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The former sheriff of Chisago County on Thursday said that “hero syndrome” and professional trauma led him into a bizarre scheme of stalking and harassing a female employee.

Rick Duncan pleaded guilty in Anoka County District Court to charges of harassment and misconduct by a public official, both gross misdemeanors.

Under a deal with prosecutors, felony charges against Duncan were dropped and he’ll receive four years of probation at sentencing on Dec. 1. Duncan also will receive a suspended jail sentence of two years, which could be imposed if he fails to live up to the terms of probation.

Duncan admitted writing and sending multiple letters under the name “Control Freak.” He showed several letters to the employee, including one that ordered them both to attend an out-of-town training session together and stay together in a hotel room with a single king-size bed.

If they didn’t, “Control Freak” warned, both their families could be harmed. The letter noted that “Control Freak” knew where the employee’s four children went to school.

“Control Freak” directed the woman to refrain from telling her husband or reporting the matter to law enforcement or anyone else at Chisago County.

The woman ultimately refused to go on the trip with Duncan and months later reported the ordeal to a supervisor, launching an investigation. Duncan resigned as sheriff in May 2018, citing medical issues. But his resignation came one day after he admitted his actions to investigators.

In the hearing Thursday, Duncan said he’d been seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with work-related trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Duncan said he now understands that he was caught up in “hero syndrome” related to his PTSD. He wanted to cause alarm in others so he could fix it. But under questioning, Duncan admitted that he knew his actions were wrong and his trauma wasn’t a valid excuse.

Duncan’s attorney, Frederic Bruno, led him through a series of questions to establish that his guilty pleas were voluntary.

“You understand that if you ever want to have a job in law enforcement again, this will make it virtually impossible? Do you understand that?” Bruno asked.

“Yes, sir,” Duncan replied.

District Judge Bethany Fountain Lindberg said she was satisfied with the negotiated plea but reserved the right to add additional penalties such as fines, restitution or even a letter of apology.

“If the state decided that this is how you wanted to resolve the case, then I trust that is the right decision,” she said. “I think it would be to everybody’s benefit to resolve it and get some closure and move on.”

The victim of Duncan’s scheme, Michelle Jacobson, attended the remote hearing but didn’t speak. In a statement, she said, “Elected officials must be held accountable for their misconduct. This guilty plea is one step in that process.” She is suing Duncan and Chisago County in a federal civil proceeding.

John Reinan • 612-673-7402