A former Cloquet Police Department officer filed a lawsuit this week alleging that he was the victim of a conspiracy that violated his civil rights and ultimately cost him his job.
Scott Holman — a CPD detective dismissed in June — is seeking damages in excess of $4 million in a lawsuit filed against Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola and Cloquet Ward 4 City Councilor Kerry Kolodge, as well as Carlton County and the city of Cloquet.
In the suit filed in U.S. District Court Wednesday, Jan. 15, Holman claims Ketola and Kolodge illegally conspired to discredit Holman and terminate his employment with the CPD.
In a 4-2 vote on June 4, Holman was terminated by the Cloquet City Council after the Carlton County Attorney’s Office claimed his testimony in court was not reliable.
Holman declined to comment for this story, but his attorney, Mike Padden, said Kolodge and the City Council were aware Ketola’s conduct was illegal, but cooperated to pursue the end goal of Holman’s termination from the police department.
“Rather than do backflips to protect the officer, a certain contingent of the city … assisted Ketola with the goal of termination. Our contention is that the ringleader of that whole process was Kolodge,” Padden said. “It was Kolodge that did it and therefore it was a conspiracy.”
Ketola also declined to comment, but her attorney, Vicki Hruby, said the claims in Holman's complaint are not valid, and Ketola plans to defend herself from the lawsuit.
"We do not believe that the allegations in the complaint have any merit," Hruby said. "The county and Lauri Ketola intend on vigorously defending this suit on the merit and believe that we will prevail."
Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau declined to comment, but said the complaint had been forwarded to the county’s legal representatives.
Kolodge and Cloquet City Administrator Tim Peterson declined to comment on the case. Peterson said the city had not yet been officially served with the lawsuit.
Holman’s credibility questioned
On March 11, 2019, the Carlton County Attorney’s Office informed Daniel Lew, chief public defender for the Sixth Judicial District, in a Brady disclosure that Holman’s testimony may not be reliable.
The 1963 Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to disclose material that could be favorable to defendants in criminal cases, including misconduct of law enforcement officers.
In Holman's case, the disclosure related to an incident in 2004 and his conduct on social media in July 2017.
Holman was disciplined by former police chief Wade Lamirande in 2004 after he missed a mandatory cold-weather firearms training session. Holman claimed he was sick, but was later seen out consuming alcoholic beverages. Lamirande suspended Holman for one day with pay and required him to write a formal letter of apology to the force.
In March 2018, Holman received an oral reprimand from then-Chief Jeff Palmer as a result of comments he made on Facebook using a pseudonym. The comments, made in July 2017, were critical of Ketola, Kolodge and former police chief Steve Stracek.
Ketola took the extra step of informing Palmer she would not prosecute any cases that relied on Holman’s testimony, according to the lawsuit.
Ketola, Kolodge should have recused themselves, lawsuit says
The lawsuit contends Ketola was dissatisfied with the oral reprimand Holman received for the critical Facebook comments.
As a member of the Cloquet Citizens Advisory Board (CAB), Ketola advocated for a more severe punishment, according to the lawsuit. CAB is a three-member board appointed by the City Council to assist the police department with disciplinary procedures, public complaints and hiring procedures.
The lawsuit contends Ketola should have recused herself from the advisory board hearing because of the criticism Holman directed at her and because of the close relationship she had with Stracek.
Similarly, the suit says Kolodge should have recused himself from the vote to terminate Holman as he was a subject of Holman’s criticism and because he worked with Stracek at the Duluth Police Department.
Instead, the complaint claims, Ketola and Kolodge conspired with Stracek to discredit and humiliate Holman, ultimately causing his termination.
“It’s pretty straightforward. It’s obvious to us that the district attorney in question engaged in retaliatory conduct — when you look at the full scope of what happened here,” Padden said. “It’s clear this began when she was with the CAB and it evolved into a vendetta.”
Padden went on to say while the complaint is extremely complicated, “the four corners of that document” are supported by the facts and evidence it contains. He also claimed there is additional evidence to support Holman’s case that was not included in the complaint.
This story was updated at 2:10 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17, with a statement from Lauri Ketola's attorney. It was originally posted at 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16.