MINOT, N.D. — "Osmundson's actions should have been investigated by an entity outside of the Fargo Police Department," I wrote earlier this week, referring to disgraced former deputy chief Todd Osmundson. "That's not what happened, and it only contributes to the erosion of trust in the department that Osmundson's actions began in the first place."
Today the City of Fargo announced they are asking the Attorney General's office to review the situation.
It's about time.
This shouldn't have taken more than a month.
The City of Fargo has requested the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office conduct an investigation into former @FargoPolice Deputy Chief Todd Osmundson’s actions during the march, protest and riot of May 30, 2020.— The City of Fargo (@cityoffargo) July 10, 2020
"While we feel there is a lack of sufficient evidence to charge Osmundson, this review will ensure an additional thorough review into the matter," Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said in the announcement.
I don't believe that's accurate.
Osmundson was seen by other officers carrying around a beer can, and he admitted during the internal investigation to drinking alcohol.
Carrying around an alcoholic beverage in downtown Fargo is a crime.
Also, nearly all of the demonstrators arrested in June after that violent protest in downtown Fargo were cited for inciting a riot. This is how the North Dakota Century Code defines that charge: "A person is guilty of an offense if he: a. Incites or urges five or more persons to create or engage in a riot; or b. Gives commands, instructions, or directions to five or more persons in furtherance of a riot."
In Osmundson's account of his actions that night, he described the situation with the protests as dangerous. He also admitted to joining profane chants against law enforcement, including "f--- the police."
That sure sounds like incitement to me, and if some of the demonstrators were arrested for it, why not Osmundson too?
I think that statute is poorly written and far too broad in its scope, but the law says what it says, and we should all be treated equally under the law.
Fargo Police Chief David Todd tried to slam the door on this process in late June. He told reporter April Baumgarten, "there will be no further review" of Osmundson's decision to infiltrate a Black Lives Matter demonstration in plain clothes while drinking beer and shouting expletives at his fellow officers.
It is, sadly, commonplace in North Dakota law enforcement for the alleged misdeed by cops to be investigated internally. That has to stop. If this current moment in American history has taught us anything, it's that we cannot rely on law enforcement to hold themselves accountable.
Frankly, while a referral to the AG's office is an improvement, their investigation will be handled by the Bureau of Criminal Investigations. Which just means cops investigating cops again, albeit cops from a different branch of law enforcement.
There is too much potential there for more "thin blue line" nonsense.
I'm convinced that one of the reforms for law enforcement we should be looking at long term is the creation of an accountability process for cops that exists entirely outside of the law enforcement community -- some sort of a panel or committee which can take up situations like the one around Osmundson and make objective decisions about them.
I'm open to suggestions on how that process ought to work, and who ought to preside over it, but in concept, it's an idea whose time has come, I believe.
Because how we're doing accountability for cops now? It ain't working, as the situation in Fargo has proved for North Dakota.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.