Pine Knot News - A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

By Jana Peterson
Pine Knot News 

Police officer's actions trigger dismissal of criminal cases

Cloquet City Council approves 'separation and release' contract with Officer Scott Beckman


December 21, 2018

Following a closed Cloquet City Council meeting Tuesday, Cloquet Police Officer Scott Beckman will no longer work for the city - although he will technically remain "on leave" and collecting a paycheck until September 2019 - and scores of cases he worked on in the past are being reviewed.

According to the Carlton County Attorney's office, at least 18 cases Beckman was involved in have been dismissed. In at least one case, charges were dismissed after the defendant pleaded guilty.

Assistant Carlton County Attorney Jeffrey Boucher - who is acting as county attorney until Lauri Ketola assumes office in January and whose office responded to a public data request from the Pine Knot News last week - said the county attorney's office dismissed 18 pending cases involving Officer Beckman and did not file charges in four other cases. The attorney's office is in the process of reviewing approximately 25 more cases involving Beckman.

An 18-year veteran of the department, Beckman was the subject of another closed council meeting in August 2016 about allegations of possible police misconduct. At that time, both former police chief Steve Stracek and former city administrator Brian Fritsinger recommended to the council that Beckman's employment be terminated after an outside investigation had determined that he falsified a search warrant application and conducted an incomplete investigation.

According to the minutes of the August 2016 meeting, retired police officer Mayor Dave Hallback motioned to not dismiss Beckman. The vote on the mayor's motion tied 3-3, with Hallback and council members Steve Langley and Jeff Rock voting to not fire Beckman, while council members Dave Bjerkness, Kerry Kolodge and Lara Wilkinson voted against the mayor's motion.

Because it was a tie vote - councilor Roger Maki was out of town - Beckman was not fired and the matter went back to the police chief for discipline. In the end, Beckman was given 11 days suspension without pay. Chief Stracek also issued a performance improvement plan that required Beckman wear a microphone while working, to mitigate any legal issues that might arise because falsifying the search warrant may have impacted his ability to testify credibly under oath.

The situation in Carlton County and Cloquet with Beckman is remarkably similar to a case in Hennepin County earlier this year.

In that case, an Eden Prairie police detective lied about a search warrant that was valid for a house but not a car associated with a drug bust. According to a Minnesota Public Radio story, Eden Prairie Detective Travis Serafin allegedly created a doctored warrant for the car using a copy of the house warrant. When the subterfuge was discovered, a subsequent investigation concluded the warrant and the detective's testimony were untruthful and not a mistake. A total of 32 other cases involving Serafin were dismissed as a result.

In Beckman's case, according to disciplinary files obtained by the Pine Knot News, on Feb. 6, 2016, he applied for a search warrant, under oath, that contained information he had previously discovered to be untrue. Additionally, the day before that he had also responded to a call in which he failed to "ascertain the facts, accurately document, or record the information provided by the reporting party/witness" in his police report.

Chief Stracek sent a letter to Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler regarding Beckman's discipline on March 2, 2017, according to a copy obtained by the Pine Knot News.

"An internal investigation into alleged misconduct by Corporal Scott Beckman has been completed," Stracek wrote, not long before members of the Cloquet police union took a vote of "no confidence" in him. "The findings of the investigation were that the allegations of misconduct were sustained. Based on the nature of the misconduct and consistent with my ethical duties." He then referred to two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that require such disclosures.

In his capacity as acting county attorney, Boucher said he enacted a Brady Disclosure policy on Dec. 3, referring to the Supreme Court Case, Brady v. Maryland, that requires disclosure of "exculpatory" material - which could exonerate a defendant of guilt - specifically including misconduct findings involving law enforcement officers.

"When the Assistant County Attorneys learned of the misconduct finding involving City of Cloquet police officer Beckman, all pending cases involving Officer Beckman were dismissed without prejudice pending a comprehensive review," Boucher wrote in a press release Wednesday.

Sixth District Chief Public Defender Daniel Lew confirmed that defense attorneys for his office received records of the "sustained acts of dishonesty by Cloquet Police Officer Scott Beckman on Aug. 17, 2018."

Beckman was also disciplined by the Cloquet Police Department in 2012, after pleading guilty in a criminal case in St. Louis County.

According to the criminal complaint in that case, Beckman's vehicle was rear-ended after attending a Ted Nugent concert at Fortune Bay Casino. He didn't stop, and told two different stories to two different officers who contacted him after the accident. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure in the duties of a driver to give notice by the quickest means of communication to law enforcement. Two other misdemeanor charges - hit-and-run for failing to immediately stop and remain at the scene of an accident, and falsely reporting a crime for allegedly providing false information to an officer regarding the conduct of others - were dismissed under the terms of the plea agreement.

At that time led by Police Chief Wade Lamirande, the CPD conducted an internal investigation after the criminal case concluded and found that Beckman had violated five different department rules of conduct, including: unbecoming conduct, violation of rules, immoral conduct, use of alcohol off duty and conformance to laws. He was given seven days unpaid suspension and required to apologize to those affected by the incident.

Lew urged that the county review all cases involving Beckman, going back even further than the 2016 case involving the falsified search warrant application.

"We must restore and rebuild trust and confidence for our law enforcement community," Lew told the Pine Knot Wednesday. "I urge the Cloquet Police Department and the Carlton County Attorney's Office to subject all prior cases involving Mr. Beckman to undergo an independent integrity review by a panel of local and statewide attorneys."

Dismissed cases

In response to a previous public data request, on Dec. 14 the Pine Knot News received a list of 20 criminal cases involving Beckman that were dismissed by the Carlton County Attorney's office in July and August.

The cases included numerous felony fifth-degree drug charges, fourth-degree drug sales, domestic assault, felon in possession of a firearm, third-degree drug sales in a school/park/public housing zone, first-degree damage to property, and theft of a motor vehicle. In at least one instance, a case was dismissed in which the defendant had already pleaded guilty.

Boucher said the 20 cases were "dismissed without prejudice" pending comprehensive review, which means that some cases could be filed again if review of the evidence establishes that the case could be successfully prosecuted in light of the information regarding Beckman.

He also said it's possible that additional cases will be dismissed.

"The fair trial of a defendant depends on complete truthfulness by everyone involved," Boucher wrote. "We are committed to a fair and transparent review of the integrity of all impacted prosecutions and will provide further updates to the public as additional information is available."

Separation agreement

After meeting behind closed doors for just over an hour Tuesday, the Cloquet City Council voted 4-3 to approve the separation and release agreement between the city and Beckman.

Council members Kerry Kolodge, Dave Bjerkness and Jeff Rock voted against approving the agreement, while Mayor Dave Hallback and council members Barb Wyman, Steve Langley and Roger Maki voted to approve the agreement. No comments were made on the reasons behind the votes.

City Administrator Aaron Reeves said Tuesday that under the terms of the separation agreement, Beckman would receive payment for one-third of his accrued sick leave.

The Pine Knot News filed a public data request regarding Beckman's release and allegations of police misconduct Wednesday morning, and received a copy of the document on Thursday, after the print edition of the paper went to press.

The email also included a public statement noting the following:

"The City of Cloquet and Scott Beckman, along with the union that represented him, felt that it was in the best interests of all parties that Scott Beckman separate from employment with the City in accordance with the terms and conditions in the Separation and Release Agreement executed by the parties. As specified in the agreement, Scott Beckman will be employed by the City through September 30, 2019, but he will be on leave and not performing any work for the City until that date."

Under the terms of the agreement, Beckman will receive a base monthly wage of $4,500, effective January through September 2019, plus a lump sum payment of $2,000 to resolve a grievance regarding payroll through 2018, and a lump sum payment equivalent to the number of vacation, sick leave (one-third of sick days will be paid, Reeves noted at the meeting Tuesday) and comp time through December 2018.

Beckman was hired by the city in October 2000; keeping him employed through September 2019 will give him 19 years with the city.

In return, Beckman agreed to withdraw, with prejudice, any pending grievances and waived his right to pursue any other claims, damages, grievances, etc. resulting from acts on or before the date of the agreement. The union, Teamsters, Local 346, also agreed to withdraw, with prejudice, any pending grievances. When something is withdrawn with prejudice, it means the grievances can't be filed again.

Beckman also agreed he won't apply for any position in the city and is not entitled to any reinstatement or re-employment with the city.

Neither Beckman, the union or the city admitted to any legal liability or wrongdoing in the separation and release agreement.

Editor's note: This story was updated after the Pine Knot News went to press, so contains more information than the print version.


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