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Update: Sheriff Sandvik declines to comment on leave following investigation into being intoxicated at work

Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik says he's stepping away due to private medical issues. An investigation into Sandvik by the county into him allegedly being intoxicated at work was started earlier this month.

Steve Sandvik
Steve Sandvik.
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AUSTIN — Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik has declined to comment about what he calls "multiple medical issues" as the reason he is, for now, temporarily stepping away from work.

The county is currently investigating Sandvik's conduct following a complaint about his work conduct earlier this month. The investigation involves an allegation that Sandvik was intoxicated at work, Mower County Administrator Trish Harren told the Austin Daily Herald .

Sandvik did not immediately return a call for clarification on what these medical issues were.

“As the elected sheriff, I serve the citizens of Mower County. I take this responsibility seriously. In order to continue serving the residents with the expectations I put on myself, I need to step away to handle a variety of medical issues. Please understand, these types of medical decisions are personal," Sandvik wrote in Nov. 30, 2022, Facebook post.

Sandvik told the Post Bulletin in a phone call last week that he was notified by someone at work on Nov. 16 that he was not well, and he was given a ride home. He described the situation as a personal medical issue and that he was not intoxicated that day. He declined to comment further.

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When pressed about what the medical issue was, the phone call was disconnected. Sandvik did not answer when the Post Bulletin called him back minutes later.

"The fact finding investigation is ongoing. It is not an employment investigation. It can’t result in disciplinary action, so the results will not ever be public," Harren wrote in an email to the Post Bulletin. "They will remain attorney client privilege and serve as legal advice to the Board. As noted in the press release, there is no expectation of civil or criminal charges."

Mower County received a complaint Nov. 17 regarding Sandvik's behavior at work on Nov. 16 and the county retained a legal team to investigate the matter starting Nov. 18, according to Harren.

"Sheriff Sandvik is an elected official and not an employee of the county. Therefore, he does not report to the county and county employment policy does not apply to him. He serves and reports to the people of Mower County who elect him," Mower County Administrator Trish Harren wrote in an email to the Post Bulletin. "Any decisions regarding time away from work are his personal decision. With that said, my understanding is that he has chosen to take some time away from work to address a medical issue."

Mower County received a complaint Nov. 17 regarding Sandvik's behavior at work on Nov. 16 and the county retained a legal team to investigate the matter starting Nov. 18, according to Harren.

"The county has no authority over an elected official. Elected officials are subject to statutes — laws — just as other citizens are. But they are not employees, so they are not subject to employment policies," Harren wrote. "However, they can voluntarily choose to comply with employment policies."

Harren wrote that the investigation is ongoing and there are no findings at this point. She believes that Sandvik will make his own public statement and "will choose to respond in whatever manner is deemed appropriate given the findings."

"My experience with Sheriff Sandvik is that he holds himself to high standards," she wrote. "He works long hours and would give the shirt off his back for anyone. Perhaps to the detriment of taking care of his own health and well-being."

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"As Sheriff Sandvik noted in his own release on his Facebook page, he is stepping away to address medical issues. He is making that decision independently. This is the desired outcome. We want Sheriff Sandvik to take care of his health and well-being and return to serving the public in full capacity," Harren wrote.

Austin Police Chief David McKichan declined to comment about the issue surrounding Sandvik's behavior on Nov. 16.

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 mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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