Prosecutor alleges a rural sheriff helped a friend avoid a drunk driving charge
A previous investigation of Sheriff Steve Telkamp also found he called his county commissioners a ‘p***y Board’
Murray County Sheriff’s Office as seen on Aug. 19, 2023. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.
SLAYTON — The mayor of this small city is a little skeptical about the latest accusation against former sheriff Steven Alan Telkamp, but only because the alleged scheme required some effort.
“I was actually kind of surprised that he had done that. Not that it’s beyond his personality, but that he was actually around because he was a very absent sheriff,” Slayton Mayor Miron Carney said.
The thing Telkamp is alleged to have done, according to the prosecutor, is fix a drunk driving case to help a friend and fellow law enforcement official.
Telkamp, who didn’t seek reelection last year, has also been accused by townsfolk of workplace harassment and chronic absenteeism, but he’s never suffered any consequences, illustrating the power of elected sheriffs to govern with virtual impunity, backed by the law.
“Former sheriff Telkamp is an embarrassment to all the sheriffs of Minnesota … I’m glad that he’s out and I’m not going to testify at his trial on his behalf. That’s as strong as I can be, I guess, without saying something profane” said Randy Willis, Minnesota Sheriff Association’s deputy director.
Neither Telkamp nor his lawyer, Stephen Foertsch, responded to the Reformer’s requests for an interview.
Telkamp, out of elective office, now confronts the blunt edge of the law he was sworn to uphold.
According to court records, on April 17, 2022, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer James Robinson, who was a friend of Telkamp, drove his car off a road in southwestern Murray County and hit a culvert, rolling the car on its side.
First responders and local deputies who responded to the incident said Robinson smelled like alcohol. He was sent to the Murray County Medical Center, during which officers got a warrant to test his blood for alcohol.
Robinson’s blood kit was transferred to a refrigerator at the Murray County Sheriff Office where Telkamp was in charge. Following protocol, blood kits are stored in a fridge until county personnel are able to ship the blood kit to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for testing.
But the BCA never received Robinson’s blood kit, and to this day it remains lost.
Behind the scenes, the DNR — Robinson’s employer — was conducting its own investigation into the car wreck following a citizen complaint. A DNR official spoke to Telkamp in August 2022. Telkamp told them that he took over the investigation into the wreck because he was retiring, and he didn’t want a deputy assigned to the incident to have to arrest a fellow officer, according to court records.
Telkamp told the DNR official that he was waiting for toxicology results from the blood sample sent to the BCA.
But the BCA never received the blood kit, so in October 2022, the agency opened its own investigation.
At the time, Deputy Sheriff Heath Landsman — who is now the Murray County sheriff — told investigators that on the day after the crash in April 2022, Telkamp told Landsman to “lock the case down” and limit access to the case reports by other sheriff personnel.
Telkamp told Landsman he had mailed the blood kit to the BCA, according to court documents.
The BCA obtained records for Robinson’s phone, which listed numerous calls to and from a number linked to Telkamp’s wife. From April 17 to April 21, Robinson’s phone received multiple calls from the number listed to Telkamp’s wife.
Telkamp has been charged with misconduct of a public officer, which has a maximum penalty of one year in prison and/or a $3,000 fine.
In July, Robinson was charged with careless driving for the car accident.
The DNR confirmed to the Reformer that it received a complaint about Robinson, but refused to provide records associated with it, citing an exemption in public records law about personnel data.
Reaction to the allegations
Carney, the mayor of this city of 2,000, said he thinks people in the area are either unaware of the case, or they don’t want to think too much on the fact that their sheriff of 20 years used his position of power to help a friend.
Slayton residents had good reason to want to move on from Telkamp, he said. “People think ‘That’s over. We don’t need to think about it,’” Carney said.
Carney said months would go by and no one knew where Telkamp was, especially during his last four-year term from 2018 to 2022.
“His appearance at the Sheriff’s Office or anyplace else was very limited, if at all really,” said Paul Malone, a former Murray County Attorney for 20 years who now has a private practice in Slayton.
Malone wouldn’t comment on the interactions he had with Telkamp as county attorney, but he said people around town talked about him not showing up to work.
Telkamp’s absenteeism was also known to the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association.
“When you’re the elected sheriff of the county, you’re responsible first of all to your people and your office, then the citizens of your county. He was not any of that. He was never around the office,” said Willis, the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association’s deputy director. Willis said Telkamp doesn’t embody any principles of the association and its members.
Telkamp is receiving over $4,400 per month in retirement benefits from his time in law enforcement, according to the state Public Employees Retirement Association.
Sheriffs in Minnesota are elected officials, meaning they are difficult to remove from office other than defeating them at the ballot box. Residents can petition for a removal, but that process is arduous and complicated.
Last year, Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson stayed in office through the end of his term even after he crashed a county vehicle while driving drunk. In the four months after his crash, he spent $17,588 on his county-issued credit card on meals and trips, Fox 9 reported.
Former Murray County Sheriff Telkamp didn’t face calls for resignation because of the alleged misconduct incident last year, but he is no stranger to them.
Alleged hostile, retaliatory conduct
In 2018, Murray County officials received video recordings that showed Telkamp “engaged in objectively inappropriate, aggressive, disparaging, profane, abusive, sexually charged and threatening behavior,” in front of county employees, according to the findings of an independent investigation ordered by the Murray County Board of Commissioners.
The investigation found Telkamp made disdainful comments in front of county workers about the Murray County Board of Commissioners and threatened to use his authority to retaliate against them. Telkamp was caught on video ranting about the board and listing ways to undermine its authority, like calling the Department of Labor.
According to the investigation, Telkamp called the Murray County Board of Commissioners a “p***y Board” and said, “Every one of them commissioners is a failed f**k … (and) they can’t “f**king do anything in life.”
After two commissioners released a policy memo about the county’s time reporting requirements, Telkamp instructed his staff not to follow the policy, according to the investigation. Telkamp, ranting about the policy in front of county workers, then yelled, “Do they want my f**king boot up their ass?”
“F**k your policy … This is my house!” Telkamp said.
After the investigation was made public, the Murray County Board of Commissioners asked for his immediate resignation.
Telkamp published a letter to the editor in the Worthington Globe and apologized for his language, saying he “became passionate” while standing up for his employees. He said the Board of Commissioners was trying to control the sheriff’s office.
He vowed to run for reelection in 2018.
“As your elected Sheriff, I will not stand by and watch a dishonest County Board and County Coordinator take control of YOUR County,” Telkamp wrote. “If the County Board and Commissioners continue to strip me of my duties, they are stripping you of your rights. A government must have checks and balances. You elected me to serve and protect and as long as I am Sheriff I will do just that.”
Murray County residents reelected Telkamp with 55% of the vote.
Some Murray County residents attributed his 2018 reelection to a number of fervent Telkamp supporters, plus the incumbency advantages of an elected sheriff.
But the latest allegation seems to be the last straw for Murray County residents.
“I have a lot of respect for law enforcement, but when you got cops covering up for other cops, how do you take them seriously?” said Slayton resident Kevin Nelson.
Nelson, who owns a storage business in Slayton, said he’s worried not many people in Murray County are aware of Telkamp’s latest alleged misdeeds.
“It’s a matter of getting it out there, letting people know about it. Will it amount to anything? Probably not. Six months from now everybody will forget about it,” Nelson said.
Telkamp and Robinson are scheduled to have their next court hearing in October.
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