WALKER -- Cass County commissioners learned Tuesday a Minnesota state arbitrator has upheld the firing of a Cass County Sheriff's Department dispatcher for off-duty criminal misconduct.
The former dispatcher, Trygve Karl, 38, Akeley, was charitable gambling manager for the East Hubbard County Volunteer Fire Department during a time when $5,769 in receipts disappeared. According to the arbitrator's report on testimony and findings, Karl first indicated he had lost a bag of receipts, then later admitted falsifying records to cover up missing funds.
Arbitrator Mario F. Bognanno heard the case in October and received written briefs from attorneys in the case in December.
First charged in Hubbard County with a felony, Karl pleaded guilty under a plea agreement to a gross misdemeanor offense in May and agreed to serve 15 days jail and pay $5,769 restitution, which he did.
On the employment issue, the county argued before Bognanno that such off-duty misconduct reflects negatively on the department and, therefore, violates sheriff's department personnel policies against such a negative reflection or violating laws or falsifying reports.
Karl's Teamsters Local Union 346 argued Karl had no prior criminal record, nor had he had subsequent conduct problems. The union also argued Karl paid for his off-duty misdeeds and to impose further punishment was unjustified.
The union argued the employer failed to prove its reputation was damaged.
Cass County first hired Karl as a part-time employee, placing him on full-time duty in 1995. He became charitable gambling manager in his off-duty capacity in 1998.
In January 2000, a member of the volunteer fire department began to question perceived irregularities in the gambling records. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division conducted an investigation, finding proceeds from six games were never deposited.
After the Hubbard County Court plea bargain was reached, Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher terminated Karl's employment June 22.
In addition to this off-duty offense, Fisher cited as reasons for termination that Karl in 1998 had told a supervisor he mailed renewal forms for alarm permits, which he later admitted he had not.
In 1999, Karl was given a two-day suspension for misusing the Internet by accessing pornography while working, playing cards while on duty, being absent from the dispatch center for long periods of time and engaging in roughhousing while on duty.
The county also cited in this case past sheriff's department disciplinary practices.
A chief dispatcher was fired, then later in 1997 a resignation accepted from her for misconduct. She filed a false insurance claim for personal property theft when there had been no theft and pleaded guilty in Cass County Court to an amended gross misdemeanor theft by swindle count.
In 1994, the department issued 14 days suspension for an employee twice charged with violating an order for protection in a domestic situation.
Bognanno found dispatchers keep and maintain records, they wear a uniform and badge (though don't carry a gun), giving the public the impression they represent law enforcement the same as deputies do.
"It seems beyond question that (Karl's) off-duty misconduct in this case violates the appropriate conduct expectation and duty set forth in the sheriff's department manual," Bognanno found.
"Law enforcement jobholders are expected to be law abiding and the 'bar' is set higher for them. This is so, because the public's welfare hinges on respect for the law and particularly by those who are commissioned to enforce it, including uniformed dispatchers," the arbitrator ruled.
The dispatcher in this case lacked honesty and trustworthiness, he further ruled. To reinstate the dispatcher "may exact an adverse reputation effect on the employer," he added.
The dispatcher's ability to deal honestly with his supervisors and co-workers, a basic requirement of any job, but particularly so considering the gravity of 911 calls, is highly questionable, the arbitrator wrote of this case, noting the dispatcher was disciplined earlier for lying to his supervisor.
Bognanno signed his arbitration finding Jan. 7.
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