The commission seemed to agree that the Feather incident was an isolated one, and showed little desire to limit officers' ability to help out when needed.
The Ramsey County Commission met Tuesday and continued a discussion undertaken last week about policy at the Sheriff’s Dept. after the death of local artist Virgil Feather last November.
Feather was dropped off by a county deputy after his release from the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center on a 12-year-old DUI charge. He disappeared shortly thereafter, then his body was found on March 29.
Sheriff Steve Nelson said recently that the department routinely picks up and drops off those who need rides in the county. Feather’s family, in their search for answers about his disappearance and death, has wondered what could have been done differently to ensure Feather’s safety after he was released from jail prior to his disappearance.
Kari Agotness, state’s attorney for Ramsey County, revealed at Tuesday’s meeting that there is no written policy at the department. She also detailed some of law enforcement’s responsibility in general, including “community caretaking.”
That means that officers generally have the authority to help people in the community, including those who may be stranded or otherwise far from home, get where they’re going.
The commission seemed to agree that the Feather incident was an isolated one, and showed little desire to limit officers’ ability to help out when needed.
“I think this was just a tragedy that happened and we got caught in the middle,” chairman Mark Olson said. “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here.”
Agotness reported that different departments around the state handle the approach to transporting those in need differently.
Some counties refuse to transport anyone, while others are more in line with Ramsey County’s approach.
Commissioners also worried that limiting the ability of county deputies to help those needing rides, especially during the harsh North Dakota winter, could have an adverse effect on community safety.
Though commissioners were not eager to change how the Sheriff’s Dept. does business, leaving those decisions to Nelson, one mentioned that some sort of written guideline might not be a bad idea.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having things written down,” commissioner Adam Leiphon said. “I would hate to say that you can’t give anybody a ride, because we have to have the human element. But we have to be prudent about how we do things.”
What happened to Feather after he was dropped off remains under investigation, but some new details have come to light.
Olson revealed what Feather’s family told the Journal in a recent interview. They said that Feather was not immediately dropped of by the Sheriff’s Dept. after his release from jail at 4:13 p.m. on Nov. 15; rather, he walked to the area near Leevers South to try to acquire a ride.
He was reportedly picked up by a deputy while walking south on Hwy. 20 at about 9 p.m. Feather was said to have declined to be dropped off at Spirit Lake Casino, and the deputy took him as far as the county line.
Olson also said that Feather was picked up by an unknown party after the deputy dropped him off, though that has not been confirmed.
What happened next is unknown, and the FBI continues to investigate.
Human resources debate continues
The commission also revisited a discussion about possibly hiring a human resources specialist on an either part-time or consultancy basis.
That discussion got underway last week after the suspensions of both DLPD Chief Keith Schroeder and Capt. Jon Barnett exposed oversight issues between the city and the police department. Missing evaluations of Schroeder and lax evaluations of Barnett allowed both officers to continue to be employed at the department and receive raises every year despite performance issues that ultimately led to their dismissals.
The county, wary of being tied up with similar issues, has talked about hiring someone to oversee all aspects of human resources.
One issue with the idea is a slimmer budget heading into next year. At the county’s last meeting, it was revealed that about $14,000 was available for such a position in this year’s budget.
However, Leiphon expressed skepticism that such a low figure would be sufficient to hire a quality human resources specialist.
“$14,000 is not going to get it done,” Leiphon said.
Commissioner Ed Brown pointed out that the county has fewer personnel to worry about than the city, saying that while the city hires its police chief, the Ramsey County Sheriff is an elected position, as is the county’s auditor.
“Our situation is so much different than the city’s,” Brown said.
Though no final decisions were made, the commission seemed open to Leiphon’s suggestion to hire a part-time person, monitor the situation, and go from there.
The commission is likely to revisit the debate at an upcoming meeting.