Mower County Sheriff threatens to sue county over disclosures

Officials released documents related to an investigation into Sheriff Steve Sandvik's workplace behavior. The sheriff says his privacy was violated.

Steve Sandvik
Steve Sandvik.

AUSTIN — A lawyer for Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik has threatened legal action over the county's release of information regarding an investigation into Sandvik's behavior at work .

In a letter dated Jan. 21, 2023, Richard Hodsdon, who is representing Sandvik, claims that the county, specifically Mower County Administrator Trish Harren, released information about Sandvik that violated Minnesota statute.

Hodsdon's statement refers to a county investigation that alleged harassment from Sandvik while he was intoxicated at the Mower County Law Enforcement Center on Nov. 16, 2022.

Harren, as the county administrator, replied to several media outlets regarding the investigation .

An attorney for the county, Ann Goering, of Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney, declined to comment.


The investigation into Sandvik's behavior that day was conducted by an attorney with Goering's law firm, Jordan Soderlind, who concluded that while Sandvik was intoxicated at work , his conduct did not constitute harassment and/or discrimination.

"The evidence does not support a finding that Sheriff Sandvik made comments that were sexual or discriminatory in nature. Instead, the evidence supports a finding that multiple employees in the dispatch office were uncomfortable based on the perception that Sheriff Sandvik was under the influence of alcohol, not because of any specific comment that he made or action that he undertook," Soderlind wrote in a Jan. 9, 2023, letter to the Mower County Human Resources Director Kristina Kohn.

Sandvik denied being intoxicated that day in a phone call to the Post Bulletin shortly after the investigation into his conduct began. He described the situation as a personal medical issue and said he was not intoxicated that day. He declined to comment further. He has not responded to repeated phone calls and emails from the Post Bulletin about the incident.

His lawyer, Hodsdon, said a decision hasn't been made yet regarding any legal action and declined to comment further about any legal actions.

Austin's Chief of Police, David McKichan, did not immediately return a call from the Post Bulletin requesting comment about his department's role during the incident.

Harren initially told the Post Bulletin that the letter from the law firm dismissing the claims of harassment was protected under attorney-client privilege, though the county later released the letter following a public data request from the Post Bulletin.

In addition to the county's investigation into Sandvik, the letter from Soderlind states that a separate group met with Sandvik to discuss their concerns about his alcohol use.

"As a result of that intervention, Sheriff Sandvik acknowledged his misuse of alcohol, including while he was performing duties as Sheriff, and that Sheriff Sandvik agreed to participate in a chemical use assessment and follow all recommendations therefrom," Soderlind wrote.


Sandvik received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and was given several treatment recommendations.

"He focused very intently on the treatment protocols and has made remarkable steps toward a return to health," Harren told the Post Bulletin in January.

According to Soderlind's report:

An employee reported that Sandvik had been drinking and seemed to be intoxicated at the Mower County Law Enforcement Center on Nov. 16, 2022. The employee told Austin Police Capt. Todd Clennon, who then spoke to Sandvik and concluded that he was, in fact, intoxicated.

Clennon then reported his findings to McKichan.

The investigation was then conducted into whether or not Sandvik had violated the county's policies and not whether or not Sandvik was drunk. The county has repeatedly said it does not have the power to punish Sandvik due to him being an elected official.

Sandvik was described by several witnesses as being in a happy mood and engaging in banter, and those present felt uncomfortable with the sheriff driving home, as it was late in the afternoon and people were getting ready to head home.

"The idea of Sheriff Sandvik driving in that condition was the leading concern. Adding to the discomfort was the fact that Sheriff Sandvik is an elected official and, as sheriff, the highest law enforcement officer in the county," Soderlind wrote in his report.


Clennon specifically determined that Sandvik was intoxicated based on Sandvik's manner of speech, demeanor, blood shot eyes and the smell of alcohol on his breath.

"Based on his observations, Captain Clennon advised Sheriff Sandvik that he would be arrested if he tried to drive home," Soderlind wrote.

Documents from a public data request:

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at
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