BLAINE, Minn. - “Without fear or favor.” That’s the way the law should be enforced, according to the official Code of Ethics adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
An investigation by KARE 11 News has uncovered evidence that, instead of following that code, some Minnesota police officers follow the unwritten rule known as “Professional Courtesy.” It’s the notion that cops shouldn’t ticket other cops.
Police dash cam video obtained by KARE 11 after a public records request shows what can happen.
On November 7, 2015, Blaine police officers responded to an alarm call at the Lexington Avenue Fleet Farm. They found a running car in the parking lot. The man in the driver’s seat appeared to be passed out. Police reports would later say there were “open containers of silver Coors Light cans in the passenger seat …”
The police video shows the Blaine officers repeatedly banging on the car roof and door. You can hear them yelling, “Wake up!”
When they finally get the driver’s attention, the video shows he seems incapable of following basic requests. He had to be asked nine times just to open his door.
Blaine Police Officer Brad Nordby can be heard saying to the driver, “Can you open it? Ok, open the door.” He then says to his partner, “Oh, great. His penis is out of his pants.”
“Why don’t you zip up for me,” he tells the driver.
Instead of opening his car door, the driver revs the engine. Fortunately, the car was not in gear.
When the driver eventually get out of the car, the Blaine officers ask him to perform tests to determine whether he’s able to drive.
Once again, basic requests don’t seem to be understood. After repeatedly being asked to remove his hat, the driver tells an officer, “I don’t understand what you want me to do.”
Dash camera footage shows the driver, who would later be identified as William Monberg, 28, incapable of walking a straight line without stumbling.
The video shows a breathalyzer test being administered. Police records say it registered .202 – more than two and a half times the legal limit.
“William, right now I’m going to place you under arrest for DWI,” said Officer Nordby, as he handcuffs Monberg and places him in the back seat of the patrol car.
It seems to be a by-the-books DWI arrest. But moments later, things change.
The police dash camera captures the moment when Officer Norby and his partner, Officer Brandon Fettig, examine Monberg’s wallet.
“Oh crap!” one of them exclaims.
Then, without saying a word, both pull out and turn off their body microphones and step out of view of the patrol car cameras.
In the back seat of the squad car, though, another police camera is still recording video and audio of what happened next.
The video shows William Monberg, already handcuffed and under arrest, being let out of the car. Moments later he climbs back in. The handcuffs have been removed. And, instead of taking him to jail, the Blaine police officers can be heard trying to arrange a ride home for him.
Turns out, the man they originally arrested is not an ordinary citizen. He, too, wears a badge.
William Monberg is an investigator for the Columbia Heights Police Department. “I don’t condone their behavior,” said Duane Wolfe. “I wish they’d made a different decision, but cops are human.”
Wolfe, a retired officer, is a law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical and Community College.
He also writes for PoliceOne.com, a popular police blog. In 2009, he wrote an article about so-called “Professional Courtesy,” arguing that the badge shouldn’t be a “get out of jail free card.”
Wolfe says that article sparked more comments than any other he has even written, many of them critical.
In police circles, Wolfe says the notion that cops shouldn’t ticket other cops is contentious and fiercely debated. “A lot of police officers feel that pressure to take care of their brethren,” he said.
But Wolfe argues that officers giving other officers special treatment “doesn’t serve the profession, doesn’t serve the department and quite honestly it doesn’t serve the officer.” He adds, “They just get the attitude that there are no consequences for my actions.”
For Officer William Monberg there were no immediate consequences.
He was not taken into custody. No mugshots were taken. His car was not towed. Instead, the Blaine officers helped him arrange a ride home.
No official police reports were filed at the time. On the video from the back seat of the squad car, Monberg can even be heard asking if anything about the incident was being entered into the police department’s Computer Aided Dispatch system.
“You know what’s in the CAD notes on that?” Monberg asks. “Nothing,” answers one of the Blaine officers.
The cover-up of the incident almost worked.
However a month later, Blaine Police Chief Chris Olson assigned an investigator to look into what happened that night. As a result, Officer Monberg was officially charged with DWI in December.
Chief Olson would not do an on-camera interview, citing the pending DWI case. But he told KARE 11, “In this case inexperienced officers made a mistake. It’s not acceptable.”
“My expectation is fair and impartial policing and that didn’t happen,” he continued. “We need to treat people fairly and it shouldn’t matter what they do for a living.”
Chief Olson said he addressed what happened and his expectations going forward in a department wide roll-call.
Officer Monberg has pleaded not guilty to the DWI charges and has a court date scheduled March 2. The Columbia Heights Police Department says it suspended Monberg for 30 days on the eve of his first court date back in January.
Officer Monberg released a statement to KARE 11:
I am profoundly ashamed, embarrassed, and disappointed in myself for the incident that occurred on November 7, 2015. I extend my most genuine apologies to my agency and community, the Blaine Police Department, and the officers who were placed in an incredibly difficult position because of my actions. I accept full responsibility for those actions but insist they do not represent an accurate reflection of my personal or professional character. I have been working diligently over the past four months to ensure that a similar situation will not occur again.