June 23, 2018 07:17 AM
Sources confirm to KSTP a criminal investigation is underway against the retired Chisago County Sheriff, Richard Duncan, who admitted to ghostwriting a series of letters he claimed were “blackmail” directing him and a female co-worker to attend training together in Bemidji and stay overnight together in a hotel room, according to an investigation made public Friday.
An attorney for the woman said she is in settlement talks with the county after what an outside investigator described Duncan's behavior 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 investigator from an outside firm concluded, "Sheriff Duncan misused his position of power and trust as the Chisago County Sheriff to the detriment of a Chisago County employee."
The report found Duncan lied to the co-worker, "directly causing her fear, embarrassment, and stress."
County Administrator Bruce Messelt said, "It was serious enough as an employment matter that it would've prompted some sort of action."
The investigative report released to KSTP in a data request Friday along with emails and text messages reveals a series of bizarre events starting in October 2017:
The woman said she first heard about the letters in a closed-door meeting with Duncan in October. Duncan showed her a letter he claimed was sent to his residence mentioning the two. He said he destroyed one letter and brought another to the Minneapolis Police Department to check for fingerprints.
When no fingerprints were lifted from that letter, he destroyed it, the report states.
But he showed her what he said was a third letter, the report states, which outlined the demands of the sender, using the alias, "Control Freak."
The letter stated the two had to go to Bemidji for four days and stay in a hotel room. In later emails, Duncan said "Control Freak" had specified the two had to stay at a specific hotel with a king-sized bed. It outlined what reading material would be allowed and noted the sheriff could bring his iPad. It also asked they pack swimsuits.
The letters from "Control Freak" sent by Duncan had threats made toward her children and husband.
Duncan told her not to tell anyone about the letters, including her husband or law enforcement, according to the report.
In 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."
The two exchanged email and text messages, but the woman began to suspect something was off a few days later.
The report states, "she was feeling very confused but started to think the situation was too strange to be true."
She told the investigator Duncan would write clues for elaborate scavenger hunts of fake crime at fundraisers, and the language seemed similar. She added she had trouble distinguishing between the sheriff's emails and the letters.
That same day the sheriff said in an email he thought "Control Freak" wanted them to have sex at the hotel in Bemidji. He had arranged for them to attend a training for four days in November, the report reveals.
In early November he wrote, "If I knew that we had a good chance of catching this guy through a thorough investigation, I would do it, but we have nothing, and I am not going to Jeopardize (sic) our work situation amongst all not external situations."
Days later Duncan said the letter writer had hacked his phone and accounts, causing him to have to clear his private data, get a new phone, the report states. He also told her "Control Freak" had remotely listened to their calls.
He also gave the option of backing out, according to emails. She did end up taking him up on that offer, the investigation reveals, canceling the trip.
In March, Duncan announced his campaign for re-election.
The woman filed her complaint, which prompted the investigation. Once it began, Duncan went on medical leave, and the woman who filed the complaint was placed on administrative leave, according to the report.
Duncan hired an attorney on April 9, and his interview was scheduled for April 13. He did not meet with investigators.
On April 25, Duncan sent an email to his attorney stating, "I, and only I, am the source of the emails and text in regard to the current inquiry."
The female employee's attorney, Leslie Lienemann said, "It's shocking conduct of an elected official and law enforcement at any level."
"We suspected because of the results of the investigation that might've prompted Mr. Duncan to retire," Messelt said.
In an April announcement, Duncan said he was retiring due to medical issues.
He told KSTP at the time: "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.
The results of the criminal investigation are pending with the Anoka County Sheriff's Office.
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.
Theresa Malloy and Beth McDonough
Updated: June 23, 2018 07:17 AM
Created: June 22, 2018 10:34 PM
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