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Detroit Lakes police chief being investigated for alleged assault on a child at a baseball game

Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd is the subject of an investigation following an incident at a baseball park in Detroit Lakes where he is being accused of assaulting a 12-year-old boy. Forum News Service file photo1 / 2
The Detroit Lakes police log from Wednesday, June 20, shows the incident with the Detroit Lakes police chief coded as an assault. Marie Johnson / Forum News Service2 / 2

DETROIT LAKES, Minn.—Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steve Todd is being investigated for allegations of assaulting a 12-year-old boy at a baseball game in Detroit Lakes.

The incident in question occurred Wednesday, June 20, at the Washington Park Baseball Fields in front of a crowd of spectators.

According to several witnesses at the scene, Todd, who was off duty and wearing a Hawley Nuggets shirt, arrived on bicycle to the fields to watch the game between Detroit Lakes and Hawley.

"I saw him come up with his bike and park in the ramp that goes up," said Nicole Kirchner of Detroit Lakes, adding that she was sitting right where the incident occured. "He leaned it (the bike) against the railing, and I didn't know who he was ... didn't think anything of it, and then he went and sat up in the bleachers."

"I remember thinking, huh, that's not a good place for that man to put that bike — it was right on the ramp going up into the stands," said another witness, Sandi Davidson, who says she saw the 12-year-old boy coming down the ramp at the same time a little girl was. The little girl, she says, ran past the bicycle, and when she did, it started rolling down and fell over. Davidson says the 12-year-old boy then went to go pick it up. "I should have helped him pick it back up — I wish I had because none of this would have happened, but that's all he was doing was trying to be a good kid and put it back up," she said.

That's when Todd allegedly came racing down the bleacher steps.

"When I saw him coming down and the look on his face, I jumped up and tried to explain to him before he even reached the boy that the kid was just trying to help, but it's like there was no comprehension there, he didn't listen to me," said Davidson, who is among the witnesses who say the chief of police was yelling at the child, accusing him of stealing his bike.

And while Todd has since stated he put his "hand on the (boy's) neck", the police incident report states that the allegations are that he "choked" the child.

"I yelled at him to let go...that he was not trying to steal it, but that he was only picking it up," said Kirchner, "and so he (Todd) did let go, and I could see red marks on his neck."

Kirchner says the incident was "shocking," and that she'd told Todd that what he did was not appropriate and that he needed to apologize to the child.

"And he did, he was very apologetic ... quite a few times," she said, adding that Todd then took off on his bike.

Todd's side

On Monday, Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steve Todd released a statement that reads:

"On Wednesday, June 20th I had gone for a mountain bike ride around Detroit Lakes after work. As I was going by the Washington Ball Park I saw that Hawley was playing Detroit Lakes and I stopped in to watch and visit. I parked my bike at the top of the ramp so that it would be visible to me and I went and talked with a family that I know. Periodically I would look to make sure my bike was still visible. At one point I looked to check on the bike and it was gone. I ran down to try and locate it and found a person with my bike a short distance from where I had parked it. I put my hand on the bike and on the person's neck. I was informed by a third party that the bike had fallen and the person was picking it up. I verified this with the person and apologized. I rode back to the scene with an officer to explain what occurred to the person's father and apologized to him as well."

Todd referred any other questions to Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk, who said Monday that the chief will not be put on leave during the investigation.

"I see no reason for that at this point," said Brenk.

Steve Todd is the younger brother of Fargo Police Chief David Todd. Steve Todd is a former Fargo police officer and lieutenant with the Clay County (Minn.) Sheriff’s Department.

The response

When Detroit Lakes resident and volunteer youth basketball and football coach Matt Carrier picked his son up in the Subway parking lot across the street from the ballpark on June 20, he had no idea that minutes earlier, there had just been an incident between the town's police chief and his 12-year-old.

"But I looked at him, and I knew right away something was wrong by the look on his face," said Carrier, who asked what was up.

Not knowing who the man in question was, Carrier called a couple of people he knew would have been in the stands for that particular game to try to find out what happened. He got an earful about what some people saw, except for the fact that nobody seemed to know who the guy was. So, Carrier says, they drove around town for a while trying to see if they could find the man" That's when he got another call from a witness at the game who did know his identity.

"And when I heard it was the police chief, I was like, you've got to be kidding me," said Carrier, who immediately called the police department to report the incident. He says an officer called him back letting him know that he'd be willing to meet him to talk about it wherever he wanted.

"And I said, 'Um, how about at the baseball fields where there are still witnesses sitting there?'" said Carrier, who says when he got there Todd had also returned back to the fields. One witness, who does not want his name published, said he saw the off-duty chief arrive back at the fields in the car of the responding officer and also leave the same way.

Carrier says the four of them began to talk — Carrier, his child, the responding officer and the chief of police.

Carrier says he felt the responding officer was attempting to downplay the situation as a simple misunderstanding and that there was a stark difference in testimony as to how the chief grabbed the child and where on his neck. There were also differences in the details of the story, like which way the child was facing at the moment of contact and whether or not the bike had been moved or how far. Witnesses were claiming the child had not moved or touched the bike, other than to try to pick it up.

"I said 'Let's get the witnesses down here, and he (the responding officer) said 'No, we don't need to do that — we're going to settle it right now,'" said Carrier.

Carrier says he felt like the situation was building up to one where it would be his child's word against the police chief's, and so he asked the responding officer if he could call the sheriff.

"And he told me, 'No, you're not doing that now. Maybe later,'" said Carrier.

"I'm somebody who respects law enforcement and the tough jobs they have to do, and I even told them that," said Carrier. "I don't know what this world would be like without them, but I said it's things like this that give them bad reputations."

According to the incident report filed by the Detroit Lakes Police Department, the responding officer spoke to one witness — Nicole Kirchner.

"I didn't feel comfortable with the fact that he (Todd) was standing right there listening to what the officer was saying to us," said Kirchner. "I think he was put in a very bad position to have to try to investigate something when it's somebody he worked for. He never should have had to be there."

Meanwhile, Davidson says she tried to also give her version of events to the responding officer, since she was right there and witnessed everything from start to finish, but she says he cut her off and didn't speak with her. After about 10 minutes, she says, she just went to sit back down, and nobody has contacted her since. She was not listed as a witness on the police report.

"I feel so bad because maybe he (Todd) is an awesome person, and maybe he's been through some stuff, and maybe he just had a moment," said Davidson. "But I'll never forget the look in that boy's eyes when he (Todd) did that to him."

The investigation

Carrier says he did call the sheriff's office that night after leaving to report the incident, and Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander has confirmed that his department is actively in the process of referring the investigation to an outside agency.

"And that's because we just work so closely with the police department," said Glander, who wanted to avoid a conflict of interest. He says he does not know which outside agency that will be yet. Carrier is being represented by Attorney Paul Thorwaldsen but says he does not want to make any money off this or publicity. He says he just wants the city to respond according to its laws.

"I've always told my kids that the cops should be respected, that they are the good guys," said Carrier, "and I'll continue to tell them that, but how do you convince a kid of that after something like this?" Carrier and other witnesses at the scene say Todd was very apologetic and genuinely seemed distraught about what had occured. Carrier says he doesn't know Todd, who has only been the police chief in Detroit Lakes for a little over a year and a half, but believes even if a kid had been stealing a bike, it still wouldn't be an appropriate response to the situation.

"And I get it — these jobs aren't easy; you hear about the mental stress of going through everything they go through," said Carrier, "but I think this goes beyond a misunderstanding."

(Reporter Marie Johnson contributed to this report.)

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes and Perham, both in Minnesota.

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