FARGO — Law enforcement officers in the Fargo-Moorhead area have faced a wide range of complaints in recent months, including allegations of missing court dates, being involved in vehicle crashes and driving while drunk.
Officers from police departments in Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead, Dilworth and North Dakota State University, as well as sheriff’s deputies and jail officers from Cass and Clay counties, faced a total of 52 complaints in the 12-month period from June 30, 2018, through last month, according to documents obtained by The Forum through public record requests.
At least four of the complaints were determined to be unfounded — three from the Fargo Police Department and one from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.
In one instance, four Fargo police officers responded to an incident by going through traffic lights without using emergency lights, driving through intersections at a high rate of speed and driving through residential neighborhoods at speeds over 70 mph, the complaint said. One of the officers received a letter of reprimand, and the other three got letters of consultation.
“While a code three response was necessary and authorized, the manner in which all four officers responded was unsafe and created more danger to the public and themselves than was reasonable or necessary,” police documents said.
Only one Fargo police officer was suspended during the 12-month period. That officer was seen off-duty yelling at his child while picking him up from school. When West Fargo police asked him about the situation, he used profane language, the complaint said. He was suspended for a day without pay.
The same officer had three other complaints, including one in which he was accused of displaying his gun and badge to a Fargo city employee while off-duty. The officer denied the allegations but resigned before the investigation could be completed.
Four officers were involved in vehicle crashes, and four other officers missed court appearances.
Officer Mike Kjera, who was defeated in the November general election for Cass County sheriff, received education-based discipline after collecting signatures for his campaign while on duty at Hector International Airport, one complaint said.
Cass County Sheriff’s Office
Most of the Cass County Sheriff's Office complaints were filed against county jail officers, with the most common stemming from mistakes in administering medication. Of the five medical-related complaints, only one officer faced disciplinary action — he was put on a performance plan.
Roughly half of the inmates at Cass County Jail take medication, Jail Administrator Andrew Frobig said, and the facility had an average daily population of 252 last year.
The jail investigates medical errors to determine if procedures need to change, Frobig said. Investigating the incorrect administration of medicine for diabetic inmates led to adding classes for jail officers in May 2018 on how to properly administer insulin, he said.
No changes regarding medicine were made this year as a result of complaints, Frobig said. The jail aims to have zero errors, but most of the errors this year were not the result of intentionally disregarding policy, he said.
“I would say that our target is always 100 percent accuracy,” he said.
Five medical mistakes isn't a big issue given the Cass County Jail population, said Donald Leach, a jail management consultant from Utah. Errors by the same person should cause concern, but with single incidents, all a jail can do is investigate and correct the matter, he said.
Two Cass County officers were suspended without pay for three days — one called in sick but was seen working at another job, and the other made inappropriate comments toward a co-worker before giving that co-worker a hug, the complaints said. The latter complaint also resulted in sexual harassment training.
The jail officer who called in sick also faced disciplinary action for speaking to inmates about the status of other inmates, allowing inmates near the control center within the jail pod, questioning superiors and coming in late without valid excuses, among other things listed in a single complaint. The officer resigned before the cases were closed.
One officer was found sleeping on the job, including when he was guarding an inmate at a hospital. The officer resigned before the investigation was over.
Another officer resigned after being accused of drunken driving. Burgess Giple was arrested in January by Fargo police. His case is still pending in Cass County District Court.
West Fargo Police Department
Four complaints were sustained in West Fargo, including one against an officer who was suspended and demoted for a drunken driving investigation.
Officer Ryan Denis lost his title as a sergeant and was given a 15-day unpaid suspension in March after being arrested Feb. 24 on suspicion of DUI. He pleaded guilty in Cass County District Court to a misdemeanor charge but avoided jail time.
The complaint said he was unprofessional in speaking with a fellow sergeant during the stop and was carrying a gun on his person. An investigation found he was driving his personal vehicle recklessly while intoxicated in early February. He was not charged in the latter case.
Denis is still with the department, said Melissa Richard, spokeswoman for the city of West Fargo.
The other officers received warnings in three separate cases. One officer cleared a scene without calling a supervisor or detective and failed to generate a report for a call.
Another officer did not include all required email recipients when instructed and did not respond to a radio call when on duty. The third officer failed to install headlights, taillights and unit numbers on a police bicycle for the third time since mid-2017.
Moorhead Police Department
Moorhead police officers received four complaints, including one that was closed without disciplinary action.
One officer received reprimands for two separate incidents. He arrested a black man while responding to a report of a black man using drugs in a convenience store bathroom, but an investigation determined the arrestee was not involved and the officer failed to confirm that before the arrest.
In the second incident, the same officer took an uncooperative woman to the ground. She was injured, but the officer’s actions were reasonable, the complaint said. He was disciplined because he was holding a firearm in one hand and a stun gun in the other, which went against his training, the complaint said.
Another officer was suspended without pay for a day for “failure to meet performance standards” regarding traffic and contacts.
Clay County Sheriff’s Office
Three complaints were filed against Clay County sheriff's deputies, including one that resulted in a suspension.
An officer was suspended for eight hours after sending a derogatory text to their supervisor while on duty with a personal cellphone.
The other two officers — one lost a radio and the other was cited for fighting while off duty — received written reprimands.
Dilworth Police Department
In the lone complaint, an officer received a written reprimand for being involved in a preventable crash after hitting a cement barrier with her police vehicle.
NDSU Police Department
An NDSU police officer received a letter of reprimand after a complaint that he used inappropriate language and disrespected others by ignoring them. In a separate complaint that was mentioned in the same letter, a citizen saw his patrol vehicle parked in a fire lane at a grocery store, where the officer was seen shopping.
He was given additional training.