Panel denies S.D. law enforcement certification for former N.D. officer now in Potter County

Capitol News Bureau
KELO SD capitol winter snow Pierre

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A law enforcement officer who surrendered his North Dakota certification six years ago, in an attempt to avoid its revocation, saw his South Dakota application turned down Tuesday.

The South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Training Commission voted 8-0 to deny the new request from Travis Carlson, in a decision centered on the question of good moral character.

Carlson has worked since February as a Potter County deputy stationed in Hoven.

The commission reached its conclusion after a hearing that lasted about two hours and a closed-door executive session that ran about 30 minutes. It was the commission’s first in-person meeting since March when the governor declared a statewide emergency for COVID-19.

While a police officer in Belfield, North Dakota, Carlson was investigated six years ago for allegedly sending a selfie of his penis to a woman. Carlson said Tuesday he couldn’t remember any such discussion.

The Belfield city council terminated Carlson’s employment in June 2014, because of a sexual affair he had with a different woman.

The liaisons with her allegedly occurred over a period of about two months, including at her home to where he drove his patrol vehicle after work, as well as in his patrol vehicle and at city hall.

Carlson denied Tuesday that any of the 15 to 20 meetings happened while he was on duty.

Carlson said he didn’t know he was being investigated for the selfie. But, under questioning from several commissioners, he admitted to sending phone pictures of his penis to two other women. One was the woman with whom he had the affair.

“It’s not something I normally do,” Carlson said about the photos.

Carlson told the commission he surrendered his North Dakota peace-officer certification at a meeting arranged by an officer for the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The North Dakota final report was labeled as a revocation.

Carlson previously had been terminated by the Dunn County, North Dakota, sheriff’s department, where he was a K-9 officer. He told the commission Tuesday the dog got away and disappeared while his girlfriend’s mother was left watching the dog at the residence the three shared.

He said Dunn County let him go five days after a domestic-abuse call to his residence that was caused by a dispute between his girlfriend and her mother.

“I believe I’m a better person than I was, definitely, at that time,” he testified to the commission about how he’s changed his life in the six years since the Belfield firing.

He said the Potter County sheriff, city council members and other people in the Hoven and Gettysburg area had gradually learned about the affair and his dismissal.

“I do my job. I hold myself to a high level because of the shadow out there,” he said.

Carlson told the commission he learned about the need for a deputy in Potter County from the daughter of Sheriff Curtis Hamburger. Carlson said he attended emergency medical classes with her.

Sheriff Hamburger testified that Carlson hasn’t presented any discipline problems for him. He called Carlson “an asset” because of Carlson’s law-enforcement and emergency-medical experience. Hoven is on the Potter-Walworth counties line, 20 miles from Gettysburg.

Hamburger said Carlson didn’t have any marks against him at the three-month review and promoted Carlson to chief deputy. There is one other deputy who was hired at about the same time. Carlson helps train him, Hamburger said.

The sheriff said he didn’t know about Carlson’s affair until after deciding to hire Carlson. The sheriff said he talked to Carlson about the affair and dismissal and told Carlson he wouldn’t tolerate “any of that behavior whatsoever.”

Sheriff Hamburger said that at the time he hired Carlson he — Hamburger — was a one-man department in a county of about 900 square miles. Hamburger indicated that every previous deputy he’d hired as sheriff had moved on.

“I have been nothing but a training ground for other agencies,” Hamburger said about his decade as sheriff. “To find someone to come to No-where, South Dakota, and get them to stay is a daunting task.” He added, “None of them stayed. None of them.”

Hamburger said Carlson, given his past, wasn’t going anywhere.

Carlson’s attorney, Bill Van Camp of Pierre, asked Hamburger if he would be willing to report back to the commission, either way, on Carlson. “Absolutely,” Hamburger replied.

The sheriff looked up at the commissioners spread at COVID-19 distances throughout the Mickelson Center’s amphitheater. “I don’t want to be a laughingstock among you gentlemen,” he told the panel. “I don’t.”

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