Ramsey County Sheriff rehires fired jailers who supported his campaign

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Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher wanted to make a peace offering.

Having been chastised by county leaders for ending 2019 well over budget due to an unsustainable level of staffing, Fletcher stood before the board of commissioners in mid-February and pulled out a miniature statue — a replica of the 36-foot tall Vision of Peace statue that towers over the main lobby of the Ramsey County Courthouse.

"I just want to see if…the statue actually works," Fletcher joked.

It did. Commissioners chuckled at his gesture and then voted to shift nearly $1 million from the county’s reserves to help cover the department budget woes, apparently satisfied that the longtime sheriff, who was voted back into office in 2018, had addressed the staffing issues that led to the financial problems.

"We’ve done everything we can to bring it down," Fletcher said at the time about the number of full-time employees under his command.

But less than two months later, Fletcher decided he once again needed more staffing and rehired two former jailers who worked for him more than a decade ago during his first run as sheriff.

Both publicly supported his reelection campaign in 2018.

Both had previously been fired for misconduct under previous administrations.

Fletcher is defending the hirings but County Manager Ryan O’Connor, who had previously rebuked the sheriff for his budget and staffing overages, said in a memo last week that "these actions are anti-ethical to the values of our organization and its employees."

Back on the Job

Cory Hendrickson and Lee Anthony Sontoya were added back to the county payroll on the same day, March 30.

Hendrickson, now working as a full-time community service officer, was fired in 2017 for a series of violations that included engaging in outside employment while on duty by "using the county’s equipment, technology, reputation and clout" to operate a security consulting business that he owned, according to state records.

He had previously been reprimanded in 2008, when Fletcher was sheriff, for using "unnecessary and inappropriate" restraints on an inmate.

In 2013, he was suspended 10 days for displaying a picture of his scrotum on his work computer.

The arbitrator who upheld Hendrickson’s termination years later found he accepted no responsibility for his misconduct and continued to "show disdain for those bringing that misconduct to light."

Hendrickson openly supported Fletcher’s re-election campaign in 2018, according to a posting on his Facebook page. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Sontoya, now working as a part-time corrections officer at the county jail, was fired from that same jail in 2012 for repeatedly calling in sick so he could coach high school hockey.

He lied to his supervisor, falsified timesheets and profited from the misconduct, according to an arbitration ruling upholding his termination.

His supervisors said he acted with a "complete lack of integrity," and called his behavior a blatant disregard of policy.

One supervisor said at the time that allowing Sontoya to return to work would be "disastrous" and a "morale killer" that would send a terrible message.

Sontoya publicly and financially supported Fletcher’s re-election campaign in 2018. In a picture posted to Fletcher’s Facebook page roughly a month before that fall’s election, the two posed in front of a "Bob Fletcher for Ramsey County" campaign sign. Fletcher’s left arm was draped over Sontoya’s shoulder and he thanked him for a "warm reception."

Sontoya also donated $100 to Fletcher’s campaign according to campaign finance records. Sontoya declined to comment.

County Commissioner Jim McDonough said the sheriff’s decision to bring them back into the department sends a message that accountability does not matter.

"As long as you’re loyal to me, I will protect you," McDonough said in an interview Wednesday. "That’s the good ole boys club."

In a statement, Fletcher said both employees completed a lengthy application process and were hired in accordance with county rules.

"Their experience far exceeded the minimum qualifications and surpassed that of other candidates," Fletcher said.

O’Connor, the county manager, said in the memo that he cannot rescind the hiring decisions but will continue to monitor the sheriff’s "spending, hiring and programs."