A correctional officer at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center appealed his termination from employment at a special meeting of the Grand Forks County Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Chad Jensen, a former correctional officer at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center, was dismissed on Jan. 3, for multiple performance and conduct issues. As per county rules, he was allowed to appeal his dismissal to the County Commission. The commissioners took no action at the hearing, which could have reinstated Jensen, and they now have 10 business days to render their decision.
“We don’t do this very often,” County Commission Chairwoman Diane Knauf noted in her explanation to Jensen of how the hearing would proceed.
Jensen was dismissed for issues ranging from playing a practical joke on a co-worker, for which he was suspended one day, to purposely annoying an inmate, violating a policy that accounts for keys at the county jail and failure to complete a training webinar on time and signing documents using a nickname instead of his real name.
Jensen told the commission he took full responsibility for purposely annoying an inmate in February 2019, by using a computer to play animal sounds. Jensen said an inmate had been harassing correctional officers by telling them he was going to “skin us like pigs.” He played the sounds, which he admitted “caused great stress to him and several inmates in the area.”
“It was me losing my temper and letting an inmate get under my skin,” Jensen told the commission. “I had conducted myself very unprofessionally.”
A document addressed to Jensen from GFCCC Administrator Bret Burkholder, states that, in December 2019, Jensen took jail keys home with him, a violation of a key-control policy, and did not return them for nearly 30 hours, despite having been contacted several times to do so.
Jensen said he has been diagnosed with a condition known as Shift Work Sleep Disorder, that causes him to sleep for lengthy periods of time, after long periods of being awake. He said he did not ignore calls to return the keys, but was sleeping when the calls were made. He said he has been having problems with sleeping for a number of years.
“I just want to clear that up that I didn’t avoid contact,” Jensen said.
Speaking after the appeal hearing, Burkholder told the Herald he stands behind his decision to terminate Jensen’s employment.
“You never like to make that decision, but it’s in the best interest of us all,” Burkholder said.