BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The City Council of Blackduck voted to fire Chief of Police John Wilkinson earlier this month for violating city and state policies and for conduct unbecoming of a law officer.
Wilkinson officially was placed on paid administrative leave June 6 and has 60 days to request a hearing before a neutral party.
According to city documents, Wilkinson, 35, was fired for violating city policies, as well as for possibly violating state laws by allegedly giving an 18-year-old female an alcoholic drink at a July 4, 2015, party, and at a different time, boasting loudly of a sexual relationship between the two. He also purchased illegal fireworks for the July 4 party, according to an investigation done by a member of the Grand Rapids Police Department.
“Basically what this turned into was a witch hunt until they were able to find enough technical violations to terminate me,” Wilkinson said Wednesday. “A lot of that goes on in Blackduck, people, you know, spread rumors and I’ve heard plenty of rumors about some pretty high-profile people in the community that I won’t release, but it would be pretty damaging to the entire community.”
Wilkinson would not comment when asked if he intends to seek a hearing; the deadline is Aug. 5.
His pending termination leaves the city of Blackduck effectively with no police force as Officer Matt Nikle left the department in April. The city is in the process of hiring a new officer and is currently working with the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement in the community, said City Administrator Christina Regas.
According to city documents, City Council member Mary Loeken filed a complaint with the city about Wilkinson’s behavior on Feb. 12. Because it involved a city employee, an outside organization was needed to conduct the investigation, in this case, the Grand Rapids Police Department.
Sgt. Robert Stein of the Grand Rapids Police Department filed the results of his investigation with the city May 31, and the City Council then voted 3-0 on June 6 to terminate Wilkinson. Loeken recused herself from the vote because she was the one who filed the complaint.
In his report, Stein recommended the city fire Wilkinson based on three findings: that Wilkinson violated state laws by providing “an eighteen year old female an alcoholic beverage at party on July 4, 2015 without her parent’s consent, and without the consent of the persons at the party. Handing an alcoholic beverage to an eighteen year old and allowing the eighteen year old to consume that alcohol is a violation of Minnesota Statute 340a.503 -- furnishing alcohol to someone under 21 years of age.” Stein’s report also says “Chief Wilkinson admits that he and the eighteen year old female had gone to Red Lake and bought illegal fireworks and brought them back to a party, where they did fire them off. This is violation of Minnesota Statute 024.21 -- fireworks sales, possession, and use of.”
Stein also referenced that Wilkinson, 35, showed disregard “for the City Administrator by not being truthful when he was spoken to (ii) for his actions at the wedding reception where he became intoxicated and made loud obscene comments about having sex with an eighteen year old; (iii) acting like he was urinating into a squad car.”
Stein interviewed several witnesses to the events, and in his report, cited one as saying about Wilkinson “I have zero trust, zero respect for him at this point ... as a police officer.”
Stein’s recommendation to Regas and the City Council was to terminate Wilkinson because of incompetence and serious misconduct based on his violation of city employee policies, police department policies (that follow the Minnesota POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) policies) and “conduct unbecoming of a an officer.”
Wilkinson started his law enforcement career in Blackduck as a school resource officer in 2007. After working his way up, he was promoted to Chief of Police in February 2012 and his salary is roughly $48,000 a year.