Two former sheriff's deputies just filed suit in federal court, alleging that they were axed in retaliation for supporting current sheriff Matt Bostrom's opponent in the last election.
"Based on information and belief, Bostrom . . . stated to Chief Deputy Metusalem 'If I don't like them, I'll just find a reason in their backgrounds to fire them,'" the lawsuit alleges.[jump]
After the last election for Ramsey County Sheriff and the surprise ouster of 16-year incumbent and controversy magnet Bob Fletcher, there was plenty of handwringing from both camps over the changing guard. What diabolical feats of cronyism would take place?
There was, indeed, a fair amount of mystery and intrigue in the switch-up. An audit was run. Fletcher was called out for "fabricating" the existence of so-called terrorism briefs during his tenure.
And then, eyebrows rose once more when Fletcher announced he was making six new deputy hires as an 11th hour act. Deputies grumbled privately that perhaps these hirings were in some way unfair or preferential to Fletcher's supporters.According to the lawsuit, Joseph Miller and Alexander Graham were a part of that last-minute class of deputies. Both men had previously worked as temporary correctional officers for Fletcher, and at the time of the 2010 campaign were extremely active supporters. The suit says they walked parades, and hung and posted his campaign signs.
At the same time, Miller and Graham say they were being watched by Bostrom supporters, including Bostrom's own wife Cheryl. They say they were being photographed and that pictures of Graham's license plate were taken.
After Bostrom won the election, Fletcher wanted to move Miller and Graham from their corrections positions to deputy sheriffs. Both men passed their physicals and background checks, according to the claim, and were qualified. Days before Fletcher left office, both men were sworn in.
The suit claims things were tense from the jump. Miller says he was told in his first week by a Bostrom supporter that he better be honest about his hiring "or you might lose your job over it."
Both Miller and Graham were fired in February. They found out they'd been re-backgrounded and a "collection of things" had lead to Bostrom's decision. The lawsuit says that they requested to see their background files and found that their physicals and original certification from Fletcher were missing.
The two men allege that the real reason for their termination is being kept a secret and that this is nothing but retaliation for supporting their boss's rival -- a violation of free speech. They're seeking damages for lost wages."If these guys would like to sign a release that their personnel records are available to the public, we'd be more than happy to provide them," says Ramsey County Sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson, calling the men "disgruntled" and the lawsuit meritless.
Gustafson says that many Fletcher supporters remain in powerful positions within the department, and that Miller and Graham simply did not survive their one-year probation period.
"We are retaining employees based on character and competence," he says.
Grace Kelly is a Bostrom campaign supporter and blogger for MN Progressive Project who is named in the lawsuit as one of the people taking photos of Miller and Graham. Kelly told City Pages she isn't sure what the two men look like and that if she took pictures of their license plate, it was because she was snapping pictures of the whole parade.
"You see me on the sidelines. I take tons of pictures all the time," she says. "Thanks for noticing! Thanks for the compliment!"
Gustafson says that the reason for the termination will come out in court and the department didn't do anything wrong. An attorney for the Law Enforcement Labor Services says the union is not involved since neither Miller nor Graham made it past their probationary period.
Attorneys for Miller and Graham were not available for comment.Here's the deputies' complaint: