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Todd County deputy’s firing was proper, arbitrator rules

Todd County was within its rights to fire Todd County Deputy Mark Grinstead last May, according to a state arbitrator who issued a ruling in early January.

Grinstead, who now serves as a part-time police officer for the city of Osakis, filed a grievance with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services about his termination, claiming that the county’s actions were without just cause.

Grinstead was involved in 33 crashes with his squad car over the span of 17 years, according to the arbitrator’s report. The losses cost the county in the range of $100,000.

In defending the termination, Todd County’s labor attorney, Kristi Hastings, said that Grinstead’s history of vehicle accidents was mostly due to excessive speed, driving unreasonably in light of conditions and distracted driving.

The sheriff’s office’s disciplinary actions against Grinstead culminated on April 30, 2013 when he was involved in his fourth vehicle crash in four months – hitting a 500-pound cow.

His other crashes while driving a patrol car included collisions with 19 deer, a dog, pheasants, a garage, a fence post and a raccoon.

The county maintained that while other deputies have been involved in accidents, no other deputy had “the volume and severity” of Grinstead’s accident record.

The county cited other factors for the firing: a history of critical job performance evaluations, tampering with another officer’s property, posting evidence on Facebook, improper use of sick leave and other misconduct.

Grinstead, a certified emergency vehicle instructor, served as a Todd County field training officer, “working with less experienced deputies familiarizing them with such duties as operation of squad cars under different conditions,” according to state arbitration records.

Grinstead’s union representative argued that the evidence showed he was not at fault in any of the accidents that happened in April and May of 2013.

The union said that the county never provided proper notice of the supposed reasons for Grinstead’s termination or the policies that he allegedly violated.

“The record shows that [Grinstead] has been subjected to disparate treatment – while other deputies have been involved in numerous crashes, none have ever been investigated or disciplined in any way,” said the union representative.

The union noted that Grinstead served 20 years in law enforcement. In addition to his service at Todd County, he worked as a jailer/transport officer for Douglas County and as a part-time officer in Osakis until 2005.

In a prior job performance evaluation, Grinstead was described as a “good veteran officer, a “leader of [the] department” who “makes good decisions,” and a “good teacher for younger officers” who “continues to excel at his job,” the union representative said.

The union said that Grinstead was not afforded due process – the disciplinary action went from a one-day suspension directly to termination. It claimed the county failed to give proper notice and did not provide a thorough investigation into his alleged misconduct.

The union asked that Grinstead be reinstated to his position.

The arbitrator, Rolland C. Toenges, disagreed.

“Considering the economic and operational consequences of [Grinstead’s] driving and his general conduct, the employer had ‘just cause’ for termination,” Toenges said in the ruling. “Although the record reveals some of [Grinstead’s] good qualities, they are over shadowed by his unfavorable qualities.”

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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