Grand Jury Indicts Mayor, Accusing Him of Exceeding Authority
CENTER CITY, Minn. (AP) _ The mayor of Rush City was indicted on a public misconduct charge after a former police chief said the mayor ordered him to relax enforcement of drunken-driving laws.
The Chisago County grand jury indictment said Mayor James Ertz’ alleged instruction to former Police Chief Gary Clough ″was in excess of his lawful authority.″
Ertz could not be reached by telephone Thursday. A court appearance has been set for Aug. 13.
Clough said he clashed with Ertz after arresting a friend of the mayor Feb. 6 on charges of drunken driving. Clough was later fired by the City Council.
″On that same day, I got a call from Mayor Ertz,″ Clough said Thursday. ″He cursed me and threatened me and said I picked up his best friend. He threatened my job.″
Clough said he met with Ertz and City Administrator Joel Hanson on Feb. 11, and was told ″basically, we wouldn’t arrest anyone (for drunken driving) unless they were belligerent or hurt somebody or refused lodging.″
Clough said he wore a hidden tape recorder to the meeting at the instruction of the Chisago County Sheriff’s Department, and that a tape of the conversation was played for the grand jury.
″I was fired because, basically, I arrested Lofgren,″ Clough said.
″That’s an out and out lie,″ Hanson said. He said the council voted 3-1 to fire Clough because of a ″serious breakdown in communications″ between the chief and the council.
Hanson confirmed that he and Ertz met Feb. 11 with Clough, but only to discuss a recent surge in drunken-driving arrests. He denied that the chief was ordered to be lenient.
″We had discussions on DWI enforcement from the standpoint that there was public sentiment that he was being too hard,″ Hanson said. ″The goal was to make him aware of those comments. He had to make any decisions on policing. We did not order him to ease up.″
Hanson said that under Clough’s administration, about six people were arrested in one week. ″In a community the size of ours (population 1,198), that’s a lot of arrests,″ Hanson said. ″Anytime you have a surge like that, talk goes around. The feeling is that police can be harassing them.″
The indictment did not provide details of the allegations, but said the alleged misconduct occurred between Feb. 6 and 11, when Lofgren was arrested and Hanson and Ertz met with Clough.