South Dakota Police Commission Forgives Officers For Marijuana Use

“I am an honest and hard-working person and I will do whatever I can to improve our community.”

By John Hult, South Dakota Searchlight

Two law enforcement hopefuls were offered forgiveness for cannabis use by the South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission on Wednesday in Pierre.

The vote for Parkston Police Officer Kody Beckers makes him eligible for certification in the state in spite of a seven-year-old guilty plea to THC wax possession during his freshman year of college in Minnesota. THC is the compound that gives marijuana its high.

A future Roberts County sheriff’s deputy, meanwhile, was offered a shot at certification despite her use of a tribal medical marijuana card—which isn’t recognized by the state—to treat pain with marijuana last summer after a surgery.

The two decisions were among more than a dozen calls made by the commission on Wednesday on certification or recertification of officers, canine units and reciprocity for out-of-state or Indian Country officers seeking state certification.

Several of those decisions involved brief appearances by officer hopefuls and their employers. Other decisions, such as the canine unit recertifications, were voted on in bulk after staff rundowns.

Minnesota crime considered

Given the nature of his situation, Kody Beckers appeared before the commission for a contested case hearing that played out similar to a court appearance.

Beckers was offered a plea deal in Minnesota for the 2015 crime of THC wax possession, a felony in that state at the time that remains a felony in South Dakota. People who plead guilty to felonies are typically ineligible for employment in law enforcement in the state.

He was given a stay of adjudication in exchange for an admission of guilt, which made him eligible to have the conviction scrubbed from his record after a successful stint on probation. Beckers completed his probation, and later had the crime expunged from his record.

“I’m not going to fabricate an excuse. It was a mistake. I was in college, my freshman year,” Beckers told commissioners. “Looking back at it now was a blessing in disguise for me. I turned my whole act around.”

Beckers would go on to earn his undergraduate degree at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall and worked for a while as a certified nurse assistant, but decided to return to school to earn a law enforcement certification through Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

“I wanted to find a way to obtain my sense of purpose in helping people,” Beckers said.

His education from Minnesota Tech qualified him for a law enforcement certification, but the prior felony was a snag. The Minnesota Police Officer Standards and Training Board granted Beckers a variance that would have allowed him to be certified in that state.

The job he found after earning that variance was in Parkston.

Beckers said he loves South Dakota and feels he can do a lot of good as an officer. At one point during his five months of employment in Parkston, he told commissioners, he was able to track down a man suspected of sex trafficking a 14-year-old girl.

He was put on administrative leave in May as his reciprocity application was reviewed, but he said the city of Parkston has pledged to hire him back if the commission saw fit to certify him to work in the state.

Beckers’ fitness for duty was less of an issue than South Dakota law, however. State law does not allow the commission to certify potential officers who’ve pleaded guilty to a felony, but it does allow the body to grant exceptions for those given a suspended imposition of sentence in the state.

A stay of adjudication under Minnesota law is a near-mirror of South Dakota’s suspended imposition of sentence statutes, Division of Criminal Investigation Attorney Kelly Marnette told commissioners.

Even so, the state law allowing leeway for the latter in law enforcement certification decisions makes no mention of similar modes of sentencing in other states. Without guidance from state law, Marnette said, the commission would need to rely on its own administrative rules, which say a person convicted of a felony cannot be a certified law enforcement officer in the state.

“I’m not saying that this candidate is not a worthy candidate for certification in South Dakota,” Marnette said. “The question is, ‘Do you have the authority, under the way that some statutes and rules are written at this time, to do what Minnesota did in granting a variance?’ … I’ll leave it to you to decide.”

After more than 40 minutes of closed executive session discussion, the commission sided with Beckers.

Lincoln County State’s Attorney and commission member Tom Wollman said it was a tough-but-correct call for an officer whose crime took place so long ago.

“I think that this is an appropriate consideration for this board,” Wollman said. “We have pretty clear authority under our state law. It gives us that discretion.”

Beckers will be required to undergo periodic drug testing as a condition of eligibility for certification.

Medical marijuana use forgiven

The commission reached a similar conclusion for Alicen Fladland. She appeared Wednesday with the support of Roberts County Sheriff Tyler Appel, who hopes to hire her as a deputy and get her in line for the certification course that would set her on the path to a career in South Dakota law enforcement.

She’s worked for Appel since 2021, first as a dispatcher and later as a correctional officer. Appel would like to see her move up into a deputy role, which would require law enforcement certification.

On her application for that certification, however, Fladland admitted to using marijuana in 2022. She later told investigators that she’d obtained a medical marijuana card through the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe after a knee surgery. She’d explained to Appel that she went that route to avoid potentially addictive prescription painkillers, but didn’t realize that tribal medical marijuana cards are not recognized by the state.

“She thought she was going through the legal way to manage that pain,” he said.

Fladland said she was thankful for the opportunity to be considered for potential certification.

“I am an honest and hard-working person and I will do whatever I can to improve our community,” Fladland said.

Hank Prim, who leads law enforcement training for the state Division of Criminal Investigation, recommended a reinstatement of eligibility.

“She was honest on her application,” Prim said. “Had she not been honest on her application, there’s a good chance that the law enforcement commission would not have known about it.”

Attorney General Marty Jackley, an ex-officio member of the commission, moved to reinstate her eligibility on the condition that she submit a new application. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the decision.

This story was first published by South Dakota Searchlight.

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