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Ex-deputy to plead guilty to being on fentanyl during deadly pursuit

Kelly Backman admits he was on drugs during a chase through Fergus Falls last October.
court room

A former Otter Tail County deputy who was on fentanyl during a fatal pursuit in Fergus Falls last October will plead guilty to one of the charges against him.

Kelly Backman, 43, plans to plead guilty to public officer misconduct, a gross misdemeanor, with a charge of fourth-degree DWI expected to be dismissed, according to a petition to enter a plea of guilty that he and his attorney signed on May 23. 

In the petition, Backman admitted he had fentanyl in his system on Oct. 3, 2020, while he was on duty, noting the drug had not been prescribed to him.

That day, Backman was involved in a chase in Fergus Falls with a suspect named Cody Freitag, which ended when Freitag crashed into the vehicle of Steven J. Christianson, 72, and Diane L. Christianson, 71, who were killed as a result. Freitag was charged last fall with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and fleeing police. 

Backman was charged Feb. 19 in Otter Tail County. The complaint against him said his blood sample was positive for Alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug he was prescribed, as well as 3.0 ng/mL of fentanyl and 1.7 ng/mL of nor-fentanyl.

The pending plea agreement, which a judge still needs to accept, calls for Backman to spend 30 days in jail or on electronic home monitoring with alcohol testing.

The maximum sentence for public officer misconduct is one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $3,000. The petition proposes the rest of Backman's sentence (335 days) will be stayed for two years and he'll be placed on up to two years of supervised probation. 

He'll also pay a fine of $1,000 and other fees, complete a chemical dependency evaluation and follow all other recommendations, like not using alcohol or mood-altering chemicals that aren't prescribed and have no similar offenses, the petition proposes. If he does this, the remaining count will be dismissed. 

Backman, according to the petition, completed an in-patient chemical dependency program in Maryland and is currently living in a sober house with 14 other men in Maryland, where he attends daily AA meetings and is working full-time for a company his AA sponsor owns. He's also sent a check to the court to cover the fine and fees. 

If the plea deal is accepted, the petition says he'll begin his 30 days of home monitoring on June 15. 

The charges against Backman allege he didn't log drugs into evidence in two instances in August 2020 and investigators found glass pipes and grinders in his desk and locker, and also found evidence of drugs that had been used in an evidence locker only Backman had access to. 

The Echo Press reported in February that as a result of the investigation, Otter Tail County prosecutor Michelle Eldien had to drop about a dozen cases in which Backman was a crucial witness. 

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