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Douglas County appoints highly experienced top officer after another sheriff resigns

The county's new sheriff brings in over 40 years of local, state and federal law enforcement experience to Douglas County

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Jim Severson was sworn in as the Douglas County Sheriff on Tuesday, Dec. 21, after the sheriff Jon Coler resigned the same day. Submitted photo
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ARMOUR — The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is once again in new hands after a second sheriff has resigned within the past decade.

The appointment of a new sheriff comes following the sudden resignation of former sheriff Jon Coler after Douglas County commissioners brought forth a “disagreement” they had with him.

Chairman of the Douglas County Commission Tim Goldammer said during an executive session at the Dec. 7 regular meeting — a private conversation among commissioners in which Coler was included — commissioners discussed concerns about Coler’s position as sheriff.

“The timeline on that was on Dec. 7, we talked to Coler and talked about some of the differences we had with him,” Goldammer said. “I was advised later on that afternoon by the county auditor that Sheriff Coler had submitted his resignation.”

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Douglas County Sheriff Jon Coler sits in his office Saturday afternoon at the Douglas County Courthouse in Armour. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Douglas County Sheriff Jon Coler sits in his office Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, at the Douglas County Courthouse in Armour. Mitchell Republic file photo

Goldammer said he had already provided a progression of the “disagreement” to other news outlets, and would not be commenting further on the topic. Those news outlets do not have websites.

At the age of 24, Coler became South Dakota’s youngest sheriff in 2011 after submitting his name to fill the open position left by Troy Strid, who resigned after allegations surfaced that he had pocketed money the department made from publicly owned items. Strid was acquitted in September 2011 of an embezzlement charge stemming from the accusation.

In unrelated proceedings in March 2012, Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Hotchkiss pleaded guilty to felony grand theft for submitting a fraudulent insurance claim in 2008. He was not a Douglas County deputy at the time of the fraud, but had resigned from his law enforcement role just two months prior to his sentencing.

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Left: Former deputy Rob Hotchkiss escorts an inmate through the Douglas County Courthouse in 2011. Right: Former sheriff Troy Strid appears awaits a verdict for embezzlement charges in 2011. He was acquitted. Mitchell Republic file photos

After taking office in November 2011, Coler told the Mitchell Republic his main goal was to restore the image of county law enforcement.

READ MORE: New Douglas County Sheriff works to restore trust

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“Right now, I'm trying to follow the letter of the law," Coler said in 2011.

When asked if Coler had lived up to his goal to regain the trustworthiness of the sheriff’s office, Goldammer said “That’s gonna be part of the disagreement.”

Other members of the Douglas County Commission did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Coler did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Mitchell Republic left a voicemail with a number Coler used while he was sheriff, but he did not return the call before this story was published.

Coler’s name has already been removed from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office website, but is still listed by the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association.

New sheriff brings trove of experience

After going through the motions of seeking Coler’s replacement, the Douglas County Commission appointed Jim Severson to serve as sheriff through a popular vote at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

Though the circumstances leading up to his appointment may place a spotlight on his office, Severson wants to assure the public that he intends to focus on heading in the right direction.

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Jim Severson affirms an oath to uphold the office of Douglas County Sheriff during a swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 21. Submitted photo

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“Their last sheriff just decided one day he was gonna resign so he resigned and he left them in a lurch,” Severson said. “I think I can do what the county needs. They need somebody to right the ship.”

Severson’s lengthy resume in a variety of law enforcement roles leads him to believe he can handle any challenge thrown his way.

Beginning as a corrections officer at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in 1980, Severson worked his way to the rank of captain at the facility. After 15 years at the prison, he took a position with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, where he spent over 25 years working a variety of cases.

During his time with the DCI, he even graduated from the FBI National Academy and served on the the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

After nearly 40 years in law enforcement, he was ready to turn in his gun and badge. Or so he thought.

“I couldn't walk away. It was virtually impossible,” Severson said, “so I swore in as a deputy in Lincoln County.”

He spent about a year working part-time as a prisoner transport deputy in Lincoln County, while simultaneously working as a part-time patrol deputy in Turner County. He even ran for Lincoln County Sheriff in 2018, though he lost in the primary by under 700 votes.

After hearing of the possibility of throwing his name in the ring for Douglas County Sheriff, Severson mulled over the decision with his wife, who supported his choice to pursue the job.

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Jim Severson, right, stands with Marty Jackley, left, during a Fraternal Order of Police gathering during National Police Week in 2018. Submitted photo

Since he officially began the role on Tuesday, Severson has been working to make sure the almost 3,000 residents of Douglas County know he wants to be approachable.

“The word’s out that there’s a bald-headed, white-bearded guy that’s the new sheriff, so it takes me 15 minutes to eat lunch but I don't get out of [a restaurant] for over an hour because I’m taking the time to talk,” Severson said with a laugh. “There’s something to be said about community policing. It works in the big city, it can work here.”

Severson plans to push his deputies to be more visible in the county, whether it’s by attending high school sports games or reading books to elementary school students.

“I just want the people of the county to know that I am fired up and looking forward to meeting all of them,” Severson said. “And that’s literally a possibility, because there's less than 3,000 of them and I've got 12 months to meet them.”

Severson encouraged anyone with concerns in the county to contact him.

“I bring a lot to the table,” Severson affirmed. “I've been fortunate throughout my 40 year career that I’ve been exposed and taken part in virtually any kind of an investigation you can think of and that I’ve been given the opportunity to go to lots of trainings.”

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Jim Severson poses for a photo at the beginning of a shift as a Turner County deputy in 2018. Submitted photo

Severson was selected from a pool of three applicants. His competition included Christine Reitsma Lau, of Kimball, and Dustin Palmquist, who already serves as a sheriff’s deputy in Douglas County.

“What stood out with [Severson] was his work experience record, both in the complexity of the matters that he did to deal with and the longevity of his career in law enforcement,” Goldammer said.

Goldammer added that Lau had a variety of qualifying experience as a small-town cop and a state law enforcement officer, and Palmquist’s position as a deputy made him a familiar face to the board.

Commissioners Goldammer, Jerod Star and Nathan Ymker voted for Severson, while Marlin Mass voted for Lau and Lori Sparks voted for Palmquist.

Severson will serve as Douglas County Sheriff for the remainder of Coler’s term, which ends January 2023. He does not intend to run in 2022’s election for the position.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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