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Before leaving, Lake Region State College athletic director faced multiple misconduct allegations

Allegations of misconduct against Daniel Mertens were made by team members, parents, and/or past assistant coaches.

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DEVILS LAKE — The former athletic director at Lake Region State College was facing numerous allegations of breaches of the college’s codes of conduct and ethics before he agreed to leave his position last month.

Many of the allegations of misconduct against Daniel Mertens, who was also the women’s basketball coach, involve alcohol, while others involve behavior that prompted one parent to question whether he understood his professional boundaries. No conclusion was reached in that investigation because Mertens and school administrators signed a mutual separation agreement. Once Mertens left the college on Dec. 17, the investigation was dismissed.

Mertens was originally placed on paid leave on Oct. 29, so school administrators could investigate the allegations. The Herald obtained the LRSC investigation documents through state open records laws.

Those documents show that on Oct. 29, Lloyd Halvorson, vice president of academic and student affairs, sent an email to LRSC President Doug Darling, informing Darling of the need to place Mertens on leave. Also in that email, Halvorson urged Darling to consider buying out Mertens' contract. Halvorson wrote that he believed the number of allegations against Mertens would damage his reputation to the point that he could not enforce the standard of conduct he had consistently been accused of violating, should he be cleared in an investigation.

“I genuinely don’t believe, based on what I know about the totality of the allegations, (redacted by LRSC) that LRSC and LRSC Athletics can emerge from this with enough credibility and confidence to move forward without a coaching and leadership change,” wrote Halvorson.

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Ultimately, Mertens asked for a separation agreement before the investigation was concluded. Darling agreed, and he asked the college’s UND-based human resources attorney to prepare the agreement.

Under that agreement, Mertens will be paid slightly more than $43,000 for the remainder of his contract, which runs through June 30. The payment also includes unused annual leave days. Mertens’ salary was $62,295.

No allegations of misconduct against Mertens have been substantiated, because the investigation into them was discontinued when he agreed to leave the college.

In total, 19 allegations were recorded by the school during the investigation. Four of those allegations were redacted entirely in documents sent to the Herald. Allegations were made by team members, parents, and/or past assistant coaches, and include:

  • Drinking alcohol with other LRSC coaches when traveling for away games. According to LRSC investigation documents, “several players” reported the team and coaches would eat together, and then the coaches would leave to drink and not check up on the team. Players said the team always stays at a hotel connected to a bar.
  • Mertens coming to practices and games smelling like alcohol.
  • Providing alcohol to a player who then became intoxicated, and telling a player she could drink alcohol and that he would not tell anyone about it.
  • Sitting in a hot tub with players. A parent reported that perhaps Mertens did not understand professional boundaries.
  • Requiring a player to wash jerseys at his home. The player reported she was not comfortable with the arrangement.

Other complaints against Mertens include allowing the assistant coach to run practices, quickly becoming angry at players, and benching players for not agreeing with him or doing what he says outside of basketball.
Again, the allegations are unsubstantiated because Mertens opted to leave before they were fully investigated.

Mertens was made aware of the allegations and signed a document acknowledging he understood an investigation was taking place in late November.

At that time he met with Halvorson and stated he would like to fight the allegations, but that even if he was found not to have violated any college policies, both his and the school's reputations would be “tarnished.” Mertens told Halvorson that despite the investigation, he loves LRSC and wants what is best for the college.

Related Topics: LAKE REGION STATE
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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