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Stutsman County agencies request investigation into TV news tipster

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- The Jamestown Police Department and the Stutsman County Sheriff's Office have jointly requested an investigation into what they say are false allegations of misuse of government property, according to Scott Edinger, Jamestown p...

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- The Jamestown Police Department and the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office have jointly requested an investigation into what they say are false allegations of misuse of government property, according to Scott Edinger, Jamestown police chief, and Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff.

The agencies were requesting an investigation into a news tip provided to Fargo TV station KVLY Valley News Live on whether false information was knowingly spread about a law enforcement agency and its personnel.  The agencies requested that the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation conduct the investigation.

Kaiser said information was forwarded last week anonymously to the Valley News Live Whistleblower Hotline alleging a Jet Ski owned by the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office was used for private recreation. The station investigated the tip as a possible improper use of publicly owned property by the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office and aired a report last week, confirming the sheriff’s office doesn’t own a Jet Ski.

Kaiser said a posting to a Facebook page included a picture of Matt Thom, a Stutsman County deputy, and Kaiser’s son on a Jet Ski. Thomas Nagel, a Jamestown police detective, admitted during the Valley News Live “Whistleblower” segment to owning the Facebook account under an assumed name.

“Apparently someone ran the hull number (an identification number on the Jet Ski visible in the photograph) and it seemed to come back to Stutsman County,” Edinger said.

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Watercraft registration

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department website allows for a search of registered watercraft. The user enters the hull or identification number and then fills in either the owner’s last name or the organization that owns the watercraft. The website then returns information on when the boat’s registration expires.

The website does not confirm the ownership of the watercraft is correct, only that the boat is registered. It accepts any information in the ownership fields and does not change it if it is incorrect when it returns the registration information.

Edinger demonstrated for the The Jamestown Sun newspaper how the registration page on the Game and Fish Department website works by entering the registration number of the Jet Ski in question with “The Jamestown Sun” as the owner. The number was visible on the photo that appeared on the Facebook page. The Game and Fish Department website returned that the watercraft was registered through 2016 -- to The Jamestown Sun.  

Christine Stanwood, reporter for Valley News Live, did not return an email seeking comment on the coverage the station did of the story.

Valley News Live reported in the segment that aired that it had confirmed the Jet Ski in question did not belong to the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office.

“... I can definitely say the county does not own a Jet Ski,” said Casey Bradley, Stutsman County auditor/chief operating officer. “The Jet Ski in question is registered to a private owner in Mandan.”

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Investigation into issue

In the Valley News Live report, Nagel is quoted as saying, “If government property is being used for nonofficial business, it's basically from what I'm aware of, against the law.”

The Valley News Live report said Nagel denied providing them the information but did say he maintained the Facebook page where the photo was originally posted.

Edinger said Nagel’s comments were made outside his position with the Jamestown Police Department and any further comments made by him would have to be made during his time off. Nagel may have also been speaking within his role as president of the local Fraternal Order of Police and some freedom of speech issues may be involved, Edinger said.

Nagel did not return a call seeking comment.

Edinger said the BCI investigation could result in criminal charges or violations of department policies and procedures. He said the department does not have a social media policy but one is under development.

Edinger said a section of North Dakota law, 34-11.1-04, provides protection for employees who report the misuse of public resources but does say an employee who intentionally furnishes false information can be subject to disciplinary action including suspension or dismissal from employment.

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The section of law also specifies any allegations of misuse of public resources or other violations of law must be reported to the county state’s attorney or the North Dakota attorney general.

Kaiser said he saw the allegations about the Jet Ski as a personal attack.

“If this was done in the interest of the public, follow through with the proper procedures,” he said. “This is someone very upset with me because of how it was done. It is sad they want to drag the office’s deputies and my family into this.”

Edinger and Kaiser said the entire incident has been unfortunate. They said both departments work and train together and the relationship is good.

“There is nothing tainted there at all,” Kaiser said. “Now we wait for the investigation to see what comes out.”

Edinger said the situation has been a distraction.

“(If they thought there was a violation) why they wouldn’t trust the process is what is baffling to me,” he said. “We have everyday business to be done. This took up half of last week for nothing.”

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