Big Lake police chief on paid administrative leave

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 6:54 PM

The chief of police for the Sherburne County community of Big Lake has been put on paid administrative leave after fellow police officers and a couple of City Council members called for him to step down.

In a special meeting Friday, the Big Lake City Council voted 4-1 to put Chief Sean Rifenberick on paid leave, said City Council Member Raeanne Danielowski.

Danielowski had suggested at a meeting late last month that Rifenberick be terminated, but the motion didn't receive enough council votes. Reached Saturday afternoon, Danielowski declined to comment further.

According to a March 2 article in the West Sherburne Tribune, Rifenberick and the city have faced several lawsuits from former officers who have accused the chief of harassment, sexual impropriety and vengeance, resulting in the city paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements.

During the public comment portion of the Feb. 22 City Council meeting, several current and former officers said they wanted Rifenberick to step down, according to meeting minutes.

"There's been a lot of pain and strife within the police department," Big Lake police officer Dan Sherburne said at the meeting.

Sherburne, joined by other officers and staff, said the department was not repairable under current management.

Myron Morris, a retired police chief and husband of a secretary in the department, said Rifenberick needed to be replaced.

"In the best interest of the city and the police department, Sean needs to move on," he said.

At a Feb. 29 special meeting, the council held a longer-than-three-hour closed session to conduct the chief's performance evaluation. At that meeting, Danielowski moved to terminate the police chief, a motion seconded by Council Member Dick Backlund. But the motion failed without the council majority's support.

On Friday, the sole dissenting vote on Rifenberick's paid leave came from Mayor Lori Kampa. She could not be reached Saturday.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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