Deputy Dan Ruettiman's suicide rocks Ramsey County Sheriff's Department

Bob Fletcher foe left files detailing his struggle for justice

"He was hurt by so many people," recalls Deters. "He felt a lot of people had betrayed him."

   

ON A BLISTERING COLD January day in 2010, seven men from different branches of law enforcement met in secret in the basement of a bank building in east St. Paul.

Jim Hereaux, who considered Ruettimann a brother, says Ruettimann specifically asked him to pass the file to a City Pages reporter.
Austin Fassino
Jim Hereaux, who considered Ruettimann a brother, says Ruettimann specifically asked him to pass the file to a City Pages reporter.
Dan Ruettimann and his girlfriend Susan Deters celebrating Christmas in 2010.
courtesy of Susan Deters
Dan Ruettimann and his girlfriend Susan Deters celebrating Christmas in 2010.

They were careful not to arrive in uniform. Seated at a round conference table, they looked across at one another with nervous amusement. The inaugural meeting of the "Deputies, Active, Retired, Reserve Team Political Action Committee" (DARRT-PAC) was in session.

"Well," said Ruettimann from one side of the table, "This is it."

Ruettimann was the one who had brought them all together. Their ranks included Deputy Kevin Clemen, vice president of Law Enforcement Labor Services Local 322; Deputy Tony Breitbarth; Don Hereaux and his son Jimmy, both Ramsey County reserve deputies; and Alfred Marazzo and Randy Scott, two former part-time deputies.

They were all there to dethrone incumbent Sheriff Bob Fletcher.

"We've got to get this guy out of office," Ruettimann told the group.

Of the three active deputies in the room, Ruettimann was in a unique and unenviable position: He was a former supporter of Fletcher's, having donated to the campaign in 2002 and volunteered in 2006.

After years under Fletcher's rule, Ruettimann had become disillusioned. He felt Fletcher's hiring decisions and promotions were based purely on fealty. Despite warnings from close friends and family, Ruettimann refused to sit idle.

"It was all the political crap," Hereaux recalls. "Dan was getting tired of the whole scenario."

Fletcher's opponent was Matt Bostrom, the assistant chief of the St. Paul Police. He had first come to Ruettimann's notice when Dan took Bostrom's graduate-level course in public safety administration at Hamline University. So when Bostrom officially entered the sheriff's race in December 2009, Ruettimann began talking to friends in the department about starting the political action committee to get Bostrom elected.

"He's a really good man," Ruettimann said to anyone who would listen. "He's fair."

While filling out the initial paperwork, the group decided to use the names of two retirees as their chair and treasurer, in order to shield the active deputies as much as possible from backlash within the department.

Those fears were not unfounded. In the summer of 2001, Lieutenant John Moore—a 20-year veteran of the department—told a coworker and Fletcher supporter named Dennis Flaherty that he'd decided to run for sheriff in the 2002 election. Fletcher called Moore ten days later to tell him that he was no longer head of the 80-officer patrol division and would now answer to another inspector.

"By the way," Fletcher said, according to Moore, "I spoke to Flaherty."

Moore was moved around and eventually relegated to desk duty.

Another officer, Sergeant Joyce Shockency, was transferred after she pinned a "Moore" button on her purse and marched in a parade with him. She was moved to the undesirable midnight transportation unit.

In 2006, Moore and Shockency filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Fletcher for what they said were politically motivated transfers. An appeals court agreed when it ruled the suit could proceed and that "Fletcher retaliated against Moore and Shockency for their First Amendment conduct by transferring them from supervisory positions into roles with significantly less responsibility."

County commissioners ultimately voted to settle the lawsuit for $750,000.

But Ruettimann felt strongly enough about the Bostrom campaign to risk his career. At first, he tried to take on less visible responsibilities. He manned the phone lines at campaign headquarters in North St. Paul. But after his truck was keyed, he had trouble shaking the feeling he was being watched.

"He said, 'It's probably them cronies that Fletcher's got watching us,'" recalls Marazzo. "You get this gut feeling like you're being watched. That was how we felt."

As the campaign progressed, Ruettimann got bolder. The Bostrom campaign's photographer was told specifically not to shoot the active deputies at rallies and events, but at a Democratic caucus, Ruettimann and Clemen grabbed Bostrom signs and stood front and center while Bostrom spoke. Photos of them were posted not long afterward on the campaign's Facebook page.

"That let everybody know," Clemen says. "Everyone made comments like, 'Oh, you're dead.'"

The patrol room became hostile territory, where Fletcher supporters held court and wondered aloud why anyone would support Bostrom. Deputies whom Ruettimann had once considered friends began to distance themselves.

On November 2, the DARRT-PAC members gathered at Joe Senser's restaurant in Roseville, surrounded by huge projector screens blaring election results. Ruettimann, dressed nattily in a suit and tie, fidgeted nervously as the tallying of returns began on a dry erase board with two columns marked "Bostrom" and "Other Guy."

Ruettimann didn't have to wait long. Bostrom pulled ahead early in the evening. As the numbers trickled in and the lead grew, so did the buzz in the room. At 9:45 p.m., Bostrom took the call from Fletcher conceding defeat. Bagpipe music blared from the speakers at Joe Senser's as volunteers cheered at the top of their lungs. Some of the attendees began to cry.

"Ding, dong, Fletcher's gone!" Hereaux sang. "Ding, dong, the wicked Fletcher's gone!"

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