Watford City Deputy Terminated

Lt. Michael Schmitz was fired on December 30 by the interim sheriff of McKenzie County, Matthew Johansen. The deputy had already been suspended from the department in October.

Schmitz, a three year veteran of the department, was scheduled for a hearing with the McKenzie County Commission to address allegations of bullying made by an independent firm that had done a workplace investigation within the department in the summer of 2016. Before the scheduled hearing could commence, however, Schmitz was relieved of duty after new findings of misconduct were reportedly discovered.

McKenzie County human resource manager, Amanda Willis, stated that the Bureau of Criminal Investigation is looking into the new allegations against Schmitz, but stopped short of specifying details of the offense.

The recent discoveries that led to the firing of Lt. Schmitz do not bode well for embattled Sheriff, Gary Schwartzenberger, who faces similar allegations as those that initially led to the deputy’s suspension. Just as Schmitz faced allegations of bullying, Schwartzenberger was similarly accused of angry tantrums and unnecessary rigidness. The accusations against Schwartzenberger led to the North Dakota state’s attorney, by petition of the McKenzie County commissioners, to request that then-Governor Jack Dalrymple remove Schwartzenberger from office. The state Attorney General’s office then approved the request and removal proceedings are currently being conducted by a special prosecutor.

Starting on December 19, an actual hearing in the case will possibly not finish until early spring. Both the special prosecutor, Bill O’Driscoll and Schwartzenberger’s defense attorney, Michael Geiermann, have requested 90 more days to fully prepare for the hearing.

Once the hearing concludes, a special commissioner will have ten days to send a recommendation regarding Schwartzenberger to Governor Doug Burgum. A petition circulated locally to retain the Sheriff has reached several hundred signatures, but ultimately the North Daktoa Governor will have final say regarding whether or not Schwartzenberger continues as McKenzie County Sheriff.


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