Crash

A photo of Oct. 2, 2020, crash after the pursuit of Cody Freitag. Otter Tail County deputy Kelly Backman was charged with a count of misconduct of a public officer and one count of fourth-degree DWI. A blood test indicated Backman had traces of fentanyl in his blood during the time of the pursuit.

Charges were filed Friday in Otter Tail County District Court against Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office deputy Kelly Douglas Backman for one count of misconduct by a public officer and one count of fourth-degree DWI involving a high-speed chase through Fergus Falls Oct. 2, 2020.

Backman, along with deputy Michael Wing, were attempting to locate and apprehend Cody Freitag, who had active warrants out for his arrest. Backman, working undercover, attempted to purchase controlled substances from Freitag by posing as a female on a social media platform and asked Freitag to meet at a local fast-food restaurant in Fergus Falls to purchase the drugs. Wing was contacted by Backman to assist in the apprehension.

According to an interview with Backman, he observed a light blue Chrysler minivan, believed to be driven by Freitag, pull into the parking lot of a convenience store. Backman relayed to Wing by radio, who was sitting in an adjacent parking lot, to enter into the convenient store parking lot and block Freitag’s vehicle. Both deputies stated that they believed Freitag went into the store. Upon exiting his vehicle, Wing stated that he saw Freitag sitting in the driver’s seat and Freitag began putting the car in reverse. Wing yelled for Freitag to stop but he continued to back up and Wing returned to his squad car, activated his emergency lights and followed Freitag. Backman, who was sitting at the gas pumps, attempted to block the car but was unsuccessful.

A high-speed chase ensued as Freitag was pursued by Wing and Backman. In an attempt to keep up with Freitag, Wing’s car struck a curb and became disabled. Backman continued the pursuit, where the deputy estimated speeds to be between 70-80 mph, and he said he observed Freitag’s driving conduct to be dangerous including not stopping at stop signs or intersections. Backman stated that he observed a cloud of dust in front of him at the intersection of Cavour and Union avenues, surmising that Freitag had crashed. It was not until he approached the scene that he noticed Freitag’s vehicle had struck a white camry. Backman approached Freitag’s vehicle and noted that Freitag was outside on the ground near the van.

The camry’s occupants, Steve, 72, and Diane, 71, Christianson, were killed after Freitag’s vehicle struck theirs in the intersection.

Two Fergus Falls police officers were called in to help with the investigation following the crash. The officers made contact with deputies Wing and Backman. Both were asked to provide a voluntary blood sample. Wing provided his while Backman refused. The results of Wing’s sample showed no alcohol or controlled substances in his system while he was on duty or while he was acting in his official capacity as deputy.

Backman, however, did provide a preliminary breath test that showed no presence of alcohol.

Backman was later taken to the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office where he was observed and accompanied until a blood sample could be drawn. Backman’s sample was sent to the lab for testing. The results of the sample indicated that Backman tested positive for Alprazolam (an anti-anxiety med), which he was prescribed, but also fentanyl and norfentanyl, a Schedule II controlled substance, while acting in his official capacity as a deputy. The quantitative test results showed a level of 3 ng/ml of fentanyl and 1.7 ng/ml of norfentanyl. According to the report, a therapeutic range for fentanyl is 1 ng/ml, indicating that Backman was under the influence of fentanyl during the time of the pursuit.

According to the report, as part of the investigation, the Fergus Falls Police Department served a warrant to obtain the blood draw evidence, as well as determining that certain discrepancies existed involving some of Backman’s work as a narcotics officer. 

In an incident that occurred on Aug. 17, 2020, a traffic stop in which methamphetamine and fentanyl was found, Backman had stated that a glass pipe “laced with methamphetamine residue” was discovered in the glove box of the car wrapped in tissue paper. The methamphetamine and fentanyl were logged, while the pipe was not accounted for.

In another case that occurred on Aug. 29, 2020, a driver was arrested by Backman for driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Backman had indicated in his report that he received information that the occupants of the vehicle may be in possession of heroin and were coming to the area to make contact with someone selling heroin and fentanyl. Backman also stated in the report that he located drug paraphernalia, including tinfoil that appeared to have been used to smoke controlled substances, as well as a vial of a white powdery substance. Backman indicated that the substance was either cocaine or fentanyl and would be sent to the BCA lab for further analysis. According to the report there was no record of the evidence being logged or sent to BCA for testing.

As a part of the search warrant, officers went through Backman’s desk and lockers. During the search a large plastic bag of glass pipes and grinders was discovered. The officers attempted to determine if the paraphernalia was similar to the one described in the Aug. 17, 2020, case but none were located. 

Also located in Backman’s office was a small plastic vial with no lid, empty, with a few areas of what appeared to be white residue. Finally, the officers searched a temporary evidence locker that only Backman had access to and located a Pelican-style case that had what appeared to be burnt tinfoil. Also in the case was a small plastic bottle with a blue lid that contained a white powdery substance as well as a scale. It was determined that these items could match items from the Aug. 29, 2020, case but it was inconclusive.

Judge Kevin Miller handed down the charges in district court. The charge of misconduct of a public officer carries a maximum penalty of a year and/or $3,000 fine, and the fourth-degree DWI charge carries a maximum penalty of 90 days and $1,000 fine.

 

 

Stay tuned for more information …

 

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