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Ward County to revisit sheriff’s suspension

BISMARCK - The Ward County Commission on Tuesday will reconsider the status of Sheriff Steven Kukowski after deciding Friday not to follow the governor's recommendation that he be suspended until a criminal case against him involving an inmate's ...

BISMARCK – The Ward County Commission on Tuesday will reconsider the status of Sheriff Steven Kukowski after deciding Friday not to follow the governor’s recommendation that he be suspended until a criminal case against him involving an inmate’s death and alleged jail mismanagement is resolved.

Commissioners chose not to appoint a fill-in for Kukowski until the governor’s office answered questions about whether the suspension process followed state law, chairman John Fjeldahl said Monday.

“It seems they have addressed some of our questions, and we’ll take up the matter again” at 9 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

In a letter to Gov. Jack Darlymple on Friday, Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson stated her opinion that Kukowski’s suspension “does not conform with state law.”

Specifically, Larson pointed out that a special commissioner hadn’t been appointed to handle the removal proceedings and that the attorney general’s office didn’t conduct an investigation within 30 days after the removal petition was filed.

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Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem responded that he had recommended delaying a decision on appointing a special commissioner primarily because of an agreement with Kukowski’s attorneys that the removal process could be delayed because Kukowski would be on medical leave until the anticipated completion of the court case.  

But Kukowski’s jury trial on two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and one misdemeanor count of refusing to perform his public duty has been delayed twice, to Aug. 29. After he showed up for work last Wednesday, Stenehjem recommended the governor suspend him.

Stenehjem recommended the governor appoint a special commissioner and appoint special prosecutor Seymour Jordan to serve the official complaint on Kukowski and prosecute his removal. Dalrymple appointed retired district judge Patrick Weir as special commissioner. Jordan filed the petition in March seeking to remove Kukowski for allegations of misconduct related to the death of Dustin Irwin, 25, Mandaree, who died after his health deteriorated while in Ward County custody.

Stenehjem also disagreed that a new investigation is needed, stating the events alleged “have already been thoroughly investigated.”

Fjeldahl said commissioners want to ensure the process is done properly “for all concerned.”

“I expect to follow the governor’s order if those things are in place,” he said.

Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent commended the commission for wanting to ensure the law was followed.

“It wasn’t a difference of opinion about what’s right for the state. It was about the details,” he said.

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Retired sheriff’s captain Michael Nason, who also faces a reckless endangerment charge in connection with Irwin’s death, is scheduled for trial Aug. 22.

Related Topics: WAYNE STENEHJEM
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