Port: Fargo commissioner Tony Gehrig threatened to call police chief after cops prevented him from driving home from bar
Gehrig blames the incident on "a select group of people who are trying to embarrass me."
FARGO — "On Thursday, June 17 th at 11:27 p.m., officers were sent to AMVETS, 1001 1 st Ave. S., for an impaired person," Fargo Police Department spokesperson Jessica Schindeldecker told me in a statement.
The person in question?
When I contacted Gehrig about the incident this week he took on a combative attitude, accusing me of smearing him at the behest of his political enemies, and claimed it was all much ado about nothing.
"Me and my brother were at the bar on a weekday and the cops rolled up out of nowhere," he told me.
But the police reports I obtained through open records request tell a somewhat different story.
"Bar staff were concerned the adult male, identified as Tony Gehrig, would attempt to drive impaired. Upon the officers’ arrival, they located Tony inside the establishment and offered to help him find a ride home. After several unsuccessful attempts to call for a cab, Tony decided to walk home," Schindeldecker told me, making it clear that "at no time was Tony found to be operating a motorcycle during this incident."
I obtained police dash camera video of the incident as well.
In it, the officers can be seen arriving at the bar. They enter the building, and then exit shortly after with Gehrig.
"Am I under arrest for anything?" he asks.
"No, you can take a cab or you can come with us, your call," one officer tells him in response.
Gehrig admits at that point to being "impaired." He then asks the officers, "why are you here?"
"Because they called us," the officer replies.
"They were concerned that you were going to drive so they called us and now we're giving you [inaudible]," the officer continued.
"Was I being drunk?" Gehrig asks.
"Yes, you are intoxicated and they don't want you to drive. So they called us and now you're going to be going in a cab and go home. Or wherever you want to go."
It's not totally audible in the video recordings, which are of extremely poor quality, but Gehrig did threaten to call Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski at one point, per the incident reports and Gehrig's own admission.
"At no time was Mr. Gehrig detained and we did not touch him," a department incident report states. "As Mr. Gehrig walked away he said he was going to call the Chief. Mr. Gehrig was wearing sunglasses, would sway when standing still and had slurred speech. He walked without stumbling. He asked repeated questions as [sic] why we were there."
Gehrig acknowledged to me that he did make reference to calling Zibolski. "I told them 'You know what, I'll talk to the chief tomorrow,'" he said.
"I shouldn't have said it," he added.
The police said they were summoned by bar staff, but Gehrig insists the call came from someone with a vendetta.
"Someone at the bar didn't like me," he told me. "There's a select group of people who are trying to embarrass me," suggesting fellow commissioner Dave Piepkorn , his frequent adversary in city government, had been rumor-mongering about this incident.
"I'm the chair of the liquor control board," Piepkorn told me when I reached him for comment. "The police chief now gives us reports of incidents at bars. That was one of the incidents that came up at one of our meetings. That's the last I heard of it."
"He (Gehrig) was drunk at our most recent meeting two weeks ago. He's doing his own damage infliction," Piepkorn added.
Gehrig and Piepkorn had an ugly exchange at a recent city commission meeting, which culminated in the latter accusing the former of drinking before the meeting. Piepkorn, per video , also made an obscene gesture, though he has denied that last part despite the video record.
That blowup prompted the commission to discuss new policies to promote more civil debate .
When I asked, Gehrig denied drinking before that city meeting.
"I've never been arrested. I've never been pulled over," Gehrig told me, arguing that this incident doesn't deserve media coverage. "The past several years, I show up at a bar, and people call the cops to embarrass me."
I asked what other incidents Gehrig was referring to and he backtracked, saying there have been "no other incidents."
In February, amid a city debate over liquor licenses for some drinking establishments, including the Empire and Bismarck taverns that generate a lot of calls for police assistance , Gehrig made a social media post threatening action against the owner of the bars.
" Jim Swanick I'm shutting you down," Gehrig wrote in a since-deleted post on a Facebook page he maintains to chronicle his actions as commissioner.
Gehrig said he hasn't been involved in any incidents in Swanick's establishments.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com .