Jury awards $1.1 million verdict in sexual harassment lawsuit against former Chisago County Sheriff

A former employee with the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office who was sexually harassed, stalked and threatened by longtime sheriff Richard Duncan will be awarded more than $1.1-million dollars in damages.

The federal jury awarded Michelle Jacobson $565,000 for past and future mental anguish and another $550,000 in punitive damages against the former sheriff, according to a verdict form filed Monday afternoon.

Chisago County is responsible for the largest payment.

“We are empathetic for the victim,” County Administrator Chase Burnham said Tuesday. “The County is evaluating its options.”

The jury reached its verdict late Friday, concluding a four year scandal involving a bizarre scheme in which Duncan sent anonymous and threatening letters to coerce Jacobson into having sex with him.

Duncan abruptly resigned after an internal investigation and later pleaded guilty to harassment and misconduct by a public official. He was sentenced to probation and did not serve any jail time.

“Michelle Jacobson is grateful to the jury and the court for holding the Sheriff and the County accountable,” said Leslie Lienemann, Jacobson’s attorney.

After Jacobson filed a federal lawsuit against Duncan and the County, a judge found both liable and granted Jacobson’s motion for summary judgment. The jury only had to decide how much money Jacobson should be awarded in damages.

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The judge found Duncan’s conduct was “atrocious” and “utterly intolerable” after he admitted to sending a series of letters to Jacobson in 2017 under the alias ‘Control Freak’. The letters demanded that Jacobson and Duncan stay in a hotel room together during law enforcement training in Bemidji and threatened her family if she did not comply.

Duncan’s attorney declined to comment on the jury’s verdict.

In a previous deposition, Duncan admitted he came up with the Control Freak scheme in order to manufacture a crisis that he could solve, and feel like a “hero.”

He testified that he targeted Jacobson because her role at the Sheriff’s Office required her to meet with him on a weekly basis.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include Chisago County’s response. The county was contacted shortly before close of business Monday night and responded Tuesday morning.