Mayor considers further discipline, possible firing of Grand Forks officerThe mayor of Grand Forks says he may fire or take further disciplinary action against a policeman serving two years of probation on a reckless endangerment conviction that stemmed from a cold-weather traffic stop.
By: Archie Ingersoll, Grand Forks Herald
By Archie Ingersoll
Herald Staff Writer
The mayor of Grand Forks says he may fire or take further disciplinary action against a policeman serving two years of probation on a reckless endangerment conviction that stemmed from a cold-weather traffic stop.
Mayor Mike Brown sent a letter to Officer David O’Toole informing him that he’s considering such actions because O’Toole’s peace officer’s license is suspended until December 2010, and because he cannot carry a gun while on probation.
A peace officer’s license and the ability to use firearms are requirements to be a Grand Forks officer, and without them disciplinary action can result, according to the letter.
Wednesday is the deadline for O’Toole to respond to the March 25 letter which invites him to meet with the mayor or present evidence to support his case.
Brown said Monday that no meeting has taken place or been scheduled. O’Toole’s attorney, Michael Geiermann, requested an extension of the Wednesday deadline, but was not given one, the mayor said.
After an outside investigation into the February 2008 traffic stop that left 25-year-old Jason Hickman with frostbitten ears, the Grand Forks Police Department recommended that O’Toole be fired. But Brown decided to demote him from the rank of master police officer to police officer and require him to serve a 60-day suspension and a year on departmental probation.
O’Toole, who is appealing his reckless endangerment conviction, currently works in the department’s records division, does not wear a uniform and does not carry weapons.
The mayor said he could make a decision on whether to further discipline or fire O’Toole as early as Thursday.
In the letter, Brown says he will make his decision based on a preponderance of evidence since it is an administrative disciplinary hearing, not a criminal one. O’Toole has the right to appeal the decision, according to the letter.
Brown said he is reserving judgment on O’Toole’s case until the response period ends.
“The process protects the city and the employees as well,” the mayor said. “The process is tried and true.”
A phone message left for Geiermann was not returned Monday.
Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to email@example.com.
During a traffic stop in February 2008, Jason Hickman was made to stand in a 42-below-zero wind chill with no jacket, hat or gloves as two officers sat nearby in heated squad cars exchanging computer messages. Officer David O’Toole wrote to Eric Straus: “That’s right make him freeze.” Straus’ reply: “Yep that boy has earned it over the years here.”
An outside investigation ensued, and the department subsequently recommended that Straus and O’Toole be fired. But Mayor Mike Brown decided to demote O’Toole from the rank of master police officer to police officer and require him to serve a 60-day suspension and a year on departmental probation. Brown said he thought Straus was more culpable because during the traffic stop, he was charged with looking after Hickman, so the mayor went along with the recommendation to terminate Straus.
Straus pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and is serving a year of probation. A jury convicted O’Toole of reckless endangerment, and he was sentenced to two years of probation.
In February 2009, the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board voted unanimously to suspend Straus’ and O’Toole’s licenses while they are on probation.
A civil rights complaint filed by Hickman has caused the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident.
Hickman reached a $100,000 settlement with the city in February 2009.