A Crow Wing County Sheriff's deputy voluntarily resigned from his position after an investigation was conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to determine if he abused his authority as a law enforcement officer.
The investigation of the deputy, Mike Davis of Pequot Lakes, was initiated after the BCA received a letter of concern from Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl.
"I am formally requesting assistance from the Minnesota BCA for a conflict criminal investigation that involves an employee of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office," Dahl stated in a Feb. 23 letter to BCA Superintendent Drew Evans in St. Paul. "My office has recently been informed of conduct by one of my deputies that I have great concern and feel that the conduct has risen to the level of criminal activity. Your assistance in this matter would be appreciated."
The investigation was to determine whether Davis, who had been with the sheriff's department since May 16, 2001, misused his authority as a deputy in looking up sensitive or private law enforcement data-in this case, license plate numbers-and then providing the information to a private citizens. One individual is a member of a Minnesota group that is part of a national organization called The Three Percenters, which describes itself as "a group of patriotic citizens who state they love their country, their freedoms and their liberty; and are committed to standing against and exposing corruption and injustice."
Agents questioned Davis on whether he ran license plate numbers at the request of a member of The Three Percenters group, who thought he was being followed by federal agents. When the investigation was complete, it was sent to the Crow Wing County Attorney's Office to determine if criminal charges would be filed.
On June 1, Davis resigned as a deputy.
"About a year ago I made a mistake," Davis stated in a written letter he gave to the Dispatch on Oct. 20. "I admitted that mistake and as a result of that mistake I chose to leave my service as a deputy. I left the county for personal and professional reasons, but mainly because it was the right decision for my family. I look forward to moving on to continue to serve the community, just no longer as a deputy."
Davis currently is a part-time law enforcement officer for Pequot Lakes and Emily.
The county attorney's office declined to prosecute Davis for criminal charges.
"Deputy Davis resigned his employment with Crow Wing County. I felt that was an appropriate disposition for this case," Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said. "I exercised my professional discretion and declined prosecution."
Ryan submitted a letter June 12 to the investigating agency and to Paul Rogosheske of South St. Paul, an attorney representing Davis, stating the county attorney's office would not prosecute the case. The letter is standard procedure when a case is not prosecuted.
Sheriff Dahl had no comment on the outcome of the investigation, as advised by the county attorney.
The group came to Davis' attention in 2015 when he was on his personal Facebook page. The social media site suggested groups he may be interested in following. Davis, who sat down with the Dispatch Oct. 20, said he follows World War II aircraft and veteran groups, and when he saw the link to the group "The Three Percenters - III%ers" he clicked on it.
He requested to be part of its closed Minnesota group-"United Patriots of Minnesota 3%." He joined the group as he thought "the group was pro-military and pro-constitutional, and to me, that is a big thing for me," Davis said. "I took an oath and I was in the military to protect the Constitution. I took that same oath when I became a law enforcement officer."
According to the group's Facebook page: "'The Three Percenters' is a national organization made up of patriotic citizens who love their country, their freedoms and their liberty. We are committed to standing against and exposing corruption and injustice.
"We are NOT anti-government. In fact, we are very pro-government, so long as the government abides by the Constitution, doesn't overstep its bounds, and remains 'for the people and by the people.'"
Davis said he was a part of the closed group for about a year, but didn't pay much attention to it until the last six months.
"The cop in me did some investigating into it," Davis said. "Just to see exactly who some of the people were. There was a former police chief in it, there was a guy who is a RN (registered nurse). ... There were decent people and some not so decent people in the group. After the fact, obviously I regret joining that group."
Davis said he looked into a member of the closed group named Jason Thomas.
"He could be a decent guy or he couldn't be," Davis said. "He was saying some stuff that could be taken this way or that, but give the guy the benefit of the doubt."
Crow Wing County Chief Deputy Dennis Lasher said the sheriff's office has policies and procedures in place whereas county deputies cannot do their own private investigations. If a deputy would conduct an investigation on their own, they cannot use any county resource, such as the Driver and Vehicle Services database, to look up license plate numbers or the county's records management system called "Law Enforcement Technology Group."
According to a July 29, 2017, Star Tribune story, the Minnesota The Three Percenters group, including Thomas, was targeted by the FBI. The FBI raided Thomas' Red Wing home in December of 2016 after months of infiltration by a paid FBI informant, who documented what agents said was firearms training in Stillwater and Albert Lea and chatter on a secret Facebook page Thomas helped run. The story stated a copy of a search warrant, signed by a federal judge, alleged Thomas and his fellow United Patriot members schemed to illegally obtain and use powerful weapons. No charges were filed in the investigation.
Davis started messaging Thomas on April 1, 2015. According to the private Facebook messages between Davis and Thomas, which became public when the case was closed, Thomas asked Davis what his reasons were to join the "constitutional patriot group."
Davis responded, "I am a deputy sheriff, I am a peace officer, not a police officer. To me the constitution comes first. My training partner and I also have our own firearms training company in the lakes area. Patrol Tactical. Thanks for what you are doing.
"Less Government in our lives."
The BCA executed two search warrants at Davis' residence to search his personal computer, including hard drives, scanners and modems; electronic devices, including cellphones, portable audio devices and video entertainment consoles; and accessed his Facebook page, which included the private messages/communications between Davis and Thomas. BCA agents interviewed Davis, who admitted he provided motor vehicle registration information to private citizens 12 times. Davis further indicated he did use Facebook private messaging for these contacts.
The BCA reviewed all the Facebook private messages from Davis to Thomas, which included:
• On July 9, 2015: "Get me plates on those cars to at least confirm if it is the feds."
• On Sept. 24, 2015: "I had an email from a few weeks ago (some intel from the feds they send out to [law enforcement]) about different groups that pose a threat within our borders. Us III%'ers are like #3. I'll have to find it and sent it to you. You're right. American does not need another civil war. I fear for my kids."
• On Sept. 25, 2015, a message to several individuals: "... Get me those plates from the vehicle. I want to do some looking into it as well plus Jason had gotten into a conversation last night and I commented on it and like a few of his other comments ..."
• On Oct. 23, 2015: "My buddy with Goodhue County (Sheriff's Office) did some checking and couldn't find anything with that guy's name. He didn't recognize the name either. We need to elect sheriffs who will stand up to the feds. They are the last line of defense against them ..."
On April 18, 2016, Thomas asked Davis to run a license plate, as he wanted to know the registered owner of a vehicle. "Suspicious persons were constantly circling a brother's house," Thomas wrote.
Davis replied, "Gotta buddy checking on it."
The BCA document stated the license plate was queried while Davis was off-duty and he asked another law enforcement officer to check the plate. No records of the plate were found when queried.
Davis messaged Thomas: "He can't get it to come back for some reason."
The BCA found several messages between Davis, who also was a firearms instructor with the sheriff's office, and other members of the group, in which Davis offered equipment, including Glock handgun holsters, Battle Dress Uniforms, chest rigs, medical supplies, flashlights, miscellaneous firearm accessories, body armor and ammunition.
"It is unclear if the equipment being offered is personally owned by Mike Davis or if the equipment is sourced from the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office," the BCA agent stated in the affidavit in support of a search warrant document submitted to the Crow Wing County district judge.
Davis signed a BCA document titled "Criminal Investigation Warning" that the statements he provided to agents were voluntarily and that no one was threatening or pressuring him to do so.
Davis told the Dispatch he immediately left the The Three Percenters closed group and deleted all the Facebook private messages when he figured out it was a group he did not want to be associated with. Davis said he messaged Thomas stating he was leaving to make sure there would be no hard feelings.
"I didn't want any repercussions from him," Davis said. "I wanted to leave on a good note, if you will, because you never know. ... When I got out of the group, some of the stuff he was saying to other people-it was a lot of was ranting and raving toward law enforcement. This was one of the reasons why I left the group."
Davis admitted he did discuss equipment and training with members of the group, but he never provided any training to the group. He said early on in his communications with the group, he gave some of his personal-not county-owned-military equipment to the group, such as old uniforms, but never any firearms.
Davis said before he left the group, Thomas told him he thought he was being followed. Thomas didn't know by whom, or may have thought it was the FBI, but Davis said he doesn't recall.
Regarding the April 18, 2016, message, Davis said Thomas gave him the license plate information, he looked it up and it came back "not on file," and he told Thomas this. Thomas then said it was a Wisconsin plate. Davis said he has access to Wisconsin plates, but told Thomas he didn't have access as "I wasn't going to look into it any further."
Davis said if the plate would have come back as a FBI agent, he wouldn't have provided that information to Thomas. He would have called the FBI directly.
Davis said he never told the law enforcement officer who looked up the plate for him what it was about.
"I didn't want to get him involved," Davis said, who also did not tell his superiors about his contact with the group. "This was my thing. ... I just told a buddy, who was a law enforcement officer in the area where (Thomas) lives, but no one local.
"(Thomas) wasn't breaking the law."
Davis said he ran another license plate for a woman whose husband was in The Three Percenters and she wanted him to leave the group. She was concerned for their safety. He said he took down the plate number, looked it up to confirm the registered owner to see if the woman was in any danger. Davis said he never gave the woman any information on who the plates belonged to, but after she said a few names of people it could be, he was able to determine she was not in danger.
"I did that out of a safety concern," Davis said.
"In law enforcement we are constantly doing that in town. If I see something odd I will take down the plate down and call dispatch and look into it.
"We are expected to be cops 24-7. If you are suspicious about something off-duty, do you ignore it? How do you live with it if something goes wrong and you didn't do anything about it?"
Davis served in the military for 14 years, which included three years of active duty in the Army as a paratrooper and 11 years in the Minnesota National Guard. Davis served a 21-month deployment with 15 of those months spent overseas in Iraq.
"During my years of service I held an unblemished disciplinary record," Davis stated in the letter.
According to the county's personnel file on Davis, he only had one complaint filed against him in 2005 alleging misconduct. That complaint was deemed unfounded.
Looking back at things, Davis regrets being involved with The Three Percenters group. He said knowing what he knows now, he would have never joined the group. However, Davis said the investigation is behind him and he and his family are moving forward with their lives.
"There was no ill intent on my part, I believe," Davis said.