Over the past two decades, hundreds of Minnesota law enforcement officers have been convicted of criminal offenses. Most were never disciplined by the state.
Jared Taylor choked a man until he blacked out.
Steven Brown fired a .38 Special during a confrontation with his fiancée.
Tom Bernardson punched a man so viciously that he put him in the hospital with a concussion.
All three were convicted in Minnesota courts.
And all three still work in law enforcement.
They are among hundreds of sworn officers in Minnesota who were convicted of criminal offenses in the past two decades yet kept their state law enforcement licenses, according to public records examined by the Star Tribune. Dozens of them are still on the job with a badge, a gun and the public’s trust that they will uphold the law.
The cases reveal a state licensing system that is failing repeatedly to hold officers accountable for reckless, sometimes violent, conduct.
In Minnesota, doctors and lawyers can lose their professional licenses for conduct that is unethical or unprofessional — even if they never break a law. Yet law enforcement officers can stay on the job for years even when a judge or jury finds them guilty of criminal behavior.
“The public needs to trust that those officers are going to be held accountable.”
Records also show that scores of the convictions stemmed from off-duty misconduct — including brawls, stalking and domestic altercations — that raise questions about an officer’s temperament for a job that authorizes the use of force.
Law enforcement leaders say it’s important for citizens to have confidence that officers are held to the highest ethical standards — on duty or off duty. In fact, Minnesota’s model code of ethics says that officers shall not discredit themselves or their agency either on-duty or off. Yet Minnesota seems to have developed a culture of second chances for those who wear a badge, said Neil Melton, a former Bloomington police officer who ran Minnesota’s licensing board for 16 years.
“Benefit of the doubt. Benefit of the doubt. Benefit of the doubt,” Melton said. “At what point do we say enough is enough?”