Internal probe on accusatory website launched

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fillmore County to investigate

The Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an internal investigation into whether a Freeborn County detective helped create an accusatory website against sheriff candidate Kurt Freitag.

Marc Johnson

Marc Johnson

Freeborn County Sheriff Bob Kindler said his department received a complaint filed against detective Marc Johnson tied to the website. The investigation will look into whether Johnson had any involvement with the site’s creation and, depending on the results, if there was a violation in county personnel policy.

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Johnson, when contacted Monday, said he did not know about the internal investigation. He has denied involvement in the website’s creation.

The sheriff declined to say who made the complaint but noted it was separate from an initial criminal investigation into the matter conducted by the Albert Lea Police Department.

Fillmore County authorities will review the ALPD investigation, which was conducted by police detective Frank Kohl.

The website, which has become a campaign issue in the race between Freitag and Kindler, came to light in September. Kindler, in a debate last week, said he did not know who created the website but said if one of his deputies is found to have created it, he or she would be dealt with accordingly under department policy. Freitag questioned why Kindler never publicly asked that the site’s creator take it down. Kindler said he didn’t because he is wary of violating free speech rights.

Faribault County Attorney Troy Timmerman announced last week he would not pursue criminal charges against the website’s creator because of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling Sept. 2 that struck down Minnesota’s fair campaign practices law.

Before that, Minnesota had a statute that made it a gross misdemeanor to prepare or disseminate statements that are knowingly false in a campaign for a candidate or ballot question.

The ruling in September struck down the former statute, meaning the lack of campaign speech laws in Minnesota makes it like the Wild West in terms of what people can say or publish for election-related content. However, departmental policies still apply, and that’s why there is a Fillmore County investigation.

Kindler said whatever result the investigation comes back with, he will “do the right thing.”

“That’s the way I’ve always operated, and that’s the way I’ll continue to operate,” he said.

He did not know how long the investigation would take.

Freitag said he expects a thorough and complete investigation.

“If there are policy violations that are discovered, the Sheriff’s Office needs to act accordingly and appropriately,” Freitag said.