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Jahner vs. Kjera: What lurks in the personnel files of Cass County sheriff candidates?

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Mike Kjera and Jesse Jahner2 / 2

FARGO — Along with accolades, the personnel files of the two men who want to be the next Cass County sheriff show multiple disciplinary actions against candidate Mike Kjera, and a single warning for the other candidate, Jesse Jahner.

However, Kjera said the contrast could be due to the different job duties each candidate has, and the fact that his opponent is an administrator.

Kjera, 54, is a patrol officer for the Fargo Police Department, where he's worked for 29 years.

Jahner, 45, is a captain with the Cass County Sheriff's Office, where he's worked for 20 years.

Both men have spent virtually their entire law enforcement careers with those agencies.

In the interest of voters, The Forum submitted public records requests seeking the candidates' personnel files to learn of any complaints and disciplinary measures they may have faced.

Kjera's infractions include the accidental firing of a gun, failing to show up to testify in court and missing radio calls.

Jahner's lone warning was for a 2006 car crash in a county-owned vehicle.

Kjera suggested Jahner's file may be lighter because he hasn't worked the street as much. "My opponent has spent a lot of his time in the office," Kjera said.

He also hinted that Jahner gets the benefit of the doubt, at times, because he's in upper management.

Not the case, according to Jahner.

"That doesn't afford me any special privilege as far as the sheriff's office is concerned," Jahner said.

Missed court, accidental gunshot

Kjera was hired at the Fargo Police Department in 1989.

According to his personnel record, he accidentally fired a gun in February 1998 inside the Fargo law enforcement training center.

Officers were transitioning from service revolvers to semi-automatic pistols at the time, he said.

Kjera was trying to take the gun apart to clean it when it fired, damaging a closet door, the report said. He received a letter of consultation and had to take additional firearms training.

From the negative came a positive, he said, because the department adopted a policy afterward, requiring guns be loaded and unloaded only on the firing range.

In a separate matter, Kjera failed twice to appear in Fargo Municipal Court after being subpoenaed to testify.

The first time was in October 2008, resulting in a letter of consultation in his file.

The second time happened less than a year ago, in November 2017, when Kjera failed to appear to testify in a traffic violation case. His absence resulted in the case being dismissed.

"It was a speeding ticket. You know, still a major deal, but the person was let go and not charged," he said.

Pattern of missing calls

The most frequent criticism of Kjera was a lack of responsiveness to police radio calls, referenced at least five times in his personnel file.

According to an April 2018 quarterly performance review, Kjera had a complaint pending for a pattern of not monitoring his radio and department-issued cellphone.

Because of that, the reviewer said Kjera did not meet the four quality service standards of the department: safety, empathy, trust and courtesy.

Kjera attributes the missed calls to having ever-changing and floating assignments. He was asked whether he thought any of the issues could hurt his election chances.

"I'd be pretty surprised if somebody always was perfect and didn't miss something, so yeah, it would not affect being sheriff one little bit," he said.

Kjera was also asked about a SWAT team raid in 2015 of a rental home in Fargo he owned.

Just days before, he learned that suspects wanted for armed robbery were living in the house. They had taken over the lease from someone Kjera said was a "good tenant."

Some people in the home were arrested, and those who weren't were evicted the next day, he said.

Taking on too much?

Jahner was hired as a correctional officer by the Cass County Sheriff's Office in 1998. He worked his way up to patrol officer, detective, sergeant, and now, captain.

Jahner's single warning in his file is the 2006 car crash that happened as he was backing up a county vehicle in a parking lot.

One of the few criticisms in his job performance reviews is that he takes on too many duties at times.

"I would like to see Jesse slow down and not burn the candle at both ends. This is difficult for him as he does not want to let anyone down," a supervisor wrote in his evaluation this year.

Longtime Sheriff Paul Laney, who's not running for re-election, said "rock star" employees like Jahner take on extra duties on their own, or get asked to do so.

"He'll always do more before he'll ever do less," Laney said.

Jahner said he prides himself on being involved in a lot of areas, including training. "I feel like doing training makes me more knowledgeable on the whole aspect of law enforcement," Jahner said.

Both candidates have comments of praise and recognition in their files.

In 2017, Kjera and another officer were able to calm a suicidal woman and get her to safety.

Jahner was named the 2017 supervisor of the year.

Jahner defeated Kjera in the June primary 71 percent to 29 percent, but both candidates moved on to the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Jahner was happy with the outcome of the primary, but voter turnout was low.

"Anything could change in the general election," he said.