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Fiery post from former Cass sheriff stirs questions as he plans to rejoin department

Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner says his predecessor, Paul Laney, is not an employee and can't be disciplined under the policies of the sheriff's office. Sheriff candidate Mathew King disagrees, claiming Laney disparaged King when he called him a disgrace.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney talks Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, to Jay Thomas on AM970 WDAY of his planned retirement from law enforcement at the end of next year. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Then-Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney talks Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, to Jay Thomas on AM970 WDAY of his planned retirement from law enforcement at the end of 2018.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — Former Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney could be rehired as a part-time deputy at his old office in Fargo.

Laney's possible rehiring has put him and his successor, Sheriff Jesse Jahner, under scrutiny after Laney called Jahner's political challenger, Deputy Mathew King, and others "a disgrace" just weeks before the election.

During The Jay Thomas Show on WDAY Radio on Tuesday, Oct. 25, King questioned whether Laney is a sheriff's office employee and whether the office should investigate him for allegedly making disparaging comments against other sheriff's office employees.

“I get it. Laney has his First Amendment rights,” King said. “And all I'm trying to call out is, is he an employee or is he not?”

Employee forms obtained by The Forum from the county human resources department through a public records request suggest 56-year-old Laney is an employee of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office as of Sept. 14. The county activated his email account, and he was given 24/7 access to all county buildings, including the jail and sheriff’s office, according to Cass County Technology Director Bob Henderson.

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However, Jahner said Laney is not yet employed by the sheriff's office. Human Resources Director Tracy Peters confirmed Wednesday that the county does not consider Laney an employee.

For now, Laney is not being paid by the county or performing any duties on behalf of the sheriff’s office, Jahner said. He would have to be sworn in as an officer before doing work for the office, Jahner added.

The revelation that Laney could be rehired at the office comes just days after the former sheriff took to social media to criticize King ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

In a Friday Facebook post, Laney defended Jahner's work as sheriff and claimed King used his friends and co-workers as weapons to dig up dirt on the sheriff. He called King and others a "disgrace to the badge we all wore."

“You can’t win on merit, talent, experience or knowledge, so you resort to the age-old tactic of slinging political garbage,” Laney wrote. “You should be ashamed of yourself, I am ashamed of you. Hang your head, because you don’t deserve to walk amongst the rest of us.”

Jahner told The Forum he doesn't plan to investigate Laney since the former sheriff is not a county employee. Laney defended his comments, saying King opened himself up for criticism when he decided to run for office.

“I can’t go on Facebook and say I think your tactics are dirty? Because I do, and I stand by my post,” Laney said.

Laney, who was sheriff from 2006-2018, told The Forum he is not interested in being a full-time deputy. Instead, the Grand Marais, Minnesota, resident, would like to help with security for events, such as fairs and concerts, on behalf of the sheriff’s office. That would allow deputies to focus on more pressing matters, he said.

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“Across the country, they (law enforcement agencies) are fighting to get people like us to stay in the business,” Laney said. “I kind of feel I owe it to my community and my old department … if I can help out once in a while.”

Internal investigations

Jahner has been criticized for how his office handled an investigation into Lt. Tommy Ray, who in September 2021 sent a nude photo of himself to another male deputy.

Jahner gave Ray a written reprimand after Ray acknowledged sending the photo to his co-worker. But the lieutenant said the photo was meant for his wife. Jahner said Ray was not fired because it was the lieutenant’s first offense.

King and others questioned whether the investigation was thorough enough, though Jahner said it was taken seriously. Jahner said he will not change his decision, the lieutenant has accepted his punishment and the department needs to move on.

Documents detailing the investigation were leaked to news outlets in early October by a group named Code4 Media.

Volunteer Deputy Ben Longlet later identified himself as the man behind Code4 Media. On Oct. 14, the sheriff's office placed him on administrative leave while internal investigators determine if he violated policy in releasing the public documents.

King denies knowing Longlet was Code4 before the volunteer was placed on administrative leave. Longlet previously told The Forum his actions were not politically motivated but were intended to hold officials accountable.

Jahner alleged Longlet disobeyed a directive sent to sheriff's office employees in March to stop discussing the Ray investigation in "group messages, emails and talk." That email cited a policy that prohibits disparaging remarks or conduct that could "disrupt the efficiency of the office" or would discredit any employee.

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King asserts Laney should be subject to the same policies as Longlet.

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Mathew King.
Submitted photo

“If he is considered general public, why did we give him full access to every building 24 hours?” King asked. “This is why people are wondering what is going on.”

Unlike Longlet, Laney has not been sworn in as an officer and is not performing sheriff’s office duties, Jahner said. Laney was given access to county buildings so he could use county equipment, including a computer, for training, Jahner said.

A person becomes an employee for Cass County on the first day they are being paid and working on site, County Administrator Rob Wilson said. It’s not unheard of for a person to come into a county office to do paperwork, and email accounts are activated sometimes days or weeks before their first day, Wilson said.

Typically, identification cards that are used to gain access to county buildings are issued on the first day of employment, Wilson said.

“I’m not familiar with another case where somebody got a physical ID card that provided building access prior to the start date of employment, but I’m also not privy to all of the activities of issuing ID badges to new employees,” he said.

As of Wednesday, Laney needed to complete 26 more hours of training by the end of the year, Jahner said.

In a reply to Laney's post, Jahner thanked Laney for his “kind words.”

Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner going through paperwork on jail statistics on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.jpg
Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner going through paperwork on jail statistics on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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