WF officer fired for harassing female co-worker; Zeeb previously resigned from BCI amid probe into ties to strippers
By Mike Nowatzki / The Forum
WEST FARGO – A West Fargo police officer who resigned from his previous job with the state crime bureau amid an investigation into his involvement with two strippers has been fired by the city’s Police Department for allegedly harassing a female co-worker after she ended their romantic relationship.
Police records obtained by The Forum show Kendall Zeeb was placed on paid administrative leave in late April as the harassment accusation was being investigated. He was fired May 14 for violation of a city policy regarding harassment and offensive behavior.
Zeeb and the co-worker had a relationship from December 2010 until February. She chose to end it out of guilt, her religious beliefs and because she was no longer attracted to him, according to the report by the Cass County Sheriff’s Office’s internal affairs sergeant, who conducted the independent investigation.
On their last night together at Zeeb’s place in February, the woman said Zeeb cried hysterically, threw his cellphone and grabbed her arm to prevent her from leaving. Zeeb denied grabbing the woman, the report states.
The woman told Zeeb within a day or two that she wanted no contact with him, but from late February to late April he sent her numerous text, Facebook and phone messages, including explicit sexual messages, the report states. Zeeb also stopped by her desk at work and asked why they couldn’t be friends and threatened to expose their relationship to friends and family on Facebook, the report states.
In an interview Tuesday, Zeeb contested some of the report’s findings said he doesn’t believe his actions warranted firing. He said he and the co-worker had fallen in love, adding, “Neither one of us would have preferred that the relationship ended.”
“I certainly pushed to keep it going and stuff,” he said. “And she had said a number of times that she thinks contact needs to end.”
But he said after a period of no contact, the woman contacted him and he thought the relationship was back on.
“Like I told the investigators, it was one of those things that just went back and forth and back and forth,” Zeeb said.
The woman told investigators that she did break down on occasion and responded to some of Zeeb’s messages because she felt she needed to defend herself and try to calm him down when he would mention telling other people about their relationship, the report states.
Zeeb acknowledged sending sexually explicit text messages to the woman.
“There were times I did text her when I’d been drinking and stuff, so I did sent her things that were inappropriate,” he said.
While on administrative leave, Zeeb was ordered to have no contact with department personnel. He violated that order on April 27, making two phone calls to a police clerk and sending a fellow officer several text messages, records state.
In the calls and texts, Zeeb made what a Cass County prosecutor later described as “extremely vulgar and derogatory” comments about Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan.
Zeeb said he has no excuse for the messages “except drunken stupidity.”
“That was probably about the drunkest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “I had actually no knowledge of that until the next day.”
The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation – Zeeb’s former employer – investigated the phone calls and text messages. Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney Renata Selzer reviewed the case for potential charges of harassment and disorderly conduct but decided against charging Zeeb.
In her decline letter, Selzer wrote that while Zeeb’s choice of words was “obviously inappropriate and unprofessional,” he didn’t threaten to injure Reitan and his words would likely be considered protected speech under the First Amendment.
Zeeb filed a harassment counterclaim against the woman, claiming she yelled at him, used synthetic marijuana and gave out his personal information. An investigation by West Fargo Human Resources Director Carmen Schroeder found no supporting documentation or witnesses and no basis for Zeeb’s complaint, according to Schroeder’s May 13 report.
No charges sought
Police Chief Arland Rasmussen said he met with the State’s Attorney’s Office, but decided a criminal investigation by an outside agency into the woman’s harassment complaint wasn’t warranted.
“We just didn’t think there was a need for that extent,” he said. “He’s gone his way, and we’ve went ours.”
Rasmussen hired Zeeb in July 2003, a year after Zeeb’s troubles with the BCI began.
As The Forum has previously reported, Zeeb met a private dancer in July 2002 and became sexually active with her, giving her his BCI cellphone number. The relationship came to light about a month later when Zeeb had to excuse himself from a search warrant about to be served at the woman’s address. Zeeb later admitted to his BCI supervisor that he’d become sexually involved with both the woman and her roommate, and that he had initially paid the woman for at least two dances.
Two weeks into the internal investigation, the BCI director sent Zeeb a letter raising seven concerns he said were cause for firing. Zeeb resigned the next day, citing personal reasons, archives show.
Rasmussen told The Forum in 2003 that he knew about Zeeb’s trouble at the BCI when he hired him and that Zeeb still appeared to be a good officer. Zeeb’s nearly 10 years with the department included a three-year stint as a detective, during which he worked on several high-profile cases, including the armed robbery of the Town & Country Credit Union on Aug. 3, 2009.
Asked Tuesday if he now regrets hiring Zeeb, Rasmussen said, “I have a regret in that I lost an officer out of this. He was a good officer. He did good work as a police officer. He just made some bad personal choices.”
Zeeb’s personnel file shows he also served a 15-day unpaid suspension for incidents with two co-workers on Nov. 16, 2011.
According to the disciplinary report, Zeeb raised his voice and used profanity toward a lieutenant who questioned him about a follow-up report Zeeb had failed to complete in a case involving a juvenile. Zeeb told the lieutenant to give him a reprimand and then walked out of the garage area and into the hallway, continuing to swear in a loud voice, the report states.
Zeeb then entered the kitchen where the department’s juvenile officer was standing at the sink and grabbed him by the shoulders, turned him around and shook him, demanding that he tell the lieutenant that Zeeb had asked him to follow up on the initial report, the disciplinary report states.
In addition to the suspension, Zeeb had to write letters of apology to the co-workers and successfully complete anger management counseling.
Zeeb said he believes he did a good job for the department, but he doesn’t see a permanent position in law enforcement in his future. He didn’t appeal his firing, and he said he doesn’t plan to pursue legal action against the city.
Comp hours questioned
But Zeeb did raise concerns about what he claims were salaried police administrators improperly using compensatory time for administrative leave in 2011.
Reitan said it was “an accepted practice” at the time and wasn’t a violation of city policy. The practice changed shortly after Schroeder was hired as the city’s human resources director in September 2011.
Schroeder said there previously wasn’t a policy regarding the citywide practice of tracking exempt employees’ hours over eight hours a day. She said nothing in the law prohibits an employer from keeping track of an exempt employee’s hours, and that some employers opt to track such hours to ensure all employees are treated equally regardless of their classification.
Shortly after starting with the city, Schroeder said she met with City Administrator Jim Brownlee and decided to stop the practice based on the potential change in the employee’s exempt classification. She said they wanted to eliminate the appearance that they were treating exempt employees as non-exempt employees when tracking hours.
Any administrative comp hours on the books were zeroed out with no additional pay given, Schroeder said, adding, “I wasn’t very popular among some people.”