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Minnesota Legislature

Process for handling complaints against correctional officers approved

The process followed when someone lodges a complaint about a correctional officer would change under a bill approved Wednesday by the House Corrections Division.

Sponsored by Rep. Jack Considine Jr. (DFL-Mankato), the division chair, HF2010 would establish procedures to be followed in disciplinary proceedings against local correctional officers and set minimum standards for obtaining formal statements from correctional officers named in a complaint.

It would also lay out where a formal statement may be taken; what constitutes an actionable complaint; disclosure of witness statements; the timing of formal statement sessions; maintenance of a record of proceedings; the presence of union representation at proceedings; and advance notice of evidence against the accused.

Considine said the bill was discussed last year, but there were concerns about data privacy that he believes were addressed by an amendment adopted before the bill received division approval and was referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division.

Brett Ohnstad, a Ramsey County corrections officer, said the bill would help officers do their job more effectively, noting an officer recently wasn’t even told what he was being investigated for.

“He was shown a video and asked to defend his actions,” most of which weren’t related to the charge, Ohnstad said.

Inmates are learning “tricks” to put officers on the defense, he said, and “getting more and more sophisticated.”

Under the bill, a union representative must be notified a complaint has been filed, but would not get a copy or summary of the complaint without the officer’s written consent.

Gus Froemke, communications and government relations director for Teamsters Local 320, said current statute allows — but does not require — peace officers to decide whether they want an investigator to notify their union representative of a complaint.

The companion, SF2449, is sponsored by Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove), and awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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