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Duluth police officer investigated for sex assault

DULUTH — Prosecutors declined to file charges against a Duluth Police Department sergeant after he was investigated earlier this year for allegations of physical and sexual assault.

Gayle Holton, 48, who retired from the force in September, was accused in January of assaulting a woman in his home.

Following a preliminary investigation, Duluth police referred the case to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Once the bureau completed its investigation, the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office referred the case to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to review for possible charges. The office declined in early April to pursue the matter, citing a lack of evidence.

Both local agencies referred the cases to avoid any potential conflict of interest — standard procedure in such investigations.

Criminal investigations of law enforcement personnel are “certainly tough,” said Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken, but “all of our intents from the moment of the call to the point the investigation concluded was to have a fair, impartial and just process. We carefully facilitated for that to happen, and I think we did.”

Duluth police put Holton on paid administrative leave immediately following the allegations, and that’s where he remained until his retirement. Tusken said an internal personnel investigation was still in process at the time of Holton’s retirement. Because it is still considered open, the contents of the investigation aren’t public.

Reached by phone Thursday, Nov. 1, Holton hung up on a Forum News Service reporter.

Duluth police union president Tom Maida declined to comment on the criminal investigation, but said Holton’s retirement was considered a voluntary separation, and he would receive typical retirement benefits. He was employed by the department for 20 years. Maida said it isn’t uncommon for police officers to retire around the age of 50. During Holton’s time with the department, seven internal personnel complaints were made against him, none resulting in discipline.

Holton was never arrested in connection with the allegations, and declined to be interviewed by BCA investigators, except to say he didn’t do what was being alleged, according to the BCA report obtained by Forum News Service through the Minnesota’s public records law. He did submit to a DNA test and allowed photos of his home.

According to the investigation, which included more than a dozen interviews, the woman had been invited by another female and Holton — both known to the alleged victim previously — to watch a Minnesota Vikings game at a Duluth bar. She was then invited back to Holton’s residence with them following the game. The alleged victim said Holton was intoxicated, repeatedly exposing his genitals to her and upsetting the other female.

At one point, the female witness asked the alleged victim to lie with her in a bed. She did, and the other female fell asleep. Holton had joined the two in the bed, and seeing the witness was asleep, put his hand inside the pants and underwear of the alleged victim despite her protests, she told investigators. She jumped off the bed and slapped Holton, she said, and woke the other woman, telling her what happened.

The three argued, and the woman yelled at the alleged victim who covered the woman’s mouth to stifle her. At that point, the alleged victim told investigators, Holton put her in a sort of headlock, gripped her arm and pushed her against a wall. She left the house, and called for a ride outside.

The Duluth police officer who responded to the complainant’s call early that morning noted red marks on her arm and collected evidence related to the alleged sexual assault, bringing her to a hospital for a sexual assault exam. The Duluth department report notes that Lt. Robin Roeser was notified of the incident while the officer was still with the alleged victim because of Holton’s employment with the department.

Holton’s DNA was not found on the alleged victim, tests showed.

“Although we believe that the suspect did in fact engage in questionable behavior,” wrote Jill Gerber, assistant director of the criminal division within the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office in a letter to St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, “it was determined that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute and that we could not prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

She cited excessive use of alcohol by the witnesses and Holton, Holton’s refusal to give a statement to law enforcement and the “strained nature” of the relationship between the women as reasons for not filing criminal charges.

When asked why prosecution didn’t request law enforcement to pursue an interview with Holton, Ramsey County public information officer Dennis Gerhardstein said state and federal law prevents that once a suspect has invoked a right to counsel. But nothing within the 214 pages of investigative materials provided by the BCA indicates that ever happened; only that once the interview began, Holton said “no, let’s not do this.”

The Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training did not respond to a September request inquiring whether Holton retained his license.