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Ward County appoints interim sheriff; Kukowski suspended with pay until inmate death case concludes

BISMARCK - The Ward County Commission on Tuesday appointed a temporary replacement for Sheriff Steven Kukowski, whose suspension by Gov. Jack Dalrymple last week was delayed after county officials raised questions about the process.

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Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski looks over plans for a jail expansion on Friday, March 14, 2014, in his office in Minot, N.D. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

BISMARCK – The Ward County Commission on Tuesday appointed a temporary replacement for Sheriff Steven Kukowski, whose suspension by Gov. Jack Dalrymple last week was delayed after county officials raised questions about the process.

“The things that were in question were taken of, we believe,” chairman John Fjeldahl said by phone after the meeting in Minot.

Kukowski will serve his suspension with pay until misdemeanor charges against him related to the death of an inmate and management of the Ward County Jail are resolved, commissioners decided Tuesday.

They unanimously appointed Chief Deputy Bob Barnard, who filled in for Kukowski while he was on medical leave the past few months, as interim sheriff.

“He’s been doing a good job there,” Fjeldahl said.

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A special prosecutor filed a petition in March to have Kukowski removed from office for allegations of misconduct in connection with the October 2014 death of Dustin Irwin, 25, Mandaree, who died after his health deteriorated while in Ward County custody.

Dalrymple accepted Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s recommendation to wait on the petition as long as Kukowski remained on medical leave while recovering from knee surgery. When Kukowski returned to work Wednesday, the governor suspended him.

Commissioners met Friday to appoint an interim sheriff but decided to delay that action after their legal counsel advised them that the suspension process hadn’t followed state law, in part because a special commissioner wasn’t appointed to handle the removal proceedings.

Dalrymple has since appointed retired district judge Patrick Weir as special prosecutor, said Jeff Zent, a spokesman for the governor. Kukowski was served papers Monday informing him that he again was suspended.

Kukowski is slated for a jury trial Aug. 29 on two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and one misdemeanor count of refusing to perform his public duty. Retired sheriff’s captain Michael Nason also faces a reckless endangerment charge related to Irwin’s death and is slated for trial Aug. 22.

Related Topics: WAYNE STENEHJEM
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