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Mellette County sheriff stripped of police powers by law enforcement commission


Mellette County sheriff stripped of police powers by law enforcement commission

Apr 16, 2024 | 6:36 pm ET
By John Hult
Mellette County sheriff stripped of police powers by law enforcement commission
(Oliver Helbig/Getty Images)

The South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Training Commission voted to revoke the certification of a West River sheriff on Tuesday during a meeting in Deadwood. 

Mellette County Sheriff Mike Blom took his then-girlfriend out drinking last fall, even though she was on probation and was thus forbidden from consuming alcohol. 

Blom also witnessed an assault during the same outing and failed to take action.

In November, the 59-year-old sheriff and 22-year-old woman went on a double date that involved multiple stops and alcohol consumption. 

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Not visiting bars or using alcohol is a standard condition for probationers. But Blom testified that he didn’t realize that his then-girlfriend wasn’t allowed to use alcohol until he spoke with her probation officer. 

He’s accustomed to dealing with people who have bond conditions for release from jail, he said. In those cases, people typically appear for 24/7 sobriety program testing, an operation run by county sheriffs.

He wasn’t as familiar with standard conditions for those who’ve already been convicted or pleaded guilty.

“By the time they’re dealing with probation officers, we don’t have much contact with them … I certainly wouldn’t have taken her out drinking if I’d known,” he said.

During a trial on an unrelated matter that took place after the November outing, however, the sheriff said from the witness stand that he hadn’t been honest with DCI – something commissioners asked him about multiple times during Tuesday’s hearing.

Blom maintained that he’d misunderstood the situation in his first conversation about the matter with the DCI, but corrected himself in a later interview.

Commissioners also questioned whether Blom’s relationship with a young felon may have hurt his reputation in the community, and pushed him to explain why he hadn’t turned in his friend’s wife for domestic violence, as the assault during the double date got severe enough to draw blood.

Blom said he didn’t have jurisdiction in Jackson County, which is where the assault took place, but commissioners said he should have reached out to the sheriff in that county.

After about an hour in executive session, the commission voted unanimously to strip Blom of his certification for conduct unbecoming a law enforcement officer.

The vote does not remove him from office (sheriffs are elected officials), but does strip him of his police powers. He can appeal the decision to circuit court.

Other actions from commissioners

Prior to Blom’s hearing, commissioners voted to reopen training eligibility for a handful of officers who let their certifications lapse, to certify several canine teams and to accept voluntary de-certifications from three officers who’d violated South Dakota’s conduct standards. 

Officers who voluntarily give up their certifications don’t face public commission hearings on the details of their conduct, though brief summaries are read. On Tuesday, for example, the commission accepted de-certifications from a former Vermillion police officer who’d been untruthful in an unspecified manner, a former Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy who’d taken inappropriate photos in his patrol vehicle and a former Spink County sheriff’s deputy who took property from the sheriff’s department.  

The commission also discussed the details of – and rejected – a disciplinary consent agreement with Bennett County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Curtis for his behavior in two separate occasions. 

Curtis, according to DCI Investigator Guy DiBenedetto, had done a “piss poor” job dealing with two domestic violence incidents. The first came in 2018, when the deputy failed to investigate an incident beyond speaking with the male occupant of the home from which an emergency call was placed. The second happened in 2021, when Curtis did not follow through on a call in which the perpetrator was a co-worker. The co-worker was later charged with aggravated assault after a report to the Philip Police Department and an investigation by the state DCI. 

Curtis has not had any complaints or disciplinary issues since 2021. 

The commission nevertheless voted to reject a proposed settlement agreement that would have leveled a seven-day suspension for Curtis. Commissioners made the unanimous vote after discussing the matter in executive session, and Curtis’ situation is now set to be addressed during future commission meetings.