Fargo Civil Service Commission hearing touches on police department’s handling of mental health issues

FARGO — A Fargo Civil Service Commission hearing was called Tuesday morning, Feb. 8, to hear an appeal from a former Fargo police officer who was recently fired for alleged dereliction of duty for the way he handled a missing child report and how he handled a stolen vehicle report.

Justin Nachatilo’s appeal hearing also touched on how the Fargo Police Department addresses the issue of officers’ mental health when another former officer, Mike Lovejoy, testified that he feels the department is “ignoring the fact that officers are struggling” with mental health and that disciplinary action is taken. it is sometimes used to address performance issues that stem from things like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lovejoy said he resigned from the Fargo Police Department in November due in part to his own struggles with mental health and his belief that he could no longer give the job what it required.

He also said he didn’t see the police department making moves to change a system he believes punishes officers who fight.

“We can’t keep chewing up officers and spitting them out when they are no longer good for us,” the former officer said, adding: “We are a family, we can’t do this to our brothers and sisters. “

When Fargo City Attorney Nancy Morris, who represented the city during Tuesday’s hearing, asked Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski if any of the issues raised by Lovejoy played a role in Fargo’s firing, officer Nachatilo, Zibolski answered no.

Zibolski went on to describe two cases that he said were related to Nachatilo’s firing: a September 7, 2021, missing persons report involving two children under the age of 13, and a July 10, 2021 stolen vehicle case. .

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In the case of the missing children, Zibolski said it took Nachatilo 27 minutes to answer the call and said that on the way to the call, Nachatilo stopped to buy a cup of coffee.

Zibolski said Nachatilo never filed a required missing persons report in the case and said information about the missing children was never placed in a national database as required by policy.

In the stolen vehicle case, Zibolski said Nachatilo never met with the victim and never filled out a report on the vehicle until the Cass County Sheriff’s Office found it abandoned in a field two days later.

Fargo City Attorney Nancy Morris speaks Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, with the Civil Service Commission at a hearing to appeal the firing of former Fargo police officer Justin Nachatilo for failing to complete a person report. missing and mishandling a stolen vehicle case, according to city records.

Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Zibolski said the evidence the sheriff’s office found in the vehicle that could have shed light on who took it — a soda can and a pair of socks — was turned over to Nachatilo, who never produced the socks as evidence and who He said he accidentally dropped the soda can.

By failing to complete a report on the stolen vehicle, Nachatilo put other law enforcement officers at risk because they might have encountered someone driving the stolen vehicle without knowing it was stolen, Zibolski told the commission.

Zibolski added that the loss of evidence affected more than that case because the theft was believed to be linked to 20 other carjackings.

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Testifying before the board, Nachatilo said that based on what he was told by the missing children’s biological father and stepmother and a West Fargo police officer early in the investigation, he believed the children had been picked up by their biological mother. who was visiting the area. and he had indicated that she wanted to see the children.

Nachatilo said that was eventually determined to be the case when the birth mother called the police later that day.

Regarding the report of the stolen vehicle, Nachatilo said that based on what the victim told him over the phone, he believed there was a high probability that the vehicle had been towed from the apartment complex where it was parked, not stolen.

Nachatilo also said that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that several years ago his mental health problems caused problems at work.

He said he was later cleared to return to duty, but said the post-traumatic stress disorder had not gone away.

Zibolski stressed that during the six hours it took to confirm who the children were with, “no one knew for sure where they were.”

Asked by Morris if he thought Nachatilo would be able to serve as an officer in the police department again, Zibolski replied, “I don’t see that there is any way that he can.”

Leo Wilking, an attorney representing Nachatilo, told the commission that the level of disciplinary action taken against his client was inconsistent with the discipline other officers had received in similar cases.

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Wilking also claimed that the way the police department treated Nachatilo showed a “disturbing tendency to deal with mental health issues by imposing discipline.”

At the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, the Civil Service Commission decided to reconvene at 3 pm Friday to make a decision.

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