Chief Douglas Claassen died on March 13th,1999 from complications he suffered from a neck injury he suffered during a struggle with a suspect in1977. he was 65 years old. Chief Claassen was born in Albert Lea Minnesota on October 10th, 1933. Doug served as a Marine in Korea before marrying Kathy (Doyle) in Iowa later moving to Hayfield where they would raise their family.
Doug served as a part-time officer for the Claremont Police Department and Dodge County Sheriff’s Office. In March of 1977 he was appointed as Full-Time Chief for the city of Hayfield.
At approximately 245AM on Saturday April 30th 1977, Chief Claassen was on Main Street patrolling when he observed a northbound vehicle fail to stop at the stop sign on Center Avenue and Main Street. He pursued the vehicle and observed it fail to stop at Highway 30 before turning eastbound. While pursuing the vehicle with lights and sirens activated, he observed the suspect appear to slump over in the driver’s seat and watched the vehicle travel down into the ditch by the County Road 9 intersection. He approached the vehicle on foot and found the driver slumped over. He removed the driver from the vehicle and proceeded to carry the driver back to his squad. While carrying the suspect, who was believed to be under the influence of narcotics, the suspect became alert and combative kicking Chief Claassen in the head and neck area. The suspect then struggled with Chief Claassen for his gun shouting “Kill – Kill – Kill”. The suspect then went unconscious again and Chief Claassen was able to arrest and place in the back seat of his squad. This up and down violent behavior continued until they were able to secure the suspect in an ambulance for transport.
During this altercation, Chief Claassen suffered a life altering, career ending spinal cord injury. This injury compromised both his respiratory system and circulatory system resulting in an accelerated decline in health and severe physical disability requiring him to use a wheel chair.
For years after he was forced to retire from law enforcement, he still continued to support the local deputies with our Sheriff’s Office – always leaving his light on and door open in Hayfield for any and all deputies to stop in and take a break. Back then the gas station closed early and was the only place in town for the deputies to stop for break. Doug and Kathy would always have coffee available, popcorn, Kathy’s homemade cookies, even ice cream in the summer. Their door was always open for law enforcement.
Doug never looked for any recognition for his service or for his sacrifice, and never complained to anyone about his condition. He greeted everyone with a smile and often a joke, loved every visit, and was very blunt with his opinions and beliefs. You always knew Doug’s position – there was no sugar coating with Doug. You always knew where you stood with Doug.
Doug’s condition quickly declined over the years – and on March 13th, 1999, after years of suffering, Doug died of a heart attack – a result of his compromised circulatory and respiratory system stemming from his spinal cord injury. His death was determined to be a Line of Duty death with the State of Minnesota and with the Federal Government. He was formally recognized in 2017 for his service.
At the time of his injury, his daughter Jean was 9, Mark was 14, and Bill was 19. Upon his death he was survived by his wife Kathy and his three adult children.
Click here to go to the Officer Down Memorial Podcast to learn more about this hero, or just click the link below to listen to his story: