Cottage Grove officers exonerated after Sept. 1 internal investigation

December 23 - On September 01, 2022 at about 2:15pm, the Cottage Grove Police Department received several calls regarding an individual who was seen waving a sword in public.

Cottage Grove police officers made contact with Mr. Alexander Harrelson, who was subsequently arrested. As a result of this incident the Cottage Grove Police Department received a complaint regarding the force used during that arrest. 

The Cottage Grove Police Department assigned an investigator to review/investigate the incident, in response to the complaint and as a matter of policy. 

The complaint alleged that Cottage Grove Police Officers used excessive and unreasonable force during the arrest of Mr. Harrelson. The investigation was assigned to and completed by Interim Captain Ryan Nelson. Interim Chief Jeff Groth has reviewed the investigation, and based on the facts of the investigation, has made the following findings: 

  1. The investigation was complete and thorough. 
  2. Mr. Harrelson actively resisted attempts to place him into custody on September 01, 2022. 
  3. The force used on September 01, 2022 during the arrest of Mr. Harrelson was reasonable and justified under department policy. 
  4. The officers are exonerated in this matter. 

In addition, the Cottage Grove Police Department has been notified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that their independent investigation has been completed. The FBI stated, “For an incident such as this to be charged as a federal civil rights crime officers, acting in an official capacity, have to willfully use unreasonable force. The evidence reviewed indicated this was not the case and therefore CGPD officers did not violate federal criminal statutes.” 

Police officers are routinely confronted with unique and dynamic situations that require unique and dynamic assessments and split-second decisions. The Cottage Grove Police Department understands the impact incidents like these have on the community, and takes seriously the trust the community places in them. Because of this, the Cottage Grove Police Department uses every incident as an opportunity to review our tactics, policies and training and will constantly strive to improve when necessary and possible. 

As a result of this review/investigation the Cottage Grove Police Department has identified areas where improvements can and will be made, as follows:  

  • Body-worn cameras are a necessity and priority. During their regular meeting on December 12th, the Cottage Grove City Council authorized a contract with Axon to provide body-worn cameras and that program will be implemented as soon as possible. We hope to have the cameras deployed within a few months.  
  • Our use of force training and tactics must constantly evolve and stay current with the latest available methodology and training. We will immediately begin making improvements to the type and amount of training we provide our officers. We have already begun sending officers to enhanced use of force training and will continue to as scheduling permits.  
  • Our use of force review process must be current with industry standards and best practice, and include thorough review process through the chain of command, up to and including the Police Chief. On December 12th, the Cottage Grove Police Department implemented a Use of Force report and directed that it be completed, in addition to an incident report, any time an officer uses force