About six new Ramsey County deputies weren’t subjected to the same background checks as two who were fired, attorney claims.
Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom’s second-in-command could not explain why some newly hired deputies did not receive additional background checks in early 2011 while others were scrutinized and subsequently fired for previous transgressions and performance reviews.
Former Sheriff Bob Fletcher hired several deputies after he lost the November 2010 election to Bostrom, ending his 16-year reign. Eleven new deputies were on probation when Bostrom was sworn in, but only two, who both worked on Fletcher’s re-election campaign, were terminated in February 2011 after additional background checks were conducted on them.
Joseph Miller, 30, and Alexander Graham, 26, are suing Bostrom in federal court for retaliation in their firings, which they testified have caused them embarrassment and financial loss.
The sheriff’s office has said that the men were given more thorough background checks when it was discovered that the initial checks were not complete. Miller and Graham’s attorney, Mark Gehan, pressed Chief Deputy John Kirkwood Wednesday to explain why about six other new deputies didn’t receive the same treatment and were missing the “background summaries” completed for Graham and Miller.
Kirkwood, who fired the men, said that he was not aware of the discrepancy. Kirkwood testified that about four or five of the new hires were given a more thorough background check, and that it was handled by Commander Brad Camitsch.
Under cross-examination by Gehan, Kirkwood agreed that the men did not have any disciplinary or performance issues in the five weeks they worked as deputies. Kirkwood testified that in their termination letters, he wrote that they failed to meet the department’s expectations, which he admitted could be interpreted as performance failure.
Gehan trained his cross-examination on possible mistreatment of his clients, presenting an e-mail Kirkwood sent to Camitsch about Graham’s request to obtain a copy of his personnel file.
In the e-mail, Kirkwood said he needed to “cool down over night” before responding to Graham’s request, which he characterized as “further affirmation as to his lack of suitability to be part of our program.”
Law enforcement personnel files are a matter of public record that must be provided upon request, although some information is redacted when someone other than the employee requests them.
“I found it demanding and a little condescending,” Kirkwood said of Graham’s e-mail.
Graham had written, “I would like a full copy of [my file] and all data collected,” and apologized for any confusion he had about the process.
Gehan raised his voice in a rhetorical question to Kirkwood, “He was just so arrogant to request a copy of his own file?”
Gehan also brought up the background checks with sheriff’s Sgt. Erik Lerfald, who conducted them on Graham and Miller.
“Is this the only time you’ve done additional work with respect to deputies who have already been hired and sworn in?” Gehan asked.
“Yes,” Lerfald answered, noting that on about five previous occasions the office received additional letters and reports.
“But you never did additional field work, write reports?” Gehan asked, in regard to Lerfald gathering police reports and previous background checks on Miller, and his interviews with Graham’s former supervisors.
“I do not recall,” Lerfald said.
The information Lerfald gathered was critical in firing the men. Miller had arrests for two separate bar fights (he was not convicted), and failed two previous psychological evaluations in Ramsey County. Some of Graham’s former supervisors said he was immature, intentionally riled up inmates and was power-hungry.