MC Board To Appoint Sheriff
Long-time Marshall County Sheriff Dale Elsen had his law enforcement certification revoked on Thursday after admitting to seven sexual harassment complaints.
Elsen is still handling paperwork in the sheriff’s office but is not handling any law enforcement duties.
Following an executive session on Friday the Marshall County Commission hired Brian Bard, former South Dakota Highway Patrolman and current Marshall County transport officer/training manager, to serve as a Special Deputy to assist in the ongoing operation of the sheriff’s office. At its regular meeting on Tuesday the commission appointed Bard as the temporary interim acting sheriff effective immediately at the time of Elsen’s official certification revocation.
Bard will serve until the county commission can advertise, interview, and appoint a replacement to serve until January of 2021. The sheriff’s position will be up for election in the next general election in November of 2020.
Elsen’s certification was revoked by the 11-member South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Training Commission after the group met in Pierre and determined that Elsen’s conduct was “unbecoming of a law enforcement officer.” The seven complaints were filed on Nov. 16.
Elsen was not found to have done anything illegal and is not charged with any crimes.
State statute dictates that Elsen’s certification would be revoked 10 days after state commission enters a written order, which was Monday. It is unclear how to count the upcoming holidays but the certification will likely be revoked sometime near the end of the month.
“The county has the authority to appoint to fill a vacancy,” said Marshall County States Attorney Dana Frohling. “But the county has no authority to remove a sheriff. That rests with the governor.”
When Elsen’s certification is officially revoked the Marshall County Commission will appoint a temporary, acting sheriff effective immediately on the date of Elsen’s certification revocation.
The long-time county sheriff does have 30 days to file an appeal of the certification revocation. When contacted Tuesday morning he said he has not yet made a decision on whether to file an appeal.
Frohling noted that if Elsen does decide to appeal the decision it would be heard by a circuit judge in either Hughes County (Pierre) or Marshall County. Elsen also could ask the court to stay the decertification order until the final resolution of the case. If that initial appeal is unsuccessful, Elsen would also have the option of appealing to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Several county employees and officials, including four Marshall County commissioners, sent letters and were at Thursday’s hearing in Pierre to show their support for Elsen. Elsen was the only one to testify at the hearing.
At the hearing Elsen said that two of the seven sexual harassment complaints were made to the Marshall County Commission in January. He said those complaints were handled during a meeting with the county commissioners and Marshall County States Attorney Dana Frohling in closed session.
The South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) decided to investigate the allegations after a second round of complaints. The seven complaints happened over the past two years, according to the complaint document. Elsen has posted the document on his Facebook page (Sheriff Dale Elsen) and also offers his explanation for each of the seven complaints.
South Dakota Assistant Attorney General Brent Kempema said he could not discuss the specific timing of the allegations pending possible litigation. He did say that documents from the public hearing, including a transcript, findings from the hearing, and documents containing any objections to the hearing findings would be public record once they are signed and filed.
Frohling explained that the case involves both civil and criminal issues and compared it to a car accident.
“If you were sitting at a four-way stop and somebody rear-ends you, that person could possibly face criminal charges like careless driving. And depending on the extent of damage, you could sue the driver that rear-ended you. So you could be looking at two different kinds of proceedings.
“In Dale’s situation the county learned of the potential sexual harassment, hired outside council to investigate, and took action. When an entity learns of some kind of alleged misconduct and fails to investigate or take appropriate action it is opened up to a lawsuit. Our action was to try and minimize the potential damage to the county.
“The county has the authority to appoint to fill a vacancy. But the county has no authority to remove a sheriff. That rests with the governor.”
----States Attorney Dana Frohling
“What the state commission is doing in taking away a certification is more closely aligned with the criminal side, of which the county commission has no authority. That’s why the county’s action wasn’t the end-all.”
Frohling said he could not say what action the county commission had taken following the January meeting. He did note that the county had no communication with state law enforcement but assumed that the people who complained to the county also complained to the state.
The Marshall County Commission held a special meeting on the issue on Friday when a total of 22 area residents appeared to express their support of Elsen. Public comment was allowed for about 20 minutes prior to an executive session which lasted for 85 minutes.
Jared Holland was one of those who expressed his support of Elsen.
“Dale treats others not as just numbers but as people,” said Holland. “He has our backs and knows us. He also was humbled by this and admitted his faults.”
“Dale cares about our community and has served for 41 years,” added Dori Lloyd. “He has put the community before his own needs, and I don’t feel we should turn our backs on him now.”
Elsen received overwhelming support from county voters in November when he received 83 percent of the vote against Cody Sunderland, a Marshall County deputy. Coleen Monson of Langford, who attended the Friday meeting, didn’t think the recent issues would affect that support.
“I think if the election were held tomorrow the result would be the same,” she said.
Elsen has served as a law enforcement officer in Marshall County for the past 41 years. He began serving as sheriff in 1983 and has served in that capacity for the past 35 years.