Part of ex-police officer's suit nixed
June 26, 2020
Although a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former Cloquet police officer against Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola and Carlton County earlier this month, the lawsuit is not entirely dead.
Claims against Cloquet City Council member Kerry Kolodge, the city of Cloquet, and Ketola in a past role on Cloquet’s Citizen Advisory Board — which works with the police department on hirings, firings and disciplinary matters — are still in play.
The civil lawsuit was filed by Scott Holman and his attorney Mike Padden after Holman’s dismissal from the Cloquet police department in June 2019. The lawsuit states that Holman’s termination was the result of a “Brady” policy created by the Carlton County Attorney’s Office for “sanctioning” police officers and that Ketola and Kolodge conspired to violate his rights. Holman is seeking $4 million in damages caused by his dismissal from employment, including defamation and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
A detective and K-9 officer who had worked for the Cloquet police department for 22 years, it was never stated publicly that Holman was fired because he’d been deemed a “Brady cop,” but the action came after the county attorney’s office identified past misconduct issues that could affect his ability to be a credible witness in court.
The term “Brady” refers to the 1963 Supreme Court Case, Brady v. Maryland that requires prosecuting attorneys to disclose any material that could help exonerate a defendant of guilt, including misconduct findings involving law enforcement officers.
Such officers are sometimes called “Brady cops” because the identified past misconduct means defense attorneys can bring up the behavior, and cast doubt on their testimony.
The county attorney’s office subsequently alerted defense attorneys and informed the police chief at the time, Jeff Palmer, that it would not charge any cases “that rely on the testimony of Detective Holman.”
On June 12, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick J. Schiltz dismissed all claims against Ketola and the county “with prejudice,” meaning that the lawsuit cannot be refiled. In his ruling, Judge Schiltz agreed with a motion to dismiss brought by the county’s attorneys that argued it is settled law that prosecutors are “absolutely immune” for claims arising out of the exercise of their legal judgement in assessing witness credibility prior to charging a defendant.
“That a judgement about witness credibility or which cases to try has negative employment consequences — even readily foreseeable ones — does not change the underlying nature of that judgment; the immunity analysis focuses on the prosecutorial conduct in question, and ‘not on the harm that the conduct may have caused,’” attorneys Vicki Hruby and Joe Flynn argued in the motion to dismiss, citing case law.
Holman also lost an arbitration case appealing his dismissal in November 2019, in which the police union (Teamster Local 346) argued that the county attorney’s decision was flawed, that she has a personal dislike of Holman, and that two of the incidents were long ago and low-level incidents. The union also argued that to discharge Holman for incidents he was already disciplined for was double jeopardy.
Arbitrator Rolland Toenges denied Holman’s grievance, citing 10 different points, including the fact that Ketola, as a former member of the Cloquet Citizens Advisory Board, had direct knowledge of Holman’s history.
Flynn said the judge’s dismissal was what he expected, and called the lawsuit against the county attorney and the county “blatantly meritless.”
Holman’s attorney, Mike Padden, is optimistic about the rest of the case.
“Because of federal law, we knew that part of our case was much tougher,” Padden said. “We are looking forward to proceeding forward against the City, Mr. Kolodge, and Ms. Ketola in her capacity as something other than a district attorney.”
Because they are still being sued, Ketola, Kolodge and Cloquet City Administrator Tim Peterson all declined to comment on the lawsuit.