MINOT, N.D. — George Floyd's death has sparked a tumultuous national debate about accountability for law enforcement. There seems to be a growing consensus that cops who do stupid, and sometimes even awful, things should face scrutiny.
But in Fargo, Chief of Police David Todd has a different sense of what that accountability should look like.
Earlier this week, after being made aware of the situation by law enforcement sources, I published an email sent out by Fargo Deputy Police Chief Todd Osmundson. In it he apologize for his activities at the George Floyd protests in Fargo, which included carrying around a beer can and joining protesters in chanting "f**k the cop" chants.
That story ultimately resulted is Osmundson resigning from the police force, but not before Chief Todd tried to let him off with a slap on the wrist while aiming some harsh words at Osmundson's critics in his department.
"First, it's pretty sad someone from our agency made the media aware of Ozzy's email when we are in a state of emergency and about to be under siege again," Todd wrote in a June 3 email. "Whoever did that handed the other side some ammunition to use against us as a department -- i.e. our brother and sister officers. That's inexcusable and sickening."
In the heavily redacted email, which I received from the City of Fargo by way of an open records request, Todd goes on to describe his knowledge of Osmundson's actions the night of the protest. He also says that Osmundson "has accepted ownership" of his actions and would face only a "work performance complaint...after all this is over."
That's a sharp contrast from what actually happened to Osmundson. On Thursday morning, he was suspended, and by Thursday evening, he had resigned his position.
Let me pause here for a moment to say I am deeply suspicious of the City of Fargo's redactions in this email.
North Dakota open records law presumes that all state records are public unless there is a specific statute exempting them. If a government agency in the state makes an exemption, they must cite the law allowing them to do so.
"Redactions by the City Attorney’s Office were necessary to protect communications which could contain intelligence information, law enforcement techniques or security procedures," city spokesman Greg Schildberger told me, referencing sections 44-04-24, 44-04-25, and 44-04-18.7 of the North Dakota Century Code.
From the way this email was characterized to me by my sources, who are too afraid of retaliation to provide me with an unredacted copy, there were words in this email that were inappropriately redacted.
As soon as I'm done typing this piece I'm going to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office for improper redaction, though that process typically takes months to conclude.
The manner in which I was provided the record was odd as well.
After I initially requested this email on June 3, Chief Todd called me and offered to send me the full text of the email in a Word document, though annotated with explanations for why he wrote what he wrote.
I accepted -- I was certainly willing to consider any context Todd wanted to provide -- though noted that I also wanted to see the original record.
In a second call later that night, Todd told me Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney wanted him to hold off on fulfilling my request until after they met early the next morning. Todd said he thought I'd get the record by about 8 a.m.
Come Thursday morning, Mahoney and Todd jointly announced Osmundson's suspension.
At 8:53 a.m. Thursday morning Todd emailed me saying, "I have been directed to refer you to Gregg Schildberger the City of Fargo PIO, which is what I guess I should’ve done in the first place."
Schildberger, the public information officer, didn't give me the record until 9:03 p.m. last night.
Here's how it looks to this observer: Initially Chief Todd was going to let Osmundson off the hook. He was going to get some light discipline at some undefined point in the future. It was only after Mayor Mahoney stepped in that more severe, and immediate, discipline was doled out, and my request for documentation of Todd's initial response was stiffed armed.
Still, what we're left with is a department that seems to be operating in fear.
Again, we are having a national debate about accountability in law enforcement. In a podcast interview with me yesterday, Congressman Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., advocated for incentivizing law enforcement to identify bad actors in their own ranks. "Good cops know who the bad cops are," he told me.
Yet in the Fargo Police Department, the brass seemed uninterested in holding one of their own accountable, and when rank-and-file officers spoke to me, a member of the news media, about Osmundson's actions which they feel undermined their own safety and the public's trust in their department the chief called their actions "inexcusable and sickening."
That's, well, inexcusable.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.