Don Gudmundson, who honed his investigative skills working as a homicide cop in Detroit and investigating mafia assassinations in Chicago, is the new interim sheriff in Stearns County — making him the only person to serve as sheriff in four separate Minnesota counties.
As interim sheriff, he's only staying until county voters elect a new sheriff next year, but he's not just a caretaker.
Walk through the Stearns County jail, and you'll see no shortage of ways to keep the inmates busy. There's a library, a computer room and a place where volunteers teach inmates arts and crafts.
"We just recently got spike ball," said jail administrator Mark Maslonkowski as he showed off a rec room with new equipment.
"They will play badminton, they'll play ping pong, they'll jump rope. We had a program coming in that was doing a little bit with yoga," he said.
What you won't hear is the sound of TVs blaring. For that, the inmates can thank Gudmundson.
"Watching daytime television is like a fate worse than death," Gudmundson said.
Banning daytime TV is one of the changes Gudmundson made to the jail shortly after he became interim sheriff. He also demands the jail be what he calls, "hospital clean, and hospital quiet."
"Inmates should have a day like everyone else, that they get up and have something to do, someplace to go," he said. "We have a lot of training, we have a lot of education, a lot of opportunity for them to do stuff."
Shaking up the status quo has been a hallmark of Gudmundson's colorful career. He's developed a reputation as having a knack for fixing troubled departments.
"You gotta be kind of that kind of calm person, you gotta be a good listener. You've gotta ask a lot of questions," he said.
Gudmundson developed those skills working as a homicide cop in Detroit and investigating mafia assassinations in Chicago.
The Minnesota native has also served as sheriff in Dakota, Fillmore and Steele counties and as police chief in Fairbault and Lakeville.
Gudmundson said it helps to have a slightly warped sense of humor to lighten what can be a grim and stressful job.
"Don't get me wrong. It's a serious matter and we're dealing with serious adult issues," he said. "But if you're not capable or able to laugh about this, there's something wrong with you. And this is not going to go well for your health in the long term."
Gudmundson has taken over a sheriff's office that's been criticized for its low rate of solving crimes, especially homicides.
Gudmundson wasn't in St. Cloud when Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped in 1989 — a case that stymied the Stearns County department for more than a quarter of a century.
Even so, Gudmundson is now in the middle of a legal dispute over the release of the investigative file that could shed light on why it took 26 years to solve the case. Gudmundson said he'll take any heat that ensues.
"Even though during the whole time I was not here," he said. "That's not the issue. It's my profession. I will answer for it."
Gudmundson said it's too soon to diagnose what went wrong with the Wetterling investigation, but he's not giving up on the county's unsolved crimes.
"I can say that anywhere I have been a chief or a sheriff, I've never had an unsolved homicide. And I had some genuine whodunnits," he said.
A lieutenant is now overseeing investigations. Gudmundson has also met with families of victims, including Joshua Guimond's family.
The St. John's Unversity student disappeared while walking home from a party 15 years ago. Guimond's father, Brian, isn't hopeful that the new sheriff will be able to make progress on his son's case.
"The investigation needed to be done hour one, not 15 years later," he said.
St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said it's not easy to come into a department from outside, but he thought his former boss in Dakota County would be a good fit. He recruited Gudmundson for his current gig leading the Stearns County Sheriff's Department.
"He's got the knowledge, he's got the experience and he has the temperament to be able to do that without turning people against him."