. Andrew Frobig, jail administrator.
In addition, the internal investigation report concluded that the complainant may have been trying to retaliate against Morse over the online debate by contacting the media about it.
A person identifying himself as "Jack Black" sent an email to The Forum in late March, saying he was concerned about Morse's proclaimed affiliation with the III% group.
The person referenced a recent news story about a Muslim civil rights group's call for an investigation of a controversial YouTube video.
The video, since removed for violating the site's policy on hate speech, allegedly showed the "North Dakota III% Security Force" shooting up a scale model of a mosque.
The tipster wondered how many Cass County sheriff's deputies "are also members."
The Forum asked Sheriff Paul Laney about the matter, and the sheriff's office decided to open an investigation. The internal investigation report, compiled by Sgt. Thomas Tschida with the Office of Professional Standards or OPS, was obtained by The Forum this week.
Morse claims no III% affiliation
The Facebook debate over gun control between Morse and at least 10 others in a private chat group took place Feb. 23 through Feb. 26.
After Matthew Fee, 41, a former Devils Lake High School classmate of Morse, suggested there be databases for people with mental illness and people who buy guns, Morse shot back.
"F--- that. Screw your dumb idea! SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED ON!" Morse wrote, and then went on, "We will not stand for anymore! The III%." He also posted the group's flag.
When questioned by investigators, Morse said repeatedly he is not a member of the militia group and knows little about it - only that it has strong views on the right to keep and bear arms.
Laney said he doesn't believe there are any III% members in his department.
Ex-classmate denies involvement
The former classmate, Fee, first told investigators he felt threatened by Morse's comments, though he later said he didn't.
According to investigators, Fee claims to have sent the screenshots of the Facebook exchange to a friend, who in turn sent them to The Forum.
Laney disputes that. In the report, he wrote: "It was obvious to us through our investigation, that the individual who contacted The Forum and Matthew Fee are the same person."
The name of the person debating with Morse was redacted in the screenshots sent to The Forum.
When reached by phone in the Twin Cities area, Fee said he was involved in the Facebook debate with Morse, but denied sending the information to The Forum.
'The right to participate'
OPS Sgt. Tschida also questioned Morse about other Facebook posts and pages.
Morse once ran a North Dakota page for a business called American Infidel, where he tried unsuccessfully to sell bags, mugs and stickers.
The site was described as "A place to post thoughts, photos, videos and things on your mind about the attacks on the American way of life."
Tschida said the site is no longer available.
He also asked about a November Facebook post in which Morse wrote, "It's okay to be white." At the time, signs bearing that statement stirred controversy after popping up on college campuses across the country, including Concordia College in Moorhead.
Morse told Tschida he posted it because he wanted to learn why people found it racist or not racist.
Tschida said Morse has since disabled his Facebook account.
Frobig said that while he's cautioned Morse about discussing sensitive topics on social media, it's still his First Amendment right to do so.
"He had the right to participate in that even if it creates headaches for us and him," Frobig said.