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Detroit Lakes police chief suspended for actions over bike incident

Steven Todd

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - The Detroit Lakes police chief is serving a one-week suspension without pay following an internal investigation into the way he handled a controversial incident involving a youth last summer.

Steven Todd began the suspension on Friday and will continue through Thursday, according to Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk. The patrol sergeants are handling police matters in his absence.

On June 20, Todd mistakenly thought a 12-year-old boy was trying to steal his Trek mountain bike after it was knocked over at a baseball field and the boy tried to pick it up.

According to several witnesses at the scene, Todd overreacted to the situation.

Todd has since stated he put his "hand on the (boy's) neck," the police incident report states that the allegations are that he "choked" the child. The boy's father reported the incident to police.

Although the Stearns County Attorney's Office decided Oct. 12 that no criminal charges were warranted, the internal city investigation faulted the police chief for losing control of his emotions and for the way he handled the follow-up investigation into his own actions.

The city investigation was completed Jan. 17, and the report faults the police chief for failure to provide a subordinate with appropriate guidance and control.

"You knew that officer Striebel had a conflict and could not perform the initial investigation of the call for service required by Section 600.3.1 of the policy because you, as the subject of the call, were his superior and coworker," the report states, "yet you did not insist that officer Striebel request the assistance of the Becker County Sheriff's Office to respond to the call and instead, allowed officer Striebel to respond to the call and insisted on accompanying officer Striebel. Officer Striebel's response to the call, while accompanied by the subject of the call who was his superior and coworker, was contrary to acknowledged standard protocol and presented the public with an unprofessional negative impression of the Detroit Lakes Police Department."

Todd, who did not respond to an email or phone message seeking comment, was also faulted for his actions at the ballpark that day.

"In your off duty contact with the child at the Washington Park baseball field, you momentarily allowed your emotions to overcome your judgment, and as a result you behaved in a manner that has brought discredit to the Detroit Lakes Police Department," the report said in its findings. "The public has a right to expect its law enforcement officers to exercise restraint and good judgment both in their public and private matters, and the fact that this conduct occurred while you were off duty does not diminish your obligation to the public."

Todd was also faulted for putting the investigating officer in a difficult position.

"By arriving with officer Striebel at the scene and being present during his response to the call, you were no longer just the subject of a possible investigation, you were the superior officer of the officer tasked with the initial steps of that investigation," the report states. "In so doing, you created an uncomfortable environment for the complainant, made it difficult for officer Striebel to perform his duties in a professional manner and in a manner that the public would perceive as fair and unbiased. In so doing, you behaved in a manner that has brought discredit to the Detroit Lakes Police Department."

In addition to the five-day unpaid suspension, the police chief is also (within six months after final disposition) required to attend a minimum of six credits of POST-qualified training regarding law enforcement ethics, conflict management and/or leadership.

The report informed Todd he has five working days to submit a written request to the City Administrator for a hearing to appeal the disciplinary action. "Also, please be aware that recurring or new employment violations could result in additional disciplinary action and/or termination," the report stated.

"Overall Chief Todd has done a very good job as police chief and he has my confidence that he will continue to do so in the future," Mayor Brenk said in a statement. "The matter has been addressed and is now closed. As a city, we need to put this behind us and move forward in a positive manner."