A former Watonwan County sheriff who became a controversial figure during his four-year term is still drawing attention now that he’s a deputy again.

Joe Dahl, a 27-year veteran of the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Department, was suspended without pay for 12 working days in June for incidents ranging from failure to maintain records to insubordination. The incidents took place between March 15 and May 16.

Two of the incidents listed took place at the school in Butterfield on May 5, according to a letter informing Dahl about the reasons for his suspension. The letter, which is public information, was signed by both Dahl and Sheriff Gary Menssen.

Dahl gave a presentation at the class without telling Menssen, the letter said. He was on duty at the time but didn’t tell dispatchers where he was. Later that day Dahl also was asked to deliver a warrant, but there was no record the next day the job had been done.

Menssen also said in the letter that Dahl exercised “poor judgment” during his school visit. Specifically, he brought a Taser shocking device into the school that he wasn’t authorized to have with him. He also showed students how barbs are shot out of the Taser into a suspect so they can be shocked.

“You discharged a projectile from the Taser,” the letter said. “You also lost a live round which was subsequently found by a teacher.”

Butterfield-Odin School Supt. Lisa Shellum didn’t return telephone calls from The Free Press Thursday.

The school visit and incidents with the Taser and ammunition came to Menssen’s attention when school officials mentioned them to another officer, Menssen said. He also learned that Dahl had stopped at a store in Butterfield and purchased “Star Wars” memorabilia while on duty, which violates department policies.

Dahl did not want to answer specific questions about his suspension, but he did issue a written statement Thursday. It said:

“After having worked for the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office for 27 years I am glad this incident is behind us. I am confident that Sheriff Menssen and I will continue to have the positive working relationship we have maintained since then.”

Menssen wasn’t as positive about the situation when he was asked about the letter. He cited several other incidents in the letter that talk about Dahl’s poor job performance.

There were other incidents in May when Dahl’s time couldn’t be accounted for, including a prisoner transport trip to Rush City. The trip should have taken about seven hours but took more than 10 hours, the letter said.

Menssen also wanted Dahl to pick up another inmate on his way back to the Sheriff’s Department in St. James. Dispatchers tried to contact him at 10- to 20-minute intervals during the trips but didn’t receive a response until he returned at 8 p.m. Menssen also said he called Dahl on his cellular telephone and received a message that said, “Don’t leave a message because it won’t be returned.”

The letter also says Dahl wasn’t maintaining required log books, has failed to generate a criminal complaint that isn’t initiated by dispatchers and hasn’t issued a citation during three years worth of traffic stops, unless contact was initiated through another complaint.

“Some of it seems pretty petty, but it’s everything in its total,” Menssen said Wednesday. “He’s absolutely done nothing as far as job performance. He doesn’t want to do the job anymore.”

Menssen also described the letter as being part of a “long drawn-out process” that’s required, through a union contract, for disciplining deputies.

This isn’t the first time Dahl has been criticized publicly for job-related incidents. He sued the county in 2001, when he was still serving as sheriff, over a pay disagreement.

In 2000, the Watonwan County Board refused to pay more than $1,000 for paintball guns Dahl had ordered for the department’s squad cars. Dahl said they could be used to resolve dangerous situations involving armed suspects. The County Board said he was manipulating the system.

Also, while pitching the need for the guns, Dahl distributed a flier of a machete-wielding black man that county commissioners saw as racially offensive.

The Free Press has been requesting information about the grounds for the suspension since it happened, but was told by Menssen that lawyers for the county and Dahl’s union, Law Enforcement Labor Service, had to agree on how the information would be released.

The letter was issued to The Free Press by the Sheriff’s Department Wednesday afternoon.

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