Dave Olson, Published December 13 2012
Dilworth police chief’s ‘relief of duty’ doesn’t trigger disclosureDILWORTH – A media attorney says it is not unusual for law enforcement officers to be placed on a leave of absence similar to the “relief of duty” handed to the Dilworth police chief.
And when it happens, the public is often left in the dark about the reasons behind it, unless disciplinary action is eventually involved.
“It’s one of the major problems with our open records laws,” said Mark Anfinson, who practices law in the Twin Cities. “You never find out the details.”
In Dilworth’s case, City Administrator Ken Parke said he became aware of a situation involving Police Chief Joshua Ebert last Friday and decided to place Ebert on relief of duty for one day while he looked into the matter.
The relief of duty took place Monday and Ebert returned to work the next day.
Under Minnesota law, a public agency must disclose the existence and status of any complaints against an employee.
If a disciplinary action is taken, the agency must ultimately disclose details about what led to the action being taken.
Parke said there has not been a complaint made against Ebert and the relief of duty was not a disciplinary action.
Anfinson said with a leave of absence, if there is no loss of pay or other detriment to the employee, the action is not considered disciplinary, and the agency is not required to provide details of what led up to it.
“It (a leave of absence) is pretty common in Minnesota, unfortunately,” Anfinson said. “And further, it is almost always going to be considered non-disciplinary.”
A public event occurred Monday when a Dilworth police officer tried to present the City Council with a letter signed by six officers asking that Ebert resign.
The letter mentioned concerns about scheduling, hiring, budgeting, leadership, accountability and ethics, but offered no specific complaint against Ebert.
Mayor Chad Olson refused to accept the letter, stating that the meeting was not the appropriate place to handle the matter.
While he would not discuss details of why he placed Ebert on relief of duty, Parke released a snippet of the Police Department manual he said applied to the situation.
It reads in part:
“Temporary relief from duty is a non-disciplinary action without loss of pay or benefits and does not show or imply that you acted improperly.
“Temporary relief from duty is to protect the officer’s interest and shield them from community confrontation,” the snippet reads.
Ebert declined to talk about the relief of duty or the staff letter.
He added, however, that he is confident the Police Department “will be able to move beyond this.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555