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Northern ND police chief's firing attributed to 47 issues

Fired Rolla Police Chief Joe Boehm.

ROLLA, N.D. — Fired abruptly and inexplicably at a city council meeting last month, Rolla's former chief of police has now been given rationale for his termination. Meanwhile, his interim successor has quit after serving for nine days.

The turmoil and loss of personnel has left the Rolla Police Department stressed, according to Rolla City Councilor Pat Hemmy, who chairs the police committee for the city of about 1,300 in far northern North Dakota.

Rolla Mayor Scott Mitchell said the department has three remaining officers, including temporary Chief Nathan Gustafson, temporary Sgt. Cory Poitra, a newly hired patrolman and a part-time employee.

In a 4-1 vote at an Oct. 18 meeting, the city council dismissed Joe Boehm as chief of police with little rationale beyond "we need to go in a different direction," Mitchell said. Boehm is at least one of five heads of police departments from communities in North Dakota this year who have resigned or been fired from their posts amid tumultuous circumstances.

Following the Oct. 18 meeting, a Nov. 6 letter sent to Boehm from Rolla City Attorney Michelle Gibbens said 47 incidents and concerns in the police chief's file contributed to his termination, including uncompleted paperwork, personal use of police vehicles and unapproved police purchases.

Officially, he was fired for "misconduct, inefficiency and other just cause."

Boehm, who has moved on to be the chief deputy at the Rolette County Sheriff's Office, said the 47 issues Gibbens cited don't match with what he knew to be in his personnel file — namely, Mitchell's letter of reprimand for allowing a police car to participate in a wedding procession and his yearly reviews.

"My position is initially, one month ago, there were no specific charges or supporting documentation or justification for removal. Then 30 days later, almost to the day, they come up with 47 charges. That don't seem right to me," said Hemmy, who had cast the lone dissenting vote against Boehm's firing and had instead suggested a performance improvement plan or probation.

Boehm, who had been Rolla's police chief since March 2015, alleges he was fired because he announced his intention to investigate Rolla Police Sgt. Chris Wright's $800 overage on a police cellphone.

"The mayor and Chris have had close connections for many years, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put two and two together," he said.

Mitchell said that's not accurate.

"I don't think that's true at all because the city council brought up that phone bill, and there was no discussion, no questions. Everyone on the council knew what had happened and approved payment without discussion, so that was done before he was asked to resign," the mayor said.

Wright, who was with Rolla Police for three years, resigned effective Nov. 2 after nine days as acting chief, citing a change of scheduling in his oilfield job.