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Minnesota county sheriff was drunk at work, administrator says

A licensed peace officer determined Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik was intoxicated, according to the Mower County Administrator. A complaint into his behavior was found to be unsubstantiated.

Steve Sandvik
Steve Sandvik.
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AUSTIN, Minn. — A claim of workplace misconduct against Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik was investigated and found to be unsubstantiated. However, a central element of the claim — that the sheriff was intoxicated — is true.

Sandvik's drunken condition at work on Nov. 16, 2022, was confirmed by a police officer's observation of slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on him, County Administrator Trish Harren said on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Sandvik was taken home and an investigation began two days later. A law firm on retainer by the county determined the workplace misconduct claim to be unsubstantiated, according to Harren. Sandvik's intoxication has been determined to be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.

County employees who were interviewed by the law firm reported that on Nov. 16 Sandvik seemed to be in a happy mood and was engaging in banter. An employee reported to a licensed peace officer their concern that the sheriff was intoxicated, Harren wrote in an email to the Post Bulletin.

"(The officer) reported that he was readily able to determine that Sheriff Sandvik had been drinking based on manner of speech, demeanor, bloodshot eyes, and smell of alcohol on his breath," Harren wrote. "The Sheriff was advised that if he attempted to drive home, that he would be pulled over, and tested. He did not drive home."

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Sandvik denied being intoxicated that day in a phone call to the Post Bulletin shortly after the investigation into his conduct began. He described the situation as a personal medical issue and that he was not intoxicated that day. He declined to comment further.

"In this case, the investigation could not substantiate that Sheriff Sandvik violated any policy or law," Harren wrote in the email.

Documentation of the complaint and investigation are not readily available. Harren maintains that the letter from the law firm dismissing the claims is protected under attorney-client privilege. The original complaint was made verbally and not in writing. And that complaint was made to somebody outside the Mower County organization, because the employee who made the complaint could not immediately find a supervisor or member of Human Resources available to take the complaint.

Sandvik took leave for about one month before returning to work.

"He was given a diagnosis of PTSD and a number of evidence-based treatment recommendations," Harren wrote. "He focused very intently on the treatment protocols and has made remarkable steps toward a return to health."

Related Topics: AUSTINPUBLIC SAFETY
Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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