VALLEY CITY, N.D. – The City Commission here voted 5-0 Thursday, Dec. 8, to accept the immediate resignation of Police Chief Fred Thompson.
Thompson, who was chief for about 4½ years, will be replaced by Lt. Phil Hatcher as acting police chief, City Administrator David Schelkoph said.
Schelkoph said city officials and Thompson had been negotiating the resignation for a couple of weeks.
Schelkoph praised Thompson’s performance as chief and wished him well, but at the same time refused to say why city officials would want to negotiate with Thompson to resign if he was doing a commendable job.
“The city appreciates the work that the chief has done and we wish him the best in future endeavors,” he said.
“It’s a mutual agreement between the chief and the city and it happens all the time. … This was an amicable separation between Chief Thompson and the city,” Schelkoph said, adding, “We’ll give him glowing reports.”
Thompson said he wanted to pursue other interests.
“An opportunity presented itself and the city and I came to an agreement and I’m off to other opportunities,” he said.
Thompson didn’t say what he would do or where he would go.
“I’m no longer connected with the Valley City Police Department,” he said. “We’ve parted peacefully and amicably. It’s great. I had a blast working there. I’m certainly grateful for the opportunity that they gave me. I think nothing but the best of the men and women of the Valley City Police Department.”
“I want to thank all the people of Valley City who have supported me and become friends and greeted me on the street. It’s just a wonderful town. I love it here. The people of this town, the vast majority are great folks,” Thompson said.
Mayor Dave Carlsrud had little to say about the commission’s agreement to cut ties with Thompson.
“He’s a good man and set a high standard of professionalism,” Carlsrud said.
Schelkoph said the talks that culminated in the resignation were tightly held.
Even Hatcher said he didn’t know something was up until about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, when he was told the commission would meet early Thursday.
“It’s a surprise to us,” Hatcher said. “The only thing we’re being told is that it was a mutual decision between the city and the police chief.”
Hatcher joined the Valley City Police Department in 2007 after spending four years with the Minot (N.D.) Police Department and four years with the state Department of Corrections.
“Back in 2007, I didn’t think I’d be acting police chief in December 2016,” said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be promoted at certain times. I was the man standing when the chief resigned.”
The Valley City Police Department is allotted 14 officers, but now has 12 on staff.
Hatcher hasn’t decided whether he’ll apply to become the next chief.
Thompson was hired after former Police Chief Dean Ross retired in September 2011. Ross had been accused of misconduct and misappropriation of funds. Those allegations were dropped with his resignation, and he wasn’t charged with any crimes.
In 2015, a group of residents pushed to have the Police Department disbanded after Thompson drew a gun on a resident playing with airsoft guns on his front lawn with his children. The residents, who included local business owner Robert Drake, called for policing to be taken over by the Barnes County Sheriff’s Department. That effort was later abandoned.
Last January, Schelkoph, City Attorney Russell Myhre, Thompson and then-police Lt. David Swenson said they were victims of a smear campaign accusing them of sexual and other misconduct. Drake made the allegations in a December 2015 letter to the city.
Allegations of wage fraud against Swenson were called unfounded in June after an internal investigation. But Swenson resigned in July after he was accused of having sex with a woman in a squad car and in the Police Department’s evidence room.
Drake said Thursday he is happy Thompson’s tenure has ended.
“It’s the best thing that could have happened to the city,” Drake said. “He should have been gone a long time ago.”
He said the town should have hired from within, rather than bringing in Thompson, who had retired as a captain after 29 years with the Henderson (Nev.) Police Department.
“He’s qualified. He’s got a lot of experience. But you can’t bring somebody from outside,” Drake said. “He’s never been right for Valley City. I’m just glad he’s gone.”
Schelkoph said it could take months to replace Thompson..
Schelkoph said Thompson brought calm to the Police Department after Ross retired.
“He came into the Police Department in disarray. He had to come into that environment and right the ship,” he said. “We are so appreciative of the leadership and the experience that Chief Thompson has provided for Valley City. That’s what they will be looking for in the next chief.”