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State Yanks Marshall County Sheriff’s Certification for Sexual Harassment

Sheriff Dale Elsen beat Cody Sunderland for reëlection as Marshall County Sheriff last month 83% to 17%. Sheriff Dale Elsen threw that vote of confidence, his job, and his law enforcement certification away by saying and doing the following really gross and stupid things:

  • Sheriff no more—Dale Elsen
    Sheriff no more—Dale Elsen

    …made a sexually explicit comment directed at a deputy in front of other deputies and an inmate while the inmate was changing into his jail uniform…  about how the deputy would like to see the inmate’s penis.

  • …handed out calendars with pictures of women in bikinis to the staff in his office, but gave one deputy a calendar with photos of cars before making a comment that the deputy shouldn’t get one of the bikini calendars because he might end up masturbating while driving.
  • …made inappropriate comments in general about the bodies of women who worked at the Marshall County Courthouse.
  • …asked a dispatcher after she returned from vacation whether she had gotten “laid.”
  • …would show staff a “wind-up penis” toy….
  • …offered to a newly hired deputy a novelty badge that depicted a naked woman and the phrase “muff diving” between the woman’s legs.
  • …showed a picture of a man’s genitals from a criminal case to several deputies and commented to them, “You guys know you want this” [Shannon Marvel, “Marshall County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Certification Revoked After He Admits to Seven Sexual Harassment Complaints,” Aberdeen American News, 2018.12.14].

Marvel reports that Elsen admitted he said and did these things and admitted these things were inappropriate. But he “attributed his conduct to how his past supervisors acted.”

Hey, Dale! When the people you work for act like jerks, and you know they are acting like jerks, then when you become the boss, you still have an obligation not to act like a jerk.

SDCL 23-3-43 requires elected sheriffs to have state law enforcement certification. ARSD 02:01:02:01 says an individual whose certification has been revoked by the Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission may not work as a law enforcement officer.

The Marshall County Commission heard about Elsen’s vile and doltish actions back in January. The Marshall County Commission kept Elsen on the job. The Marshall County Commission is meeting today at 3:30 p.m. in executive session to discuss “personnel issues.”

The Division of Criminal Investigation deserves credit here for taking allegations of sexual harassment seriously, investigating, and helping unpin a badge from a jerk. DCI’s pursuit of sexual harasser Elsen differs markedly from its treatment of sexual harassment in the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, where DCI found it preferable to punish the victim in its own ranks rather than hold the harassers accountable.

Update 12:49 CST: Dale Elsen posted these excuses for his sexual harassment last night on his “Sheriff Dale Elsen” Facebook page:

Here are my explanations of these complaints.

1-In dealing with an intoxicated individual that had to be talked into surrendering per warrant of arrest. While he was being processed into the jail facility by deputies he had to remove his shirt and pants to put on his jail clothing. The individual made a V action with his hands while in his underwear. He asked “Do you want some of this?” I replied No but maybe the deputies do. The individual’s brother was present laughed and told him to get dressed,which he did.

2. The bikini calendars were given to me by a tool company salesman that had stopped by the office. He asked me how many deputies I had he gave me one for each deputy for their personal use. The calendars were not for their patrol cars.

3. DCI, HP,Deputies,among others including myself have made comments about female bodies while at the courthouse. A DCI agent made comments about my wife when she walked by while there. Guys do this. Not something I am proud of. In May I set up harassment training for all county employees and supervisors.

4. I jokingly made a comment when a dispatcher returned from vacation saying she looked happier than when she left and must have gotten lucky or laid. The Janitor was present when it was said.

5. The penis toy was left on a desk in the deputy room. It did NOT belong to me. I asked Deputy Sunderland and the court service officer what it was. I was told to wind it up which I did. I told them it was sick and threw it away.

6. The badge was brought to the office by someone that had been at the Sturgis motorcycle rally. It was laying [sic] on my desk and I put it in the drawer where I keep badges for the department. When an officer asked me for a badge I opened the drawer gave him a dept. badge and showed him the badge from the rally that had been left on my desk. The badge did have an inappropriate slogan on it.

7. A sex case photo was shown to officers. I made a comment about the size of the male body part and said this is our newest sex case in the county.

It was apparent that some members of this commission had their minds made up before I spoke. They refused to allow our 4 commissioners or Butch Wegleitner to speak who attended on my behalf. The commission made a motion to revoke my law enforcement certificate. Upon receiving the paperwork I will then have the opportunity to appeal the decision. I am seeking counsel to determine my options.

Thank you everyone that has contacted me offering your support [Dale Elsen, “Sheriff Dale Elsen” Facebook page, 2018.12.13].


  1. Ryan 2018-12-14 15:28

    Not one of those items, nor the sum of all of them, seems like enough of an offense to end somebody’s career.

    What I have noticed in the last decade or so is the weakening of the word harassment with the result of making any joke or comment with even the smallest hint of a sexual nature out to be sexual harassment.

    It is currently the trend to assume guilt until innocence is proven, especially when somebody says they were offended by something. I think this is the case because the 95% of people who are able to ignore trivial differences in personalities have become scared of the 5% who have nothing better to do than complain about jokes they don’t find funny. That 5% has all the time in the world to write letters and go on social media and reduce a person’s life or career down to partial quotes or incomplete anecdotes, and the rest of us are busy living our lives and have something to lose so we just keep placating the squeaky wheels rather than risk falling victim to their disproportionate responses to mostly harmless behavior.

  2. grudgenutz 2018-12-14 16:02

    Okay, Ryan, maybe YOU should be sheriff. You stupid F***.

    By the way, I’d like to see the curriculum for Elsen’s “harassment training for all county employees and supervisors.”

  3. Ryan 2018-12-14 16:18

    And we have our first volunteer for the “I take life way too seriously” club. Your sisters will join you momentarily, ma’am.

  4. grudgenutz 2018-12-14 16:39

    I once went to a trial in Sturgis. About 20 DCI agents had been subpoenaed to testify. They arrived in the common area surrounded by the Treasurer’s, Auditor’s, Clerk’s, etc., service windows. They had come from all corners of the state and, understandably, made like they hadn’t seen each other in a while.

    That ceremony consisted of a kind of universal mock nut-grabbing and ball-kneeing, all in plain view of those womanning the county offices.

    Harmless? Yeah, I suppose. I mean nobody actually had his nuts grabbed, and no one died. On the other hand, it was not exactly the sort of display that made a person like me think “These guys are protecting me from bad guys.”

  5. Ryan 2018-12-14 17:14

    Weird that human beings don’t behave like robots, I know!

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-14 18:00

    Ryan, tell me what kind of place you work in that it is even conceivable that you would say, “penis” out loud even once. Tell me what sort of workplace makes it acceptable to make any comment about whether a co-worker has had sex. Tell me what sort of workplace deems it acceptable to hand out bikini calendars? (And hey, tool company rep in Elsen’s story—what made you think it was a good idea to hand out bikini posters in a government office?)

    I cannot imagine making any of the comments Elsen admits he made in any of the places I’ve worked and not breaching workplace protocol.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-14 18:01

    Consider that Sturgis story, and consider the example set for children.

  8. John 2018-12-14 18:02

    Hurrah for the return of the SD DCI to the folds of good governance. We pay for and expect nothing less than living by the rule of law. If one wouldn’t say it, do it, or explain it to ones grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter — then it’s likely it’s harassment or the exploitation of sexual differences.

  9. Ryan 2018-12-14 18:19

    I think someone who works 4 decades in a tough public service job dealing with the scum of the earth, a job that pays too little and demands too much, a job for which you put your life on the line, should maybe get a warning or something for this mildly inappropriate behavior. Maybe do some voluntary training on workplace behavior…oh wait…that’s the suggested and reasonable step that was skipped in favor of the ultimate job punishment for rather vanilla, although crude, actions.

    Also, not everything needs to be suitable for all ages. “What kind of example are we setting for the children?” doesn’t apply at county lockup.

  10. Ryan 2018-12-14 18:48

    It’s conceivable that the word penis might be uttered in an environment that includes the uncomfortable necessity of watching men change their clothes and viewing evidence pictures of male genitals. Not one bit surprising.

    It is important to respect all people equally. You are expected to be aware of how you present yourself in public, and especially at work. But expecting all men to turn off their sense of humor to avoid bothering the most delicate person in the room is just too much. That’s all I’m saying. The bar is set too high these days, and artificially so. Only the most elite whiners and phony progressives care this much about these kinds of mundane interactions between adults.

  11. Porter Lansing 2018-12-14 18:57

    Ryan wins the weekly award for being the most behind the times and the furthest away from the right side of history. I’ve been waiting for him to use the term “politically correct” so I’ll use it first.
    -While it’s everyone’s right to be a “horses ass”, it’s also everyone’s right to stand up to boorish public behavior, denounce the unfiltered and speak to the other side of every issue.
    -Seeking shelter behind an invented shield of words will not be tolerated. Politically correct if first of all correct, no matter what preface is supplanted to misdirect the truth of the matter and claim discrimination when none is present.
    “What many call political correctness, I call decency. Correct is Correct, no matter how you want to criticize it.” – me

  12. Ryan 2018-12-14 19:21

    People who quote themselves should immediately be under suspicion of either nefarious motives or at least poor judgment. It’s unsurprisingly analogous to sniffing one’s own farts.

    People should absolutely stand up to inappropriate behavior and there should be consequences. It just appears here the consequences were very disproportionate to the behavior.

  13. Porter Lansing 2018-12-14 19:25

    What’s the matter, Ry Guy? Don’t you like my humor? Does it offend you? Awwwww …… As you see, something that many think is funny and appropriate isn’t always such with others. ha ha ha :)

  14. Ryan 2018-12-14 19:38

    How did you get any such thing out of my comment?

  15. Donald Pay 2018-12-14 19:48

    Boy, that’s a toxic workplace, but even worse, it indicates an unprofessional law enforcement agency. Somebody could have sued. Certainly, that inmate could sue, and get a huge payout from the county. The sheriff deserves firing and public humiliation. What a creep.

  16. Ryan 2018-12-14 20:15

    Donald, what cause of action would an inmate have based on the two different accounts of the interaction described here?

  17. Roger Cornelius 2018-12-14 20:18

    Over the past few years there have been so many cases reported of men behaving badly and having to pay the consequences in dollars.
    According to Ryan’s comments it is likely he would he would make these crude comments to his grandmother or other female members of his family.
    That should be the gauge when men make sexist comments about women, would you say that to a female member of your family?

  18. Ryan 2018-12-14 20:30

    I disagree completely that the threshold for all behavior should be what a person would say or do around a hypothetical and delicate grandma. That’s stupid and arbitrary. Also, agist and sexist. You know there are crude grammas don’t you? I’ve heard little old ladies say things in professional settings that you wouldn’t believe.

    Don’t fall for this new age baloney that everyone else’s feelings should dictate your behavior for fear of judgement. The self appointed judges are typically hypocrites.

  19. Porter Lansing 2018-12-14 20:43

    Don’t fall for this new age baloney that everyone else’s feelings should dictate your behavior for fear of judgement. The self appointed judges are typically hypocrites.
    Did someone ask you what you think of are you just “smelling your own farts?”

  20. Ryan 2018-12-14 21:12

    Get yourself together man, you make no sense.

  21. leslie 2018-12-14 21:43

    LEOFC. Gee why have a commission? Get yourself appointed Ryan.

  22. Ryan 2018-12-14 22:48

    Nah seems like an uptight crowd. Not my style.

  23. grudznick 2018-12-14 23:22

    My good friend Bob, usually after his fellows have ingested a healthy breakfast for free, also does a bit of groin kneeing. I have seen this often, and once I gently cupped Bob from behind and golly you would think he just hated fellows who accidentally touched other fellows. I’m just sayin…

  24. grudznick 2018-12-14 23:24

    I must also note, out of fear of a prosecution by the witches and the cops, that when I flicked Bob’s nuts and then gently cupped them, it was not in a work environment. It was breakfast, folks. Boys will be boys post-breakfast.

  25. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-15 06:43

    Ryan, I’m not talking about conversation with a hypothetical and fragile grandma (though I did once call my grandma-in-law out on her pro-Sarah Palin BS, so even grandma is a complicated standard). I’m talking about interactions with every colleague in every workplace in which I’ve ever earned a paycheck.

    Review the rule I linked on minimum standards for employment in SD law enforcement. Item #4 is “is of good moral character.” Do the comments Elsen has admitted making reflect “good moral character”?

  26. OldSarg 2018-12-15 06:54

    “though I did once call my grandma-in-law out on her pro-Sarah Palin BS”?!!!! Cory, your own Grandma?!

    Dang, my Grandma believed the stuff in the National Enquirer, like B-29 on the moon, but I wouldn’t have been so hard as to “call her out”. . . I can’t imagine what harm your Grandma was doing in liking Palin that she needed to be called out. . . How was she hurting someone? Was she forcing others to like Palin?

  27. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-15 07:06

    (Notice OS always goes for the hypotheticals and not for the main issue, on which he is unable to mount any reasonable or informed argument. I tire of talking personalities, OS. You bore me and instruct no one.)

  28. OldSarg 2018-12-15 07:16

    Cory, I wasn’t trying to distract or make something into a hypothetical at all. I was simply commenting on what you posted. Maybe I was just a bit shocked that someone would do such a thing to an elderly person and then I ask myself “why would someone berate an elderly person one something to trivial as her opinion of Palin?” I guess we all pick our own battles but it just seems to me a bit petty.

    As far as the topic at many it is clear the Sheriff thinks he was running a boys club instead of a law enforcement agency. Put him out the door.

    Picking on Granny?

  29. grudgenutz 2018-12-15 07:44

    I see grudzie is still licking up that feces.

  30. Porter Lansing 2018-12-15 07:47

    Every novel needs an antagonist. DFP is Shakespearean in it’s character array.

  31. Edwin Arndt 2018-12-15 10:46

    Cory, you have lived a very sheltered life.

  32. Porter Lansing 2018-12-15 10:50

    Hi, Edwin … you krazy kraut. :) Hope all is well with the Arndt clan. Merry Christmas from Colorado.

  33. Edwin Arndt 2018-12-15 11:17

    Same to you, Porter.

  34. Debbo 2018-12-15 15:58

    That’s pure trash that sheriff said. I’ve worked in all kinds of places, professional and unskilled labor. The only place ALMOST that bad was a meat packing plant in Huron in the 1980s.

    What was he thinking. Pure cheap slut mouth. He deserves everything single thing he gets. That “boys will be boys” crap is just that. If it was true I would have heard that kind of talk at every worksite. I didn’t.

  35. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-15 16:50

    Sheltered, Edwin? You mean I’m supposed to go to work and act like a pig?

    I could go to work and say and do all of the things Elsen said and did. I choose not to, because I respect my co-workers. Tell me how that choice gives you evidence to claim that I have lived a “sheltered” life.

    Also, Edwin, name me a workplace in which Elsen’s words and actions are appropriate.

  36. Daniel Buresh 2018-12-15 21:08

    “Not one of those items, nor the sum of all of them, seems like enough of an offense to end somebody’s career.”

    If it’s enough for a lawsuit, it is enough to end a career. I have never heard of such language being acceptable in any professional work environment. Ryan doesn’t understand that a joke to one person could be a huge insult to another. Ryan doesn’t get to decide how the recipient gets to feel. Anyone with any common sense knows that these topics are completely off limits in a work environment. It might fly at a minimum wage job which may indicate why some think this is acceptable.

  37. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-16 08:24

    Indeed, Daniel. I can think of all sorts of off-color jokes, some of which I have laughed at, that I would never consider reciting to my co-workers, either on the clock or when we bump into each other outside of work.

    Even minimum-wage workers should be expected to behave civilly.

  38. Edwin Arndt 2018-12-16 08:52

    No, Cory, I’m just saying that some work places are (or were) like that.

  39. Edwin Arndt 2018-12-16 09:08

    Cory, don’t be to hard on the county commission. We had something like this in my home county
    some years ago. The sheriff was using much the same language. There was a recall committee
    formed and to make a very long story short, the Governor removed the sheriff. If I have my
    facts straight, the county commission did not have the power to remove an elected
    official. I don’t know what the legalities might be in SD.

  40. mike from iowa 2018-12-16 09:20

    If places of employment were safe from lawsuits pertaining to fostering a hostile work environment, more crass jokes would be tolerated if not basically allowed.

  41. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-16 13:15

    I know they are, Edwin, and such workplaces, especially workplaces paid for by and representing and protecting the public, should be cleaned up.

    The legalities seem clear: the AG’s office and state law say you can’t be sheriff if you don’t have state law enforcement certification. But I am curious as to how technically the sheriff is fired, because, indeed, the sheriff is elected separately from the commission and thus cannot usually be fired by the commission.

    But Elsen should consider himself fired. His authority to act as sheriff is null and void without his certification. I would contend that if you’re driving through Marshall County, Dale Elsen cannot pull you over, write you a ticket, or otherwise exert any legal authority over you.

  42. Ryan 2018-12-17 08:15

    Daniel said: “Ryan doesn’t get to decide how the recipient gets to feel.” But that is only half true. You are allowed to come on here and say that you think these statements are enough to fire somebody. I’m allowed to come on here and say I don’t think they are. What is “appropriate” is not set in stone. It is a flexible social agreement that we are all a part of and everyone gets a voice. Obviously I am a minority in this conversation, but that doesn’t make me wrong.

    As I mentioned, I don’t think what he said and did is appropriate, I think it was crude. However I don’t think the punishment was appropriate or proportional for the behavior, given his tenure and the nature of his job.

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