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Dave Roepke, Published September 17 2011

Valley City, Police Chief Ross take battle to court again

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – A court petition the city here filed Friday asks a judge to drop an order preventing a hearing previously slated for Monday on the misconduct allegations its embattled police chief faces.

Which judge the city is asking remains unclear.

No immediate action was taken because there is no judge as­signed to the case, as the one who issued the order on Tuesday stepped down citing a conflict and Dean Ross, the police chief whose job is on the line, has asked that the newly assigned judge be replaced.

Attorneys for both Ross and Valley City expect the new judicial officer to be appointed early next week and wade into a court fight over whether the city has followed proper procedure in seeking to possibly fire Ross, the city’s top officer for the past 11 years and a 38-year veteran of the force.

“I don’t believe they can halt the proceedings entirely,” City Attorney Russell Myhre said of the order by Judge John Paulson directing Valley City officials to delay acting on the noncriminal charges of misconduct against Ross until a court hearing Oct. 21.

Myhre said city commissioners won’t push ahead with the misconduct hearing Monday in defiance of the order, but he said they will discuss the situation.

The city formally filed 18 charges against Ross on Sept. 9, alleging he misspent or misappropriated $10,000 in drug task force funds, sold city vehicles without permission, bought property without approval, intimidated staff and delayed pay hikes by failing to evaluate them and voided tickets and citations of officers.

Ross has dismissed the allegations, saying the city was aware of how the cash was handled and claiming he’s the victim of a “witch hunt” sparked when he did not obey City Administrator Jon Cameron’s direction to not ask a question at a meeting with Barnes County commissioners in February about a proposal to move 911 operations out of police headquarters. The plan was later scrapped.

In a petition filed Tuesday, Ross asked Paulson to halt the disciplinary action by claiming the City Commission must take a formal vote to approve filing the misconduct charges with the City Auditor. Paulson said in a Writ of Prohibition filed in Barnes County District Court issued the same day he thought Ross’ objection had enough basis to delay proceedings pending an Oct. 21 hearing.

Valley City responded in writing Friday in filings in which it argued it followed state law step-by-step and in a manner spelled out in rulings in prior cases. To be forced to take the vote Ross suggests amounts to “an act of unwarranted judicial activism,” Myhre wrote in the response.

Myhre said the order by Paulson would prohibit the city from disciplining Ross before Oct. 21 even if it did go back and take a vote before again filing charges with the auditor and setting a hearing within 10 days, as state law requires.

“Essentially, it creates a situation where you have to vote for something before you can vote against it,” Myhre said, calling the delay “absurd and onerous” in court documents.

Valley City wants Paulson’s order thrown out, a hearing to argue against the court-ordered delay or, at the very least, an earlier date on the Oct. 21 hearing.

Joe Larson, the attorney for Ross, said he wouldn’t comment on Friday on the city response because he had not yet seen it.

Ross has been suspended as police chief since early July, the last week of it on unpaid leave since misconduct charges were filed. A detective, Mark McDonald, is serving as interim chief.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535