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Cop who settled with city speaks up

 

June 24, 2022



A former Cloquet police officer who recently settled an employment dispute with the city broke her silence last week. The Cloquet City Council voted unanimously to dismiss Laci Silgjord in February, which she appealed. The council then voted to settle with Silgjord, who agreed to resign, after a closed meeting June 7.

Through her attorney, Silgjord said she has proudly dedicated her life “to the service of others” through both her military and law enforcement career.

“This is a bittersweet time in my life, as I will miss the community and my work towards justice for crime victims,” she said. “However, I am hopeful to put this chapter behind me and move on to new opportunities for myself and my family."

Silgjord was hired by the Cloquet police department in 2015 and promoted to K-9 handler in 2018. She was very active in the department’s outreach efforts, including summer youth camp, the chili feed, pet microchip clinics, K-9 demonstrations, National Night Out and more.

The K-9 handler already had been on paid administrative leave since May 12, 2021 when the city council and Mayor Roger Maki voted to fire her Feb. 2, after closing a virtual council meeting for discussion. The action was not considered final, because Silgjord appealed the dismissal through her union in mid-February, requesting arbitration under the Veterans Preference statute.

Because Silgjord is resigning without any final disciplinary action, city records of the complaint and investigation that led to the city’s action in February will likely remain private, unless Silgjord chooses to release them herself.

Under the terms of the separation agreement with the city, Silgjord’s employment with the city ended with her resignation on June 7. She was to be paid her wages and benefits through that date. In return, Silgjord would “discharge” any possible claims against the city relating to her employment with the city, with the exception of a pending workers compensation claim.

The agreement also includes a payment of $49,200 to Silgjord, in addition to her wages and benefits through June 7. That payment is described as “damages in a case involving humiliation, damage to reputation or emotional harm arising from employment.” The city will also pay Silgjord’s attorney, Haller Kwan LLP, $32,800, which is a full settlement of attorney’s fees.

Ben Kwan, a wrongful-termination attorney at Haller Kwan LLP and one of the attorneys that represented Officer Silgjord, emailed statements to the Pine Knot News on Friday, June 17.

“Officer Silgjord’s settlement follows allegations that retaliation and discrimination motivated the City’s intent to terminate her employment,” he said. “Officer Silgjord is not afraid to confront the powerful and help the vulnerable — and this settlement allows her to continue that advocacy without the burden of a lawsuit.”

As part of the separation agreement, Silgjord also agreed to withdraw her Veterans Preference hearing request and otherwise dismiss those proceedings.

The settlement agreement saves both sides further legal costs for the hearing request or a threatened lawsuit. According to Kwan, on April 28 his firm notified the city that a termination would lead to legal action for whistleblower retaliation, discrimination, and other legal claims.

Gag order

The city had previously reached an agreement with the police union, Teamsters General Local Union No. 346, on behalf of Silgjord, regarding an unfair labor practice charge filed by the union in May 2021. The charge alleged that an order by police chief Derek Randall was a violation of the Minnesota Public Employment Labor Relations Act, when he prohibited Silgjord from discussing her discipline with anyone other than the employer and union representatives.

According to a copy of the settlement agreement obtained through a data request;

On March 8, 2022, the Minnesota Public Employment Relations Board issued a notice of partial dismissal and a notice of hearing, finding that “the employer issued an overly broad confidentiality order insufficiently limited in time, scope or as needed to to maintain private or confidential date.”

Rather than continue to the hearing, the two sides reached an agreement March 23 that the city would rescind the gag order, except to the extent that it prohibited Silgjord from talking about the investigation during the investigation, and the union would withdraw the complaint. The city also agreed to rescind any similar orders to officers or employees if issued since April 2021 and to not issue similar orders in the future that prohibit or restrict officers from discussing incidents leading to disciplinary actions by the city. However, they agreed that — during the course of an investigation — both sides may be directed to not discuss the investigation, including questions or statements made.

City administrator Tim Peterson declined to comment on either agreement.

Kwan said Silgjord did not plan additional comments for now, as her focus is on healing.

 
 

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