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Former police chief also faced complaint in 2007, procedures different

The current police union complaint against Steve Stracek may be the first complaint filed against him, but it isn't the first time union members have filed a complaint against a Cloquet police chief.

The Pine Journal has obtained a copy of a 2007 complaint filed against then-Police Chief Wade Lamirande. The name of the complainant was redacted, but the police officer claimed to have a "real concern for his safety" due to comments made by Lamirande in a meeting with five other department members present, and listed seven different rules or policies he believed were violated by the police chief.

When contacted, Lamirande declined comment on the complaint, except to say that he believes the person who filed it took a comment Lamirande made out of context and reported it to the department's union liaison, who Lamirande said did not verify the facts before filing a complaint with then-City Administrator Brian Fritsinger.

According to the Cloquet Police Department Policy and Procedures manual, "any complaint made against the chief of police shall be referred to the city administrator."

The manual also states that the city administrator must assign any investigation of complaints regarding the police chief to an external source.

External investigators were hired for both the complaint against Lamirande in 2007 and the complaint against Stracek this spring.

In 2007, the decision to hire outside counsel to investigate the complaint was made by Fritsinger and the county attorney. Lamirande was not placed on leave while the complaint was investigated by Elizabeth Storaasli of Dryer, Storaasli, Knutson and Pommerville and the city council was not involved.

According to a memorandum filed by Fritsinger after the 2007 investigation was completed, Storaasli found the complaint had "insufficient factual basis" to support a violation of any police department rules and recommended no discipline be imposed on Lamirande.

Fritsinger went on to note in conclusion, that "it is the responsibility of the City Administrator to determine whether or not such evidence should be presented to the Civil Service Commission and/or City Council for further review and consideration.

"It is my opinion that the investigator conducted her investigation with consideration to all legal issues, the rules in question and with impartiality. As such, I do not see further reason to forward this complaint to the Commission or City Council and would concur with her recommendation. No discipline shall be imposed," Fritsinger wrote.

However, in the recent treatment of the Stracek complaint, the city administrator has not played the same role.

Cloquet Mayor Dave Hallback called an emergency meeting of the council the same day the complaint was filed. Stracek was placed on paid administrative leave when that meeting — which was closed according to state statute for discussion "relating to allegations of law enforcement personnel misconduct" — concluded 50 minutes later.

According to the City of Cloquet Council Handbook, the council must "make any inquiries or investigation through the city administrator."

While Fritsinger attended the March 16 emergency meeting regarding Stracek, he had given his notice weeks before and his last day at work was the next day.

Since then, James Barclay has been acting city administrator in addition to his human resources duties, and Barclay was the one who hired Soldo Consulting P.C. to investigate the complaint against Stracek. The city has hired outside labor attorneys (Brandon Fitzsimmons and Erica Heikel of Flaherty and Hood, P.A.) to advise the council. Both were present at the recent May 16 closed council meeting.

The Pine Journal reported previously that the Stracek investigation appears to have been concluded, but city councilors or city administration have not yet taken any public action regarding the complaint against him other than placing him on paid administrative leave. The complaint could be a topic at the June 6 Cloquet City Council meeting, but the agenda had not been posted online when the Pine Journal went to press.