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Northern Minn. police chief cited for DWI retires; interim chief named

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By Bryce Haugen

Forum News Service

SEBEKA, Minn. -- At a special meeting Monday, Sebeka City Council members unanimously accepted the retirement of the town’s police chief, who was recently cited for driving while impaired, and appointed a part-time officer as interim chief.

Eric Swenson, 48, had been a Sebeka police officer for 28 years and the chief since 2007. In a one-sentence letter to the council dated March 9, he ended that tenure. “I hereby retire from the Sebeka Police Department,” wrote Swenson, who did not attend Monday’s meeting.

After accepting the notice without discussion council members ordered new locks for city buildings Swenson had access to and discussed the future of the police department.

An application period will run through March 31.

Minnesota law requires a part-time officers to report to a “chief law enforcement officer.” Sebeka’s three active part-time officers attended the Monday meeting and said they would put in extra hours to provide law enforcement in the city if they were allowed to.

The most experienced part-time officer, Tighe Lane, was appointed as interim chief. Lane’s been with the department since September 2010.

“We need someone who can supervise those two and he’s the one who can do it,” council member Lowell Stewart said.

Outside of the meeting, Lane said he’s ready for his new role, which he will be balancing with his full-time job as a manager at Henry’s Foods in Alexandria.

“I’m comfortable with accepting the position and stepping up,” he said.

Lane said Swenson “was a good cop. The other stuff - that was his personal life.”

But the negative attention Swenson’s personal life brought to the department, Lane said, made it difficult for Sebeka’s other officers to command respect among their law enforcement peers and the general public.

“No one thinks we’re real cops because of who are supervisor was,” Lane said. “ ... We’ve had to prove ourselves that we are upstanding individuals and officers.”

A New York Mills police officer cited Swenson for DWI on Feb. 26. His arraignment is scheduled for March 18 at the Otter Tail County Courthouse. Swenson’s fifth-degree domestic assault case from last summer is ongoing, with a jury trial scheduled for 9 a.m. May 20 at the same courthouse.

Several attempts to reach Swenson in the past week were unsuccessful.

In an interview last year after the domestic assault arrest and another for disorderly conduct, Swenson told the Wadena Pioneer Journal he intended to retire on April 1, 2015, because of work-related injuries, difficulty keeping up with younger officers and the politics that go with the job.

“(I) think 30 years is enough,” he said. “I wanna do something else.”

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