A swearing-in ceremony Thursday for the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office recognized law enforcement, emergency responders and staff both new and veteran alike.
Among the honorees, two deputies were commended for their suicide prevention efforts during Thursday’s gathering at the county Public Safety Building in Duluth.
Deputy Bill Plachta was recognized for his quick response upon finding an inmate attempting suicide at the St. Louis County Jail on June 9.
Litman told the story of how Plachta, a 20-year veteran corrections officer, heard the sound of a chair scrape across the floor coming from a cell.
When he investigated, Plachta found an inmate unconscious on the floor with a bedsheet tightly wrapped around his neck and tied to a pipe underneath a sink. The inmate’s face was reddish-blue, Litman said.
Plachta radioed for help as he worked to untie the bedsheet and remove it from the inmate’s neck. The inmate regained consciousness and was taken to the hospital, where he remained for three to four hours before being returned to the jail, Litman said.
“Your adrenaline's pumping so much, trying to get there before it’s done,” Plachta said. “It’s just the worst thing that could happen to you as an officer. … I’m just glad everything worked out.”
Plachta said the inmate later asked to see him.
“He just told me he was very happy to still be alive,” he said Thursday.
Litman recognized a second deputy, Peter Olsen, who is assigned to the department’s civil and warrant division.
On June 28, Olsen and Duluth police Sgt. Matt McShane successfully talked a suicidal man down after he threatened to jump from the top of Enger Tower, about 80 feet off the ground.
“When they climbed the tower, they found the man literally hanging out the window, standing on a ledge and preparing to jump,” Litman said. “Matt and Pete were able to grab him, and they most surely saved his life.”
It wasn’t the first time Olsen prevented a suicide.
In 2017, Olsen was part of a team who talked a man out of jumping 120 feet into the St. Louis Bay from the Bong Bridge.
“We take these jobs to protect and serve and help people, and to get the opportunity to actually save a life is quite remarkable,” Litman said. “You got the opportunity and were successful twice.”
New deputies, COs sworn in
Five new deputy sheriffs were sworn Thursday in as Sheriff Ross Litman administered an oath before the group. The new deputies are Christopher Anderson, Gavin Nichols, Dante Pettinari, Alexander Prouse and Christopher Ruberg.
Thursday’s oath was for ceremonial purposes. The five began working for the sheriff’s office Jan. 7, and Litman administered a legal oath on that day.
Before the oath, a family member — a wife, mother, fiancée or girlfriend — pinned a badge on each new deputy’s uniform.
Six of nine new corrections officers then stood up and took a similar oath. Christopher Anglin, Chad Brownlee, Tyler Helget, Kyle Niemi, Jose Plascencia and Dominick Schmitz were on hand, and each similarly had a family member pin a badge on his uniform.
The new corrections officers also included Noah Johnson, Troy Krahl and Cody Kultala, who were unable to attend Thursday’s ceremony.
Dispatch operators, technicians commended
Litman recognized three emergency communications specialists for their quick and calm responses in stressful situations.
Courtney Houser and Amanda Vollmer were commended for their response during the January domestic assault call that resulted in the death of Duluth K-9 officer Haas and left Haas’ partner, officer Aaron Haller, injured. The assailant in the shootout was later found dead at the scene from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“(Houser) quickly realized that the caller was unable to speak freely,” Litman said. “Courtney instructed the caller to respond to her questions by pushing the buttons on the phone keypad — 1 for ‘yes,’ 2 for ‘no.’ Courtney was able to quickly gather valuable information without the caller having to say a word.”
“During the same incident, Amanda, responsible for dispatching officers of the Duluth Police Department, displayed the ability to calmly respond to and process a large amount of information after the signal of shots fired and officer hit.”
Litman also recognized Sarah Kemp for her response during a high-speed pursuit in Hermantown on May 4 that resulted in the death of 37-year-old Timothy Majchrzak during an exchange of gunfire with county sheriff’s deputies.
“The deputy called out shots fired, and one can imagine the activity and radio traffic that followed, necessitating that every action Sarah needed to take be done swiftly and accurately,” Litman said.
Finally, Litman recognized a group of radio system technicians for their dedicated maintenance work.
Those recognized Thursday included electronic systems technicians Robert O’Connor, Vincent Regan and John Zehowski; lead electronic systems technician Tom Semmelroth; and communications technical supervisor Christopher Wittwer.
“When a volunteer first responder in Crane Lake pushes the button on their portable radio and talks to a dispatcher in Duluth, or when an officer anywhere in St. Louis County can send and receive messages via their in-car computer … these are all examples of the technological capabilities that are solely the responsibility of our radio maintenance division,” Litman said.
“These things happen 24/7, 365 due to the behind-the-scenes, often underrecognized and underappreciated work of a dedicated group health system technicians.”
In addition to the new deputies and corrections officers and the recognitions, St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman also announced and recognized a number of new staff hires.
They include emergency communications specialists Christopher Bender, Stephen Ek, Kari Putikka and Tara Shearman; court security officers Lyle Hammond and Anthony St. Clair; information specialist Mary Nesgoda and financial analyst Lindsay VanGuilder.