Investigative Report: Retired Chisago County sheriff admitted writing ‘blackmail’ letters to himself, female coworker

The now-retired Chisago County Sheriff, Richard Duncan, has admitted he ghost-wrote a series of letters he had originally claimed were “blackmail” letters directing him and a female co-worker to attend a training in Bemidji and stay overnight together in a hotel room, according to an investigation made public Friday.

An outside investigator hired by the county characterized Duncan’s actions as “an abhorrent and shocking violation of the standard of conduct expected of a department head, a law enforcement officer, an elected Sheriff, an employee of Chisago County . . . and a community leader.”

The investigation found Duncan “lied” to the coworker, “directly causing her fear, embarrassment, and stress.”

Further, the investigator concluded, “Sheriff Duncan misused his position of power and trust as the Chisago County Sheriff to the detriment of a Chisago County employee.”

After announcing on his Facebook page in March that he was seeking reelection, Duncan abruptly announced his retirement in April, citing medical reasons for his departure.

He told KSTP in April: “I just had surgery yesterday and found out that I could be out of the office for another two months. During this important transition time with our new public safety center, it is not fair to the county to not have an active leader in place. This is the third surgery on this foot. I’m not physically able to run again, and with 30 years of law enforcement, I’m ready for a new chapter in my life.”

However, the county attorney’s office confirmed he had been investigated following a complaint.

Duncan did not give an interview to the investigator, but admitted through his attorney in late April that “he alone” authored letters he had originally claimed were from an anonymous third-party who signed the letters, “Control Freak.”

The letters “required” Duncan and the coworker go to the training and stay together at a specific hotel in Bemidji, according to the investigation’s findings.

Last October, Duncan wrote in an email, apparently to the co-worker in reference to what “Control Freak” was demanding.

“I think we have to try to end this thing anyway (sic) we can even if it means we have to do what he says. If he holds it over us then we go with our other options,” wrote Duncan. “I think we can do whatever we have to and bring it to the grave with us and still have a strong relationship with our spouses. … I don’t think we have a choice.”

On Friday Duncan said via email, “I am aware that Chisago County has released the internal investigative information. I am referring all questions to my Attorney.”

Brandon Thyen, who has been with the department for 20 years and spent the past two years as chief deputy, was appointed to replace Duncan in early May.

At that meeting of the county board of commissioners, the Pemberton Law Firm, and county leaders again confirmed Duncan had been under investigation and a complaint had been filed against him.

Thyen issued the following statement Friday:

The investigative report involving complaints about the conduct of the previous sheriff has been completed and has been made public. We have had an opportunity to review the information related to the civil investigation and are saddened and disappointed by what is contained in the report.

Richard Duncan’s actions as outlined in the civil report were not only wrong, they run counter to everything our organization and our employees stand for. They violate completely the standards of conduct for an elected sheriff, the head of an agency, a law enforcement officer and a supervisor.

Our agency and the people who work here remain dedicated to protecting and serving this community. Mr. Duncan’s behavior in no way changes our commitment to accountability, transparency and earning the trust of those we serve every day.

Our leadership is reviewing the civil report findings along with our internal processes. We take this matter seriously and will continue to fully cooperate with any ongoing investigation.