Fired deputies accuse Ramsey County sheriff of retaliation

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2011 - 10:49 PM

Two hired after the candidate they supported lost the election in 2010 claim they were wrongfully terminated.

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New Ramsey County sheriff Matt Bostrom

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Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom is being sued in federal court for allegedly retaliating by firing two deputies who campaigned for his rival in the sheriff's election last fall.

Joseph Miller and Alexander Graham allege in a lawsuit filed on Monday that Bostrom's supporters had dogged them ever since they expressed support for Bob Fletcher, whose long tenure as sheriff ended when Bostrom defeated him. It climaxed, the suit alleges, when Bostrom took office and fired them.

Graham also alleges that Bostrom broke the law by ignoring his request for information about his termination.

"We believe their rights were violated and that they were terminated for exercising their rights to free speech," said one of their attorneys, Sarah McEllistrem.

Phil Carruthers, head of the Ramsey County attorney's civil division, said Bostrom didn't do anything wrong. The office is representing the sheriff.

"It is our position that the sheriff's office acted in accordance with the law and in the best interest of the county," Carruthers said. "He has to make decisions about having the best possible force and the most efficient force possible."

Miller and Graham, who were not deputies at the time, walked in parades supporting Fletcher and distributed literature and signs. Fletcher lost to Bostrom in November, then hired the men as deputies in December.

Bostrom took office on Jan. 3 and fired the men in February.

Miller and Graham allege that Bostrom supporters questioned their involvement with the Fletcher campaign and threatened them. Bostrom's wife, Cheryl, and supporter Grace Kelly photographed Graham's license plate on "several occasions" at parades, according to the lawsuit.

Miller and Graham allege that they were subject to a second background check once Bostrom took office, were denied the opportunity to explain themselves as other deputies were given and were removed from the hiring sequence for future job candidates.

Miller was first hired by the county in 2007 as a temporary correctional officer, which became a permanent job in 2008. Graham was a temporary correctional officer in 2009 and 2010. Both had passed the necessary tests to be deputies.

McEllistrem said her clients were unfairly targeted given that Fletcher hired six deputies before he left but only Graham and Miller were fired.

Sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson said that he couldn't comment on the pending litigation but that Fletcher's last-minute hires didn't help.

"Everybody that Bob [Fletcher] hired after Nov. 3 was without counsel to the new sheriff and any direction that we may be headed," Gustafson said.

Bostrom terminated Miller and Graham within the window of their probation and in accordance with the law, Gustafson said.

When Bostrom took office, he hired six people from outside of the sheriff's office to fill jobs as his closest aides and leaders, which is not uncommon.

All but one of those hires replaced a position that became open with Fletcher's exit, Gustafson said.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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