FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — The chief of the Fergus Falls Police Department, Chief Kile Bergren, said his department spent the months gathering all the facts of the Oct. 2 crash in downtown Fergus Falls.
He would not say if they recommended any charges, or if the case was turned over to prosecutors for them to decide what charges could apply.
The Otter Tail County Sheriff says Deputy Michael Wing was suspended for 24 hours for his role in the failed ruse that led to the crash. The sheriff said he violated the department's pursuit policy. Deputy Wing has since returned to regular duty.
However, the status of the other deputy remains unclear. Since the crash, the sheriff's office has been open about the fact Deputy Kelly Backman was on paid administrative leave. Now, the sheriff says he cannot comment on his job status other than he is still an employee with the county.
"I think it would be an uphill battle for charges," said Luke Heck with Vogel Law Firm.
Heck says prosecutors could be considering a wide variety of driving charges.
According to court papers, the deadly event started when deputies Wing and Backman lured 31-year-old Cody Frietag to a gas station in order to arrest him for outstanding warrants for domestic violence and drugs.
Frietag allegedly hit Wing's cruiser and fled, then both deputies gave chase. Wing's cruiser broke down, and he dropped out of the chase.
Court papers say Backman was still in pursuit when Frietag ignored a stop sign in downtown Fergus Falls, and hit another car at a high rate of speed.
The crash killed 72-year-old Steve Christianson and his 71-year-old wife, Diane.
"Law enforcement, and rightly so, has a great deal of discretion based on the course and scope of their employment to not be Monday morning quarterbacked when making on the fly decision and snap decisions," explained Heck.
He says another reason charges are unlikely is due to the burden of proof. The deputies were just doing their jobs, and prosecutors will likely take a look at the case, putting themselves in uniform and behind the wheel of the situation that night.
"Understanding that criminal charges is going to deter law enforcement from enforcing the law for fear of criminal prosecution," explained Heck.