DEERWOOD, Minn. — A Minnesota county sheriff has restricted a city police department from some county buildings, after it was learned during a defamation lawsuit that the police chief had secretly recorded two other officers.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard restricted access from all sheriff office-controlled buildings for Deerwood Police Department personnel.
Goddard wrote a May 10 letter to Deerwood Mayor Mike Aulie announcing his decision, which was effective immediately. In the letter, the sheriff cited secret recordings made by Deerwood Chief Mark Taylor of Crosby law enforcement officers, which surfaced amid a defamation lawsuit, as the reason for the restrictions.
“It is not a decision I take lightly,” Goddard wrote, stating it was necessary after reading the findings of the lawsuit filed by former Crosby Police Officer Jesse Smith against the city of Crosby and the police department’s former top two ranking officers. “I found Chief Taylor’s actions towards retired Chief Kim Coughlin and retired Lt. Kevin Randolph troubling and frankly unacceptable for a person in his position. I cannot consciously allow myself or my staff to be exposed to any surreptitious recordings that Chief Taylor may be conducting.”
Smith filed the civil lawsuit in April 2019 after he was fired twice from his job and subsequently reinstated both times through arbitration before voluntarily resigning from the Crosby Police Department in July 2017. Smith, who also serves as the Cuyuna Police Department chief, was hired as an officer with the Deerwood Police Department in January 2018.
Ninth Judicial District Judge Erik J. Askegaard submitted his ruling a month ago on Smith’s defamation case in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd, dismissing it with prejudice, meaning the case cannot be brought back to court.
In telephone interviews, Aulie and Taylor both said they were unable to comment on the letter until after the Deerwood City Council discusses the matter June 7 during a closed meeting. Aulie said he views Goddard’s letter as a complaint against an employee, which is why the issue will be discussed in a closed session, per Minnesota statutes.
According to findings in Askegaard’s ruling, Taylor recorded conversations with Coughlin and Randolph without their knowledge sometime before April 2018. Coughlin asked Taylor for a meeting and he agreed to meet in person. During the meeting, Coughlin informed Taylor she believed there was a lack of effective communication between the Crosby and Deerwood police departments, specifically in reference to Smith. She claimed she had three examples involving Smith:
An incident where a Crosby police officer responded to a head-on collision involving a number of injuries, wherein she believed Smith, upon hearing the dispatch call, should have immediately responded to assist, but didn’t;
An incident where a parent called Coughlin and complained of Smith’s response when she contacted him about her missing child. Reportedly, Smith told the parent to call the Crosby Police Department since that’s where her family lived. Coughlin stated Smith did not file a written report about the contact;
An incident where Crosby officers were executing a search warrant, and in Coughlin’s opinion, Smith, who was on duty with Deerwood, should have gone to assist but didn’t.
The court document stated, “On the whole, it appears that Taylor did not believe that any of Coughlin’s reports about Smith were particularly serious, and that he communicated that to her (and, he provided her some further information that she didn’t have, which Taylor felt mitigated or lessened some of her concerns).”
On a separate occasion, Randolph called Taylor very upset about another incident involving Smith. Randolph told Taylor on April 4, 2018, a Crosby officer made a traffic stop and made a radio communication to Smith asking for backup. Randolph, who was in his office, heard the call and Smith didn’t respond. When Randolph learned Smith did not respond, he left the office and provided backup for the officer.
Randolph told Taylor this was an ongoing problem with Smith not being dealt with and it was escalating “on to neglect now,” according to court records. Randolph told Taylor if, in the future, there was a similar lack of response resulting in a Crosby officer getting hurt, the Crosby Police Department would “sue the City of Deerwood.” It was later determined Smith stated he did not hear the call for backup, and as a result, Taylor informed all Deerwood officers, including Smith, to keep the volume turned up on their radios to avoid missing any future requests for backup.
"I cannot consciously allow myself or my staff to be exposed to any surreptitious recordings that Chief (Mark) Taylor may be conducting.”
— Sheriff Scott Goddard
Goddard, who was unavailable for comment, stated in his letter that Deerwood police officers may continue to have access to the Crow Wing County Jail as needed for their job duties. However, they will be limited to the sally port, which is the secured garage area where police officers unload individuals who were arrested and are being processed for jail, and the pre-booking areas.
If Deerwood police officers need access to other areas of the county buildings, they will need to obtain prior approval from the county’s patrol sergeant or a higher rank from the sheriff’s office, Goddard wrote. The sheriff’s office will continue to respond to calls in Deerwood and assist the city when paged for assistance.
“I have shared with my staff the concerns with Chief Tayor’s actions and have advised them to use caution when communicating with him,” Goddard wrote to Aulie. “I take pride in the professionalism of my staff and how they serve our citizens, and the relationships they have with our local police officers. It is unfortunate that there are instances such as this that lead to distrust and skepticism.”
Goddard — who also sent the letter to the city or Ironton as it contracts with Deerwood police for services — advised the two cities to disseminate the letter to their city councils and personnel who would be affected by this action addressed in the letter.
Taylor did make some comments about the letter at a May 19 Ironton City Council meeting, according to the Crosby-Ironton Courier. The newspaper reported Taylor said he was “concerned about the safety of his officers if the sheriff’s department does not respond for back up and there could be public safety issues.” The Courier also reported Taylor said Goddard had not spoken to him about the matter as of that date.