A pair of Ramsey County Sheriff Office's employees once fired for misconduct have been rehired by Sheriff Bob Fletcher, a decision that brought a strongly worded condemnation Tuesday from a county commissioner.
Saying the decisions sent a message that "behavior doesn't matter," Commissioner Jim McDonough said he was both saddened and angered by the reported hirings.
"It just makes me wonder, out of the applicant pool for these two jobs, who was overlooked, who was not offered a job?" McDonough said. "There's some pretty bad stuff in their files as far as integrity, racism, white supremacy and even attitudes about accepting responsibility."
Fletcher could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But his office released a statement saying that the experience of Cory Hendrickson and Lee Anthony Sontoya far exceeded that of the other job candidates.
The Sheriff's Office statement added that both were highly recommended by previous co-workers and supervisors and had worked extensively with youth.
"The Sheriff's Office evaluates the totality of all candidates when making hiring decisions," according to the statement.
An anonymous whistleblower tipped off McDonough to the hires in an e-mail sent last week.
Hendrickson and Sontoya each lost arbitration cases after they were fired. It cost the county about $90,000 to fire Hendrickson and about $5,200 to fire Sontoya, according to county records.
Sontoya, who was hired as an intermittent correctional officer, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A phone number for Hendrickson, hired as a community service officer, could not be found Tuesday.
'A morale killer'
Sontoya, who was fired as a correctional officer at the county jail in 2012, was accused of falsifying his time sheets nine times and working a second job while on county time or paid sick leave. The violations stemmed from the part-time hockey coaching position Sontoya held at Cretin-Derham Hall High School, a job for which he was paid about $2,500 over five months.
His supervisor, Lt. Nancy Pearl, said at the arbitration hearing that she regularly reminded him about problems with his time sheets — an issue that became so apparent that at times deputies investigated his whereabouts.
In 2011, Sontoya sent Pearl a text saying he needed to make a dentist appointment for the following day. Pearl and two other officers drove to the Super Rink arena in Blaine to confirm that Sontoya was coaching that day.
It became known throughout the department that Sontoya was working a second job while on county time, Lt. Brad Lindberg said at the hearing. If he was allowed to return to work, it would be a "disastrous … morale killer," Lindberg said. Sontoya was a supervisor and as such his behavior sent a message to other employees, he said.
Dave Metusalem, who was an undersheriff in the detention center, said at the time that a public official who had done the same thing would be accused of "double dipping." According to the report, Metusalem — who now works as Fletcher's chief deputy — indicated he had seen no other employee "that had been this bad: getting paid by two employers for the 'exact same hours.' "
Union official Vance D. Rolfzen said during the arbitration hearing that Sontoya was unfairly singled out and that other employees used sick leave for reasons other than illness. Sontoya himself said that while he was working as a supervisor he approved sick time used for other purposes.
"We all did it," he said, adding that he didn't realize the practice could jeopardize his job.
The arbitrator said there were too many instances of misconduct to believe that the time sheet problems were simply mistakes.
Sontoya "could have been a model employee," wrote arbitrator Carol Berg O'Toole. "That is the travesty of all of this. A coach is supposed to be a role model, as is a supervisor of any sort."
Cory Hendrickson was fired in 2017 for receiving ongoing racist, sexist, and pornographic e-mails on his work address without objection; using a county e-mail account for outside business; violating the state public records law; and working a second job without permission.
He had once been suspended for 10 days for displaying a photograph of his scrotum on his work computer to a co-worker, according to a county report.
A representative from Teamsters Local 320 argued at Hendrickson's arbitration hearing that a friend sent him the offensive e-mails over the course of eight months while Hendrickson was on workers' compensation leave from March 2014 to January 2016. Hendrickson didn't open most of the e-mails, the union said.
But the arbitrator said he knew they were inappropriate and should have told his friend to stop sending them to his work e-mail.
Hendrickson was warned not to use his county e-mail address while working a second job with a security business because customers might think he was acting as an agent of the Sheriff's Office. He also was cited for sending an e-mail containing the driver's license and Social Security numbers of an inmate to a former law enforcement officer.
In a statement Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office said Hendrickson's case had been mischaracterized and that the arbitrator made the point that the case wasn't trying to determine if Hendrickson was racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant.
According to the arbitrator's report in 2018, the union brought in several black and female witnesses who testified they had never seen any signs that Hendrickson was prejudiced.
But arbitrator A. Ray McCoy ruled that he found no reason to overturn the firing, "especially when [Hendrickson] refuses to accept responsibility for proven misconduct and continues to show disdain for those bringing that misconduct to light."