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Cloquet council fires police officer

 

June 7, 2019

After deliberating behind closed doors for nearly 80 minutes, Cloquet City councilors fired longtime police sergeant Scott Holman by a 4-2 vote Tuesday night. Mayor Roger Maki and councilors Lara Wilkinson, Kerry Kolodge and Bunn Carlson voted in favor of dismissal, while councilors Dakota Koski and Steve Langley voted “nay.” Councilor Sheila Lamb was absent.

Holman was a detective and K-9 officer, and had worked for the Cloquet police department for 22 years. In a written statement, his attorney said they would be taking legal action soon.

Maki, city administrator Aaron Reeves and police commander/acting police chief Carey Ferrell all declined to comment after the hearing. Reeves said it was a personnel matter and the council action should stand on its own.

The action came after the Carlton County attorney’s office identified past misconduct issues for Holman that could affect his ability to be a credible witness in court.

Such officers are sometimes called “Brady cops” — referring to the Brady v. Maryland Supreme Court case that requires prosecuting attorneys to disclose any material that could help exonerate a defendant of guilt, specifically including misconduct findings involving law enforcement officers.

Holman’s attorney, Mike Padden, had previously threatened a lawsuit against the county attorney’s office regarding the Brady designation, calling it “off base” and accusing county attorney Lauri Ketola of having a personal vendetta against Holman.

The city did not cite any reason for the dismissal, citing personnel privacy concerns.

Holman is the second CPD officer designated as a Brady cop by Carlton County since it adopted a Brady policy last year, and the second to lose his job with the police department.

Officer Scott Beckman was the first. The council signed a separation and release agreement with Beckman in December 2018, following the dismissal of more than two dozen cases — including one which had been settled and led to the release of a man from prison — in which Beckman was a witness.

“Under the circumstances, we will contemplate the immediate commencement of litigation,” Padden wrote in an email a half-hour after the meeting ended. “Stay tuned.”

According to Reeves, Holman has been on administrative duties recently, rather than working on investigations.

As for Holman’s K-9 partner, Raja, Reeves said the police dog is “at retirement age and is generally offered to the handler or adopted out.” Raja started with the CPD in 2013, after Holman’s previous K-9 partner, Tessa, was euthanized in August 2012. In Tessa’s 12 years — the average service time is 7-8 years — the dog and Holman recovered more than a million dollars’ worth of illegal drugs in Carlton County and the surrounding area.

Tuesday’s decision didn’t come quickly.

The council closed its meeting at 7:36 p.m. Attorney Roger Knutson remained in council chambers with the mayor, councilors, city human resources director James Barclay and Ferrell for the first 35 minutes of the closed meeting. Although the doors blocked any sounds from the hearing, it was possible to see the proceedings and the very serious faces of the council and mayor. Knutson is with Campbell Knutson, which replaced Flaherty and Hood in providing employment law services after that change was approved by the council May 7.

At 8:11, Holman, Padden, at least two Teamster members and “immediate family members” only were allowed in the chambers, where discussions continued behind closed doors. First, Teamsters Legal Defense Fund attorney Kevin Beck addressed the council, followed by Padden. The discussion between the Holman group and the council/city administrators and Knutson lasted less than 15 minutes. After they came out, Holman shook hands with many of the people — police officers and spouses, friends and family — who were still waiting in the hallway.

When the council meeting reopened at 8:55, Maki made the motion to dismiss Holman and provide a letter outlining the basis for his termination and rights. After a very long silence when he called for a second, at-large councilor Wilkinson seconded. There was no discussion before the 4-2 vote and the meeting ended.

Padden, Holman and his significant other left quickly after the council meeting ended just before 9 p.m., without any comment.

Past discipline

While Beckman’s past misconduct is well detailed in documents that are public data, the details of Holman’s past misconduct are less defined.

Some of Holman’s actions leading to discipline were identified in a court document filed April 30 by defense attorney Kevin Cornwell, who asked for supplemental disclosure of “all” materials pertaining to Holman that would fall under the purview of two different Supreme Court cases: Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States.

In his motion, Cornwell included disciplinary files for Holman that the Carlton County attorney’s office previously made available to defense attorneys. The files appear to be incomplete as they refer to a Jan. 3, 2005 incident for which discipline was imposed, but there are no details explaining what happened.

The earliest disciplinary file details one day off without pay after Holman missed a cold-weather shooting practice after telling then police chief Wade Lamirande he was too sick to go. According to the court files, Holman then went out drinking that evening.

Although Holman admitted the behavior and said he used poor judgment, he grieved the discipline, as too severe, through his union.

Former city administrator Brian Fritsinger investigated and ultimately supported the discipline.

A written account of his investigatory findings sent to the union is included in the file. That letter also outlined the findings of the Civil Service Commission — the citizen board that helped oversee the police department at the time, now the less powerful Citizen Advisory Board — on a court incident that occurred Jan. 3, 2005 but which are not included in the file.

The Civil Service Commission found that Holman had violated several codes outlined in the department’s rules of conduct, including:

•Unbecoming Conduct. This applies to conduct both on and off duty that would reflect poorly on the department.

•Truthfulness.

•Intervention. In this case, Holman was ordered to not contact any witnesses, an order that he violated, according to the Fritsinger letter, by contacting then county attorney Thom Pertler and Cloquet police officer Eric Blesener.

According to the letter, the Civil Service Commission initially recommended 60 days off with 30 days suspended. After hearing concerns from Lamirande regarding the effect of such a lengthy suspension on Holman and the department, the commission agreed to a final recommendation of 14 days off with seven days suspended in addition to the one-day suspension for missing the shooting practice.

The second employee disciplinary file refers to a March 2018 verbal reprimand issued by Chief Jeff Palmer for Facebook posts in July 2017 that violated department policies regarding professional conduct of police officers and social media.

The Citizen Advisory Board actually appealed Palmer’s decision to issue only verbal discipline for the social media violation. Members of the CAB — which included Lauri Ketola at the time — recommended more severe discipline.

That appeal was denied after a closed session during the council’s March 6, 2018 meeting, with councilors Adam Bailey, Jeff Rock, Dave Bjerkness, Langley and Mayor Dave Hallback voting to deny the CAB appeal, and councilors Kolodge and Maki (then Ward 3 councilor) opposing the denial.

What Holman actually did on Facebook is not part of the court documents. Additionally, Cloquet city administration has repeatedly denied requests by the Pine Knot News for the additional data, possibly in violation of state law, upon the advice of the city’s former employment attorney. Minnesota Statute 13.43 states that the final disposition of any disciplinary action “together with the specific reasons for the action and data documenting the basis of the action” are public data.

Ketola said her office has to walk a fine line in complying with the requirements of the Brady and Giglio cases. The county attorney’s office previously denied a Pine Knot News request for disclosure of all officers found to have Brady/Giglio issues, as did the city of Cloquet.

After Ketola took office in January, the office hired a consulting attorney with expertise in Brady/Giglio issues to help them conduct integrity reviews of every case in which Beckman was a significant witness. They also examined disciplinary records for other officers that the county attorney’s office requested from all law enforcement agencies that work in the county.

 
 

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