Top cop choice in Lewiston, MN fails background check

The Brass Key | August 7, 2010 | Comments (0)

City officials are restarting their search for a new police chief after the top candidate failed a background check.

The City Council had offered law enforcement veteran Michael Cherney the job contingent on the results of the probe and a psychological evaluation. But the council rescinded the offer last week.

Mayor Dave Sommer had little to say, calling the results a disappointment.

Cherney declined comment, and city officials would not say what the background check uncovered, but records obtained by the Winona Daily News show Cherney was fired in 1991 from the Collier County Sheriff’s Department in Florida for poor behavior after seven years of service.

A memorandum summarizing his dismissal reads: “Deputy Cherney is guilty of insubordination and repeated willful disregard of legitimate orders from a superior officer.” It continues: “He is also guilty of a continuing course of devious and dishonest behavior incompatible with that demanded of an appointed law enforcement officer.”

Interim Police Chief Sam Ghareeb – Lewiston’s fifth chief in two years – will continue to lead the force until the council finds a new candidate. The search for Cherny took more than two months.

Meanwhile, the Winona County Sheriff’s Department will continue to provide extra patrols. Ghareeb has just one other officer in the department, and has asked the county to cover the city from 7 a.m. to noon during the week.

“I can only do it for two months because we got a lot of other duties too,” Sheriff Dave Brand said.

The city plans to hire two part-time officers later this month.

Lewiston has been without a permanent chief since March, when the council fired Dave Kleinschmidt after learning he had a misdemeanor on his record. Current city leaders have been unclear on whether Kleinschmidt completed a background check before he was hired. A statement written by Kleinschmidt’s attorney later called the city’s actions “wrongful and illegal.”

Kleinschmidt took over the force amid allegations that drugs and money were missing from the department evidence locker. An investigation by the Rochester Police Department was inconclusive.

The council fired Kleinschmidt predecessor Daniel Walker in 2009. Walker later sued the city and settled for $8,500.

The Lewiston city website says the city is accepting applications for the chief job until Aug. 20. Candidates must have a minimum of three years full-time experience and three years of “full-time supervisory experience.”

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