Cass County sheriff fires volunteer deputy who leaked nude photos probe
Ben Longlet claimed the investigation into the nude photos sent by a deputy was mishandled.
FARGO — The Cass County Sheriff’s Office has parted ways with a volunteer deputy who leaked information to media about an officer who used his government-issued phone to send nude photos, including one to his coworker.
Sheriff Jesse Jahner withdrew Ben Longlet’s status as a volunteer deputy, according to a Jan. 11 memo obtained Tuesday, Feb. 14, by The Forum through an open records request. The sheriff determined Longlet did not stay up-to-date on agency policy, the letter said.
“I do not feel comfortable having him work under my authority and peace officer license, nor am I obligated to have him work under my license,” the letter said.
Longlet was "disappointed and disheartened" by the decision, his attorney Christopher Redmann said.
"We are continuing to investigate this case and identifying others who have been subject to the same treatment in preparation for a lawsuit against the Cass County Sheriff's Department because no one should ever lose their jobs for holding those in positions of power accountable, particularly in a law enforcement organization," Redmann said.
The decision comes after the sheriff’s office discovered Longlet was behind an anonymous group called Code4 Media. Longlet also told The Forum he sent publicly available documents to news outlets on Oct. 3 detailing an investigation into Lt. Tommy Ray. The email contained a censored nude selfie of Ray.
Jahner told The Forum on Tuesday there is an ongoing investigation into whether others in his office shared the photo.
He gave a written reprimand to Ray after the lieutenant acknowledged sending nude photos of himself to his wife with his government cellphone. Ray said he accidentally sent a photo in September 2021 to a fellow deputy, according to investigative documents.
The investigation into Ray was marked closed in January 2022. Jahner said the department often doesn’t fire people for policy violations, especially on their first offense like in Ray’s case.
Jahner also sent out a March email to staff directing them to not discuss the Ray investigation in "group messages, emails or talk" out of respect for the privacy of those involved, including the deputy who received the nude photo. The sheriff said policy prohibits disparaging remarks or conduct that could "disrupt the efficiency of the office" or would discredit any employee.
In that email, Jahner invited staff to discuss with him any concerns they had.
Longlet claimed the investigation was mishandled and was covered up, allegations Jahner denied.
Jahner put Longlet on administrative leave Oct. 14 to investigate whether the volunteer deputy discredited the sheriff's office with unacceptable conduct and disobeyed the sheriff’s directive by sending the documents to media outlets, according to a letter informing Longlet of the investigation into his actions.
Days later, Longlet contacted The Forum and identified himself as Code4 Media.
Jahner previously said Longlet's actions disrupted the sheriff's office and negatively impacted morale. Ray accepted disciplinary action and should be allowed to move on, Jahner said.
In Longlet’s termination letter, Jahner said he believed the volunteer deputy would have followed protocol in reporting a grievance regarding the investigation if he kept current with policy.
“Instead, he (Longlet) formed opinions on his own and from others he talked to,” the letter said.
Jahner also said in the letter that Longlet talked more about the investigation into Ray during a predetermination hearing that the sheriff said was meant to discuss why Longlet felt he should keep his position as a volunteer deputy.
The leak came roughly a month before Jahner faced a challenger from his own office in the general election. Then-Deputy Mathew King sought to defeat the sheriff in his first bid for reelection.
Jahner won with 80% of the vote. King was not rehired after the election.
Some speculated King worked with Longlet to leak the documents, but King said he didn’t know who Code4 was until after the volunteer deputy was put on leave.
Longlet previously said he sent out the documents to speak out and prompt change in the department, not because of political motivation.