Members of the North Dakota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board voted that a former Mandan police officer did not violate their code of conduct, but blasted him for wasting investigators’ time with his “selective memory.”
Former Mandan Police Officer Matt Howell and his attorney, Lloyd Suhr, appeared Wednesday before the POST Board in Bismarck for a hearing on a potential peace officer code of conduct violation. Mandan Police Deputy Chief Jason Bier and Lt. Pat Haug said they interviewed Howell three times last fall regarding phone calls Howell had made and received to and from fellow officers about an altercation he had allegedly seen in the parking lot of a bar in Mandan.
Bier said Howell, off duty at the time, had called the two on-duty officers who responded to the scene. The officers returned Howell’s calls, who said he had seen their lights and inquired about the “fight" but did not say he was there or involved.
Mandan Police Sgt. Nick Pynnonen later called Howell, who asked, “What fight?” and never said he was at the scene, according to Haug.
POST Board counsel Mike Mahoney asked Bier and Haug several times what in their investigation was found to be a lie from Howell.
“The lies from the beginning were Matt’s phone calls to the officers, the reasoning for them and his claim of … what he does or doesn’t remember from the phone calls, why he did or didn’t make the phone calls,” Bier said.
Haug said he thought the officer was being deceitful.
“I just don’t think he’s being forthcoming of what he’s doing. There’s no specific lie, but he’s being deceitful on what occurred," he said.
Bier and Haug also said alcohol was a factor that night but it’s unknown how much Howell had to drink. He was out with a group of people celebrating another man’s birthday.
“Matt alluded to he drank more than he should have, he drank more than he normally would when he was out that night,” Bier said.
As for the disturbance in the parking lot, Bier and Haug said the altercation was verbal in nature with another group, with no physical or criminal elements.
Eddy County Sheriff Paul Lies eventually made a motion that "there is no violation of the peace officers' code of conduct, regrettably."
“I'm seeing it but it’s willful non-disclosure, but there’s no outward lie per se that I see,” he said.
Grand Forks County Commissioner Tom Falck agreed.
“I’m looking for a way to punch his ticket because I don’t think he belongs in law enforcement,” Falck said. “He wasted hours and hours of time, of law enforcement’s time.
Suhr also noted the role of alcohol and the perceived lack of an apparent lie.
“We’re talking about some guys that were out drinking. We’re talking about lack of recall,” he said. “Alcohol affects people differently, and, what I think is being inferred as deception is, in reality, people too drunk to remember everything, and it happens. Doesn’t make it a lie.”
Bier said Howell, who gave no testimony at the hearing, resigned after given the choice to leave or be fired. Suhr said Howell is now unemployed.
POST Board members voted unanimously on Lies’ motion, with North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Dan Haugen and Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler abstaining.
With their vote, Howell’s peace officer’s license stays intact.