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Swenson speaks out: suspended Sebeka police chief says he plans to retire in 2015

Sebeka Police Chief Eric Swenson spoke only briefly during the public portion of the city council meeting to suspend him for 30 days last week, but in a half-hour phone interview Wednesday with the Pioneer Journal, Swenson opened up. He talked about how he's doing following the suspension, his reflections on the incident in Huntersville that resulted in a disorderly conduct charge against him, and his future career plans.

Swenson said he plans on retiring from his post April 1, 2015. He said his trouble with the city council has not played a role in his decision to retire, because retirement has been part of the plan for some time. Swenson said he will be at least 50 years old when he retires, and that after three decades in law enforcement he is tired of the work-related injuries he's sustained, keeping up with younger officers and the politics that go with the job.

"(I) think 30 years is enough," he said. "I wanna do something else."

Swenson has also served on the Hubbard/Wadena County SWAT team, but he said he was "removed in a power play" from the team in 2006.

"I was the last of the old guard, and they wanted us gone," he said.

Swenson also gave his version of events during the night that led to his misdemeanor citation for disorderly conduct. He said he was at the Huntersville Outpost bar for about two hours, but does not remember when he arrived precisely.

When asked if he was drunk at the bar that night, he said "Not really, no."

He also said his behavior "probably was" out of line and he wishes he could take it back. However, he also said if that someone else had committed a similar offense, it would have gone unnoticed.

"Now see, the difference is, if it was anybody else, nobody would have cared," Swenson said.

The resulting controversy has taken its toll on Swenson's well-being, he said.

"My whole life is destroyed," he said.

Swenson said that the good he had done for the community was being ignored.

"I did all kinds of neat, cool things - nobody said anything about that," he said. "There's many times I should have got a medal or an award or something... not even a 'thanks'. Not one time."

When asked to provide examples of good he had performed for the community, Swenson said he "singlehandedly negotiated the surrender" of George Pajari, who in November of last year was involved in a standoff in rural Sebeka with law enforcement.

Swenson said that "it's a horrible, useless feeling" now that the Wadena County Sheriff's Office has taken over law enforcement duties in Sebeka.

As the only full-time officer in the Sebeka Police Department, Swenson described his job as very stressful and said that even during the 12 hours off he's technically given each weekend, he effectively ends up being on-call during those 12 hours anyway. Although he makes mistakes, he said, he has a personal investment in his job as chief.

"Sebeka isn't just a community that I am the patrolman in, or chief in, it's kind of my thing -- I take a personal interest in it, and I screw up now and again," he said.

Swenson said he does not have a problem with alcohol. In response to a CBS-WCCO news story which said he once responded to a domestic disturbance call smelling of alcohol, Swenson said he had just one beer that day, which he did not finish.

"A guy can't have a beer, huh?" he said.

He said the alternative of simply not responding to the call was unacceptable to him.

Swenson said his children have heard of the media coverage about him, and that it makes him feel "terrible" as a parent. However, when asked if he thinks he is a good role model for his children, Swenson said that he is; "99.9 percent of the time."

Zach Kayser | Wadena Pioneer Journal

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