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Canadian company plans to re-open Corn Plus

October 21, 2020

 

The largest ethanol producer in Canada has purchased the Corn Plus facility in Winnebago.

 

Andrea Kent, vice president of government and public relations for Greenfield Global, says a “start-up” plan to re-open the plant shuttered since September 2019 is in development.

 

“After several months of due diligence, we concluded that the Corn Plus facility offers a great opportunity and promise for the future,” she says. “The dedicated workforce and abundant corn supply were key factors.”

 

With headquarters in Toronto, Ontario, Greenfield Global owns and operates four fuel distilleries, five specialty chemical and packaging plants, and two “next-generation” biofuel and renewable energy research and development centers.

 

Repairs and improvements to the 26-year-old facility, says Kent, will likely begin next Spring.

 

“We are confident that we will be able to restart operations and complete improvements,” she says. “Our goal for the plant is for it to perform as a top facility.”

 

At the time of its closing, Corn Plus produced 49 million gallons of ethanol annually and employed about 40 people.

 

Company officials are expected to announce next year when production of ethanol will begin and applications for employment will be accepted.

 

“We look forward to re-establishing a market for corn growers and working closing with the community to bring jobs back to Winnebago,” says Kent.

 

For more than 30 years, Greenfield has partnered with companies serving customers worldwide in manufacturing, cosmetics, food and flavoring, life sciences and pharmaceuticals, beverage and distilled spirits, and renewable energy.

 

No charges for violating “executive order”?

October 15, 2020

 

It appears a person who hosted a rural Winnebago party that drew hundreds will not be charged with violating a coronavirus pandemic “executive order.”

 

“My office has broad discretion with regards to whom to prosecute and for what offense,” says Kathryn Karjala, Faribault County Attorney.

 

Cole Klinker, 21, of Winnebago faces a charge of gross misdemeanor contributing to delinquency of a minor.

 

Court documents show that no additional charges have been filed against Klinker and that a jury trial has been set for Feb. 10-12.

 

Karjala say the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, “prohibit me from making extrajudicial statements about the cases my office is currently prosecuting.”

 

Early last month, the Sheriff's Department gave the County Attorney results of their investigation on whether the governor's executive order issued in March was followed.

 

Under executive order 20-74, events held at private homes are subjected to social gatherings limits of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

 

Authorities responding to an anonymous tip estimate there were more than 200 underage drinkers from Faribault County and neighboring southern Minnesota counties at the August party.

 

More than 25 citations for underage drinking were issued, according to authorities, including six to juveniles.

 

If convicted, Klinker faces a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $3,000 fine.

 

Violation of an “executive order" is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

Motion to dismiss charges against bar owner denied

October 9, 2020

 

A Winnebago bar owner was rightfully charged for violating a pandemic “executive order” and a law regulating the hours and days liquor may be sold.

 

I'm disappointed, but not surprised because of the way things have been going from the get-go,” says David Schuster. “I followed what I was told to a T.”

 

In a 24-page ruling, Faribault County District Court Judge Troy Timmerman cited numerous case law precedents to find probable cause for the charges.

 

Now, that means Schuster's fate will be decided by a jury trial and be in the hands of six or 12 jurors.

 

I could have settled this with a plea agreement, but I told my attorney 'no',” he says. “I did nothing wrong and I stand behind that.”

 

Schuster, owner of Schooter's Bar, is accused of having his bar open and serving customers on Sunday, March 22, after Gov. Tim Walz ordered bars to close due to the coronavirus outbreak.

 

He also reportedly violated a state law that no on-sale establishment shall sell intoxicating liquor on a licensed premise after 1:00 a.m. on Sundays.

 

Each charge is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. He also could have his liquor license revoked or suspended.

 

Dates to hold the trial have not yet been determined.

 

Mother's charges arise from October 2017 assault

October 6, 2020

 

A second mother of a teen convicted in the assault of a Blue Earth Area football teammate during a drinking party at a Winnebago house in October 2017 has been charged.

 

According to documents filed in Faribault County District Court, Renee Lee Nagel, 47, of Blue Earth faces felony counts of aiding an offender; aiding an offender obstructing an investigation; conspiracy to aid an offender; and conspiracy to obstruct an investigation or prosecution.

 

The charges allege that Nagel and fellow mother Shawna Barnett knew about the assault committed by their sons and two other teens and conspired to cover it up.

 

Subpoenaed text messages are cited as evidence, according to the court complaint, and a cellphone belonging to Barnett's son disappeared before authorities could view a video of the assault.

 

Nagel and Barnett “consulted each other and third parties about the assaults and worked to eliminate the risk of conviction for their sons and others,” says the complaint.

 

This was done by encouraging their sons to deny the assaultive actions, to coordinate their stories and by seeking to avoid the discovery of video and photographic evidence that they both knew to exist,” according to the complaint.

 

Barnett, 47, of Des Moines, Iowa, was charged with the same charges last month and her first court appearance scheduled for Oct. 8 has been canceled.

 

Her attorney, Patrick Casey of Mankato, is seeking to have the charges dropped arguing in a court document that the filing of charges nearly three years after the assault violates Barnett's right to a speedy trial. The statute of limitations for most crimes is three years in Minnesota.

 

Nagel's first court hearing is scheduled to be held Oct. 21.

 

Mother of teen convicted in October 2017 assault charged

September 25, 2020

 

The mother of a teen convicted in the October 2017 assault of a Blue Earth Area football player at a Winnebago party is facing four felony charges.

 

Shawna Barnett, 47, of Des Moines, Iowa, has been charged with aiding an offender; aiding an offender --- obstructing investigation; conspiracy to aid an offender; and conspiracy to obstruct an investigation or prosecution.

 

According to a court complaint filed in Faribault County District Court, Barnett committed the offenses on or about Nov. 17 through Nov. 20.

 

The complaint says Barnett knew or had reason to know that her 17-year-old son and three others had participated in the physical and sexual assault of a teammate, who was a minor.

 

“(She) aided the defendants by advising the mother of a second defendant on coordinating the statements of certain witnesses, on gathering in and concealing certain photographic evidence and by facilitating or causing the loss of a cell phone with probable video evidence of the assaults,” says the complaint.

 

Barnett reportedly told another defendant's mother, “the boys should deny, deny, deny all allegations of assault,” even though her son and the others wanted to “come clean.”

 

Barnett is accused of conspiring with a defendant's mother and others to re-acquire or lose snaps or screenshots of the assaults.

 

The court complaint says that Barnett shared information from her son's cell phone with her brother, who is a police officer in Pleasant Hill, Iowa.

 

Barnett's brother reportedly told her that the four boys who beat their teammate could face charges of assault, sexual assault and child pornography.

 

“Defendant (Barnett) and a defendant's mother consulted with each other and third parties about the assaults and worked to eliminate the risk of conviction or punishment for their sons and others,” says the complaint.

 

Barnett and a defendant's mother knew video evidence of the assaults existed on her son's cell phone and it could be recaptured by law enforcement, says the complaint.

 

The cell phone reportedly was lost during a trip Barnett and her family took to Iowa City to watch a football game.

 

In a text to a mother, Barnett says, “No matter what, all the boys there need to keep their mouths shut, deny, deny, deny. If there is no proof, then the weak link is what will get them.

 

Also, if there was a video or snap, those who took it should go back and see if it was saved or screen shot by anyone. That could bring them down also. And, they can all go to church and to confession and the rest is between them and God.”

 

Aiding an offender carries a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine; aiding an offender --- obstructing investigation, 30 months in prison and a $5,000 fine; conspiracy to aid an offender, 2 ½ years in prison and a $2,500 fine; and conspiracy to obstruct an investigation and prosecution, 1 ¼ years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

 

Barnett is scheduled to make her first court appearance at 3 p.m. on Oct. 8 before Judge Darci Bentz.

 

Agency seeks investigation involving May 6 arrest

September 20, 2020

 

A state agency examining how local law officers handled an arrest following a May 6 traffic stop in Winnebago has taken a new turn.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) recently contacted the Scott County Sheriff's Department to conduct an investigation.

 

In June, the POST board received a 16-second video showing a Winnebago police officer putting his arm around a man's neck in trying to subdue him.

 

According to the person who submitted the footage, they were interviewed last week by two investigators for nearly one hour.

 

Erik Misselt, executive director of the POST board, did not have any comment due to the state's Data Practices Act.

 

All investigatory data, including the existence or non-existence of an investigation, are classified as confidential, if and when there is final disciplinary action taken against a licensee,” says Misselt.

 

Also sent to the POST board was footage appearing to show the person being denied medical attention when being booked at the Faribault County Jail.

 

A third video is of three deputies assisting the two police officers while trying to handcuff the suspect while he's on the ground.

 

Did drinking party violate an "executive order"?

September 11, 2020

 

Faribault County's chief prosecutor will decide if a huge party held in August violated an “executive order” issued by Gov. Tim Walz during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

As you know, law enforcement investigates. The attorneys charge and prosecute,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “As of right now no one has been charged.”

 

County Attorney Kathryn Karjala, says Adams, has results of an investigation conducted by the Sheriff's Department.

 

Around 1:10 a.m. on Aug. 9 law officers responded to an anonymous tip of several vehicles parked in the yard of a residence on 180th Street and on the roadway in front of a house on 375th Avenue.

 

Authorities estimate there were more than 200 underage drinkers from Faribault County and neighboring southern Minnesota counties at the party.

 

Cole Klinkner, 21, of Winnebago who hosted the party was charged with gross misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

 

More than 25 citations for underage drinking were issued, according to authorities, including to six juveniles.

 

Adams would not say when Karjala began reviewing the investigation reports or how long it may take before a decision is issued.

 

That is a question for an attorney,” says Adams.

 

Under executive order 20-74, events held in private homes are subjected to social gathering limits of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

 

Violation of an “executive order” is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

Klinkner is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Faribault County District Court on Sept. 14. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine if convicted.

 

Man charged for hosting party, bar owner speaks out

August 29, 2020

 

A 21-year old Winnebago man has been charged for hosting a rural party that drew underage drinkers from southern Minnesota.

 

Cole Klinkner was charged with gross misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor this week in Faribault County District Court.

 

He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine and is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Sept. 14.

 

County authorities are still investigating the party that drew underage drinkers from Faribault County and neighboring counties.

 

Authorities estimate more than 200 were at the party and are trying to determine if Walz's “executive order” of no more than 250 people at an outdoor event, which requires social distancing of six feet and wearing a mask, was violated.

 

“When the investigation is complete, that is a possibility,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

 

If the party was considered a social gathering, a maximum of 25 people are allowed under an "executive order" issued by the governor.

I

One of the two teens found passed out on the yard, says Adams, was treated by Winnebago Area Ambulance crew members before being released to a parent.

 

According to authorities, 25 alcohol-related citations were issued and five people were charged with possessing illegal narcotics.

 

Meanwhile, a Winnebago bar owner charged with violating an “executive order” may be wondering what the heck is going on.

 

Some local residents are ignoring a mandate requiring masks be worn when entering public indoor spaces or businesses.

 

Police say violators likely will not be given a citation that carries a $100 fine. Rather, they will try and explain why a mask should be worn.

 

“Why is one order more important than another? An order is an order and should be followed,” says David Schuster, owner of Schooter's Bar.

 

In March, Schuster was charged with violating Gov. Tim Walz's “executive order” that bars remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

During a July hearing, county prosecutors added a misdemeanor charge of selling intoxicating liquor for consumption on a licensed premise after 1:00 a.m. on Sundays.

 

“I never got a warning like those who don't wear a mask,” he says. “I did nothing wrong. Why am I being held more accountable?”

 

Schuster has pleaded not guilty, maintaining the doors to the bar were locked on Sunday, March 22, when he and three other friends were playing cards, drinking pop and water and talking business.

 

In fact, Schuster does not have a liquor license to operate on Sunday and it hasn't been open on that day to the public for the past 14 years.

 

Party limits in-person classes at BEA High School

August 25, 2020

 

Faribault and Martin County health officials are unsure if an Aug. 9 party of some 200 underage drinkers will result in an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

 

However, the huge party has affected how classes will be conducted at Blue Earth Area (BEA) High School when students in grades 8 through 12 start the year.

 

During a special meeting held Monday, School Board members approved the hybrid plan --- combining online and in-person learning --- while maintaining a 50 percent capacity and social distancing at the high school.

 

District officials say there has been a spike in COVID cases and that impacted their decision to limit in-person learning until Sept. 21.

 

Chera Sevcik, community health services administrator for Martin and Faribault County Human Services, says many of the party-goers will be reluctant to come forward to get tested.

 

We have seen several new cases among the 14 to 21 year age group over the past few weeks,” she says. “The message we are hoping to relay to anyone who attended is to monitor for symptoms of COVID and to get tested right away if they are to develop any symptoms.”

 

Sevcik says maintaining a physical distance of six feet from others, wearing a mask and washing hands frequently will help stop the spread among anyone who may be asymptomatic.

 

Our hope is that we can get any spread under control and stopped so schools can reopen in-person for all,” she says.

 

BEA's incident command team will meet weekly and work with Human Services to determine which learning model the district will use. District officials have approved in-person learning for students in grades K-7.

 

Sevcik says students from neighboring counties also attended the party, so they could also be experiencing a spike in cases.

 

We would not get information about cases in those counties. For this reason, it's not possible to give an accurate number of cases associated with the party,” she says.

 

Authorities received a tip from a person that several vehicles were parked in the yard of a residence on 180th Street and on the roadway in front of a house on 375th Avenue.

 

County authorities are continuing their investigation of the party which resulted in 25 to 30 alcohol-related citations and five people being charged with possessing illegal narcotics.

 

Also, a person is expected to be charged for hosting a party that allowed underage consumption of alcohol.

 

Some city leaders defy governor's mask mandate

August 23, 2020

 

President Trump would have been proud of some Winnebago city leaders recently.

 

A notice with a red stop sign is posted on the inside door of City Hall and beneath is written Gov. Tim Walz's executive order issued July 25.

 

The governor's mandate requires people to wear a face covering in all public indoor spaces or businesses.

 

However, council members Jean Anderson and Rick Johnson, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt and Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz chose not wear a face mask during a City Council meeting held Aug. 10.

 

Councilman Calvin Howard and Paul Eisenmenger were absent.

 

“I am just tired of laws being made and shoved down our throats,” says Johnson. “We're all adults. Let us be adults and make our own decisions.”

 

City Administrator Jake Skluzacek, City Attorney David Frundt and police officer Emily Bonin all donned face coverings.

 

A member of the press and a person in the audience wore a mask, but six other people chose not to.

 

Skluzacek admitted to the council that enforcing the order, which fines violators $100, would be difficult. Businesses are supposed to be subjected to criminal charges, civil fines up to $25,000 and government action to regulate the business.

 

Meanwhile, all Blue Earth City Council members seem to be complying with wearing a mask during their meetings.

 

Councilman John Huisman says that no more than 10 people are allowed to attend their meetings, which amounts to the council, city administrator, city attorney and two members of the press.

 

“I am going to comply with the governor's order. I am a citizen of the state and believe what our government thinks is best for me,” says Huisman.

 

Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson says rather than issuing citations, officers will suggest and encourage people not wearing a mask to do so. He says if the department receives report of a violation it will be turned over to the proper health organization to be investigated.

 

Winnebago ethanol plant could be up and running

August 22, 2020

 

There's a potential buyer for the Corn Plus ethanol plant in Winnebago that was closed a year ago.

 

City Administrator Jake Skluzacek says closing of the sale scheduled for Thursday did not take place.

 

“It was pushed back due to a couple of concerns the buyer had with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permitting and availability of electricians,” says Skluzacek. “He did not know when the closing would be rescheduled to.”

 

Corn Plus closed its doors last August because it was reportedly losing money monthly and its financial agreement with a primary lender was set to expire soon.

 

A letter to the more than 600 shareholders of the locally owned cooperative explained the company's board of directors considered many options, including selling the facility and financial restructuring.

 

Skluzacek says city officials have been meeting with the potential buyer to work on agreements before the plant begins operating.

 

“They are looking at doing similar things that Corn Plus has done in the past,” he says. “The only agreements with the city would be focused around sewer rates as the site utilizes a well for their water.”

 

Corn Plus --- operating since 1984 and the first ethanol plant built in the state --- employed nearly 40 workers when it closed.

 

The closing of Corn Plus also affected the operations of Dixie Carbonic, located next to the plant. At that time, it also employed about 40 workers and used carbon dioxide from the ethanol producer to make dry ice.

 

Authorities still investigating party at rural residence

August 21, 2020

 

Faribault County authorities are still investigating a huge party at a rural Winnebago residence involving underage drinking on Aug. 9.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams says authorities responded to an anonymous tip that came in around 1:10 a.m.

 

The person reportedly told authorities several vehicles were parked in the yard of a residence on 180th Street and on the roadway in front of a house on 375th Avenue.

 

“There were too many people to count, a lot of them ran off into the cornfields,” he says. “Individuals were from all over southern Minnesota.”

 

A deputy reportedly saw numerous vehicles traveling to and from the party when he arrived at the scene.

 

“When contact was made with a vehicle full of juveniles they admitted there was a party and there could be underage people drinking,” Adams says.

 

Authorities found two intoxicated juveniles who had passed out and obtained a search warrant to conduct a “welfare check” of everyone on the property in buildings.

 

Law officers seized alcohol and narcotics that were in plain view in some of the vehicles and on the property.

 

In all, authorities issued 25 to 30 alcohol-related citations and five face charges for possessing illegal narcotics.

 

Adams says a person will be charged for hosting the party that allowed underage consumption of alcohol.

 

Six deputies and officers from the Blue Earth and Winnebago police departments were at the scene.

 

Investigation of police complaints being put on hold

August 15, 2020

 

The outcome of complaints filed against two Winnebago police officers won't be known for several months.

 

City Administrator Jake Skluzacek says an investigation being conduct by Isaac Kaufman of Red Cedar Consulting is being tabled, for now.

 

Skluzacek says two people who filed complaints have court cases currently pending in Faribault County District Court.

 

Because of the open criminal cases, says Skluzacek, Kaufman decided it was best to wait until they are settled.

 

“The reason for this is so the investigator will be able to interview them, which he is unable to do now,” he says.

 

One of the complaints reportedly deals with law enforcement's handling of a traffic stop for suspected driver's license cancellation on May 6.

 

Another complaint accuses police of “abuse of power and overreach” when they enforced a governor's executive order.

 

In early July, Michelle Soldo of Soldo Consulting Group, P.C., of Woodbury began the investigation and later Kaufman was hired.

 

Both investigators are being paid $145 an hour plus any postal and copying charges.

 

A two-day jury trial has been scheduled Dec. 30-31 for a complainant charged with obstructing legal process --- interfering with a peace officer. The gross misdemeanor charge stems from the May 6 incident.

 

No date has been set for a jury trial in the other case in which the person faces two misdemeanor charges.

 

Kernel Days in Wells canceled at the last minute

August 14, 2020

 

A concerned citizen calling the state's Attorney General Office resulted in the cancellation of this year's Kernel Days celebration in Wells.

 

City Administrator CJ Holl says state officials never recommended not holding the event due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, they did have some questions for the event's organizers.

 

“They expressed concern over the specificity of the COVID plan and the possibility there would be over 250 people without proper safety measures,” says Holl.

 

The annual event was scaled down to two days, Aug. 14-15, and was scheduled to begin with a parade and fireworks on Friday.

 

A request from the Attorney General's Office to hold a conference call on Thursday with the event's organizers, Holl and the police chief was declined by the Kernel Days committee.

 

“Likely, the Attorney General's Office would have required a more robust safety plan and additional measures in place,” says Holl. “Although with the enhanced scrutiny, it may have been prudent to cancel.”

 

Meanwhile, Fun Fest committee members are gearing up for the annual event scheduled to be held Aug. 28-30 in Winnebago.

 

City Administrator Jake Skulzacek says he plans to contact Holl to get more details on what happened and what state officials want to see in COVID plan.

 

Winnebago mayor, veteran council member not running

August 12, 2020

 

It's an end of an era for city government in Winnebago as two long-serving City Council members have chosen not to seek re-election.

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt has served three terms and Councilman Rick Johnson nearly 14 years on the council.

 

Schutt was sitting in an office at City Hall and talking with staff when Tuesday's 5 p.m. filing deadline came and went.

 

In fact, Schutt had the $2 filing fee in his hand but no paperwork was ever filled and signed.

 

“Wow, it doesn't seem like that long already. We've had some fun, good times and some struggles as well,” says Schutt. “Maybe it's time for someone else to bring their expertise and ideas to the table.”

 

Schutt's decision not to run again took a lot of thought, he says, and it never came down to just one reason. Ultimately, his family and many changes experienced in the past six months played a key role.

 

“Winnebago is a great community which I love and have tried to serve and represent the best I can,” he says. “I hope others think about stepping up to serve our community in the future. It takes a lot of work to keep a community going and many willing hands make the load much lighter!”

 

In 2012, Schutt was elected when he defeated incumbent Mayor Randy Nowak on a write-in vote of 310-286.

 

What are the chances of another write-in campaign and history repeating itself?

 

“I would consider another term if the voters wrote me in, however, that does not mean I would say yes. But, I would consider it,” he says.

 

Incumbent Jean Anderson and Tim Hynes have filed for the two four-year term council seats up for election on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

 

Non-maskers not likely to be cited or fined

August 10, 2020

 

No shirt. No shoes. No service.

 

In the 1960s and 1970s it was a way of keeping long-haired hippies out of stores and restaurants.

 

While not federal or a state law, it's has become an accepted and effective norm.

 

But, try to convince residents that wearing a face covering may help stop the spread of COVID-19.

 

That's a different story.

 

Despite signs encouraging Winnebago residents entering public indoor spaces or businesses to wear a mask, some are defying Gov. Tim Walz's executive order.

 

People who do not comply with the requirement can receive a petty misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $100.

 

However, that's not likely to happen.

 

“We will suggest someone wear a mask. We will not charge someone,” says Police Chief Eric Olson.

 

So far, Blue Earth Police Chief Tom Fletcher says his department hasn't had any problems with non-compliers.

 

“We have not taken any reports on mask issues at all,” says Fletcher. “The Minnesota Department of Public Safety recommendation is education before enforcement.”

 

Businesses violating the mandate may be subject to criminal charges, civil fines up to $25,000 and government action to regulate the business.

 

Although local authorities aren't eager to hand out citations, incidents that are reported will not be ignored.

 

“We would respond to the calls and forward them on to the proper health organization,” says Olson. “They could investigate it from there.”

 

The statewide order encourages children between ages 2 and 5 to wear masks, but doesn't require it.

 

Also, cities are allowed to impose stricter requirements and it will remain in effect until the state's peacetime emergency ends.

 

Third video of May 6 arrest sent to POST board

August 1, 2020

 

Another video has been sent to a state agency investigating how two Winnebago police officers handled an arrest following a May 6 traffic stop.

 

This time, the footage shows three Faribault County deputies assisting the officers while trying to subdue the suspect while he is on the ground.

 

Winnebago City Council has hired two investigators to look into complaints filed against the two police officers.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams would not say whether the deputies have or will be interviewed by the investigators.

 

“I am unable to discuss anything while Internal Affairs are under investigation,” says Adams.

 

The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) has already received two other videos of the arrest.

 

One of them is 16 seconds of officer Jacob Petitt putting his arm around the suspect's neck to take him to the ground. Another shows officers appearing to deny him medical attention while being book at the county jail.

 

In the latest video, deputies Chris Albers, Briar Bonin and Chase Davis are shown trying to handcuff the suspect while he's on the ground.

 

When a complaint is filed against a city employee, council members usually discuss how to address the issue during a council meeting. However, that wasn't the case this time.

 

“I spoke with the City Council one by one on how they wished to proceed with the investigation,” says City Administrator Jake Skluzacek. “They were all in favor of going with the investigators rather than another law enforcement agency.”

 

Initially, the city hired Michelle Soldo of Soldo Consulting and then Isaac Kaufman, manager and lead investigator of Red Cedar Consulting.

 

Skluzacek says investigators are charging $145 an hour plus any postal and copying charges.

 

In two prior investigations, Soldo issued favorable findings for Blue Earth Area School District and a Faribault County jailer.

 

For 11 years, Kaufman served as the general counsel for Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc. (LELS), the largest law enforcement union in the state. He also represented officers in Internal Affairs investigations, grievance arbitrations and litigation.

 

Blue Earth woman appealing felony conviction

July 30, 2020

 

A Blue Earth woman is appealing her conviction of perjury to the Minnesota Courts of Appeals.

 

Gary Gittus, an attorney for Allison Ann Mastin, filed an appeal with the state's Appellate Court on June 7.

 

Mastin was found guilty of perjury by a 12-member jury last January but was acquitted of aiding an offender --- obstructing an investigation.

 

Mastin was accused of lying under oath during a July 2018 hearing held for Wyatt Eugene Tungland, who was convicted of assaulting a former Blue Earth Area football teammate in October 2017.

 

In court documents, Gittus lists three issues in a statement of the case for the appeal filed on July 8.

 

Gittus questions whether there was sufficient evidence to convict on perjury in Mastin's circumstantial case, which he says, merits stricter scrutiny than convictions based on direct evidence.

 

He says the sufficiency of the evidence in the case resulted in a “split verdict,” which does not appear consistent.

 

There was clear error on Judge Troy Timmerman's part, says Gittus, when he initially ruled that any references to media reports and social media were prohibited, but later allowed media references by a law enforcement officer.

 

Gittus contends there was prosecutorial misconduct when assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper failed or chose not to disclose information from medical records of a key witness.

 

He says that Piper interviewed the witness the night before the start of the trial and learned of his concussion history that was verified by his medical records.

 

Gittus says the interview and medical records were never disclosed to him, which is required by state law. He says the witness recorded the interview with Piper and later gave it to him after the jury began deliberations'

 

According to Gittus, the witness's ability to know, remember and relate the events in question points to the requirements of competency.

 

Mastin was denied a request for a new trial and was sentenced to 30 days in the county jail. She was given four days credit for time already served, placed on supervised probation for two years and fined $1,085.

 

In addition, she was ordered to abstain from use of mood-altering chemicals; complete a chemical dependency assessment; be subjected to random drug testing; give DNA samples as directed; work 40 hours on Sentence to Service; cannot possess firearms, ammunition or explosives; and cannot vote.

 

The Appellate Court has not set a date yet for Gittus and the Faribault County Attorney's Office to present oral arguments.

 

Winnebago bar owner facing new charge

July 27, 2020

 

Faribault County prosecutors are adding to a Winnebago bar owner's legal woes.

 

County Attorney Kathryn Karjala filed an amended criminal complaint against David Schuster during an evidentiary hearing held remotely last Wednesday.

 

Schuster, owner of Schooter's Bar, initially was charged with violating Gov. Tim Walz's “executive order” that bars remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Now, he's facing an additional misdemeanor charge of violating a state law regulating the hours and days a bar may sell liquor.

 

Under oath, Schuster and Police Officer Jacob Petitt testified for more than one hour before Judge Troy Timmerman.

 

The law Schuster is accused of violating states no on-sale establishment shall sell intoxicating liquor for consumption on a licensed premise after 1:00 a.m. on Sundays.

 

Attorneys on both sides will file written arguments in the next three weeks before Timmerman rules whether there is clear and convincing evidence showing Schuster committed the new charge.

 

David Samb, an attorney representing Schuster, and Karjala did not respond to requests for comment.

 

Schuster has pleaded innocent to violating the governor' “executive order” and the case for now will be decided by a jury trial.

 

According to Schuster, he and three friends were playing cards, drinking pop and water and talking business with the doors of the bar locked on Sunday, March 22.

 

He contends that the bar wasn't and hasn't been open for business on a Sunday for the past 14 years because he does not have a Sunday license.

 

Each misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. Also, under the new charge Schuster could have his liquor license revoked or suspended.

 

Postal officials offering reward to solve break-in

July 22, 2020

 

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is raising the stakes to solve a burglary at the Elmore Post Office last month.

 

Rachel Williams, a postal inspector in Minneapolis, says the investigation continues and there are no updates at this time.

 

But, Williams says postal officials are seeking the public's help by offering a reward of up to $5,000.

 

“There's no deadlines on rewards,” she says. “They are usually in effect until the case is resolved, meaning an arrest and conviction.”

 

According to a poster placed at the Elmore Post Office, the burglary occurred between the afternoon hours of Saturday, June 20, and the morning hours of Monday, June 22.

 

The Elmore Police Department and Faribault County Sheriff's Department were initially involved in the investigation.

 

Police Chief Steve Linde in the past has said that postal equipment and packages waiting to be picked up were taken during the break-in.

 

Breaking into a post office building, stealing packages or postal property are federal crimes and each carry a fine and up to five years in prison. The person or persons responsible could also face state prosecution.

 

Anyone having information about the burglary is asked to contact Postal Inspection by calling at (877) 876-2455, then say --- law enforcement, reference code number 3098452.

 

The phone number for the Elmore Police Department is (507) 943-3237 and Faribault County Sheriff's Department, (507) 526-5148.

 

County, cities, townships to receive COVID relief funds

July 16, 2020

 

Faribault County, some cities and townships are receiving thousands of dollars to help deal with the financial impacts of COVID-19.

 

Through the CARES Act, Blue Earth is eligible for $241,390 from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, while Wells has been awarded $168,988 and Winnebago $100,429.

 

“The money is there to be used for COVID-related expenses,” says Jake Skluzacek, Winnebago city administrator. “EMS departments that bought extra hand sanitizer and PPE (personal protective equipment) would be an example.”

 

Chris Holl, city administrator of Wells, says there are “easy, common sense” uses for the money but there are still questions on how the money can be spent.

 

Officials of the League of Minnesota Cities and state's Office of Management and Budget, says Holl, are still trying to determine guidelines for cities to follow.

 

“They are highly restricted funds and we have set them aside until we justify specific uses,” he says. “We definitely can't use the funds for revenue replacement, where departments have lost revenue.”

 

Holl says city officials plan to contact their auditors next week to go over uses and internal mechanics of how to account for the funds.

 

Blue Earth City Administrator Mary Kennedy says cities must fill out a certification form by Sept. 15 to receive their money.

 

“The money is available for expenses through Nov.15 and cities must follow federal guidlines in using these dollars,” Kennedy says.

 

According to the Minnesota Department of Revenue website, Faribault County is eligible to receive $1.736 million and Martin County, $2.442 million.

 

The city of Bricelyn will get $26,068; Elmore, $43,999; Kiester, $35,636; and Minnesota Lake, $49,875.

 

Out of the county's 20 townships, the following have been awarded funds:

Barber $5,675; Blue Earth City $8,925; Brush Creek $5,275; Clark $6,350; Delavan $5,800; Dunbar $6,500; Emerald $5,450; Foster $5,250; Jo Daviess $5,575; Kiester $6,000; and, Verona $8,275.

 

Cities and townships with a population of under 200 cannot receive relief funding but may get assistance from the county.

 

Court employee pleads guilty to disorderly conduct

July 13, 2020

 

An employee in the Faribault County District Court administrator's office has been placed on probation.

 

Carla Sue Lawrence, 52, of Blue Earth was initially charged with obstruction of legal process last March. The charge was later amended to disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor.

 

Lawrence pleaded guilty on July 6 before Third Judicial District Judge Carol Hanks of Waseca County and received a stay of adjudication.

 

According to a court complaint, Deputy Brittney Gehrking responded to a 911 call from a 40-year-old man who said he had been assaulted at a rural residence on March 17.

 

A number of individuals over age 21 and under, says the complaint, were at the party being held in a shed.

 

When Gehrking arrived at the scene many of the adults expressed confusion as to why the deputy was there and reportedly told her that nothing happened.

 

Gehrking left and with the help of Blue Earth police located the alleged assault victim at his home.

 

A police officer interviewing the man, the complaint says, noticed his face was bleeding in several places, his hands were also bleeding and a scuff mark on his neck that appeared to be from a shoe.

 

The man described the two men who allegedly assaulted him and was then transported to United Hospital District emergency room for medical treatment.

 

Gehrking and other deputies returned to the rural residence to try and find the assault suspect, however, no one at the party cooperated with authorities.

 

The property owner asked Gehrking and another deputy to step into an office in the shed because he wanted to talk. Lawrence reportedly interrupted and demanded they speak in the presence of all party-goers.

 

At one point Lawrence exited the shed, the complaint says, because she needed to use the bathroom. But, a deputy told her she could not leave and threatened to arrest her for obstruction of legal process.

 

Lawrence reportedly told the deputy she knew her rights and waited for Gehrking to escort her.

 

After returning to the shed, Lawrence reportedly harassed officers by yelling at them and demanded they all leave.

Court documents say that a party-goer eventually told authorities where the assault suspect was hiding in the shed.

 

On March 18, Gehrking interviewed Lawrence at the courthouse, where she is employed as the deputy court administrator.

 

Lawrence again told Gehrking that she didn't see anything and had no idea what started it or who was involved.

 

“Honestly, (I) can't even tell you who was there. It was just commotion,” Lawrence told the deputy.

 

Lawrence was placed on six months unsupervised probation through Waseca County; fined $110; must have a chemical dependency evaluation and follow its recommendations; have no same or similar charges; and write a apology to the Blue Earth Police Department.

 

If she successfully completes probation, the charge will be dismissed without further court action.

 

Investigator returns to review complaints against police

July 9, 2020

 

A familiar investigator will be reviewing complaints filed against the Winnebago Police Department.

 

City Administrator Jake Skluzacek says Michelle Soldo of Soldo Consulting Group, P.C., of Woodbury has been hired.

 

“She has begun to start collecting information and contacting those involved,” says Skluzacek. “I do not have a proposal for costs yet.”

 

One complaint accuses police officers of “abuse of power and overreach” when they enforced the governor's executive order.

 

Another complaint reportedly deals with law enforcement's handling of a traffic stop for suspected driver's license cancellation on May 6.

 

In two prior investigations, Soldo issued favorable findings for Blue Earth Area School (BEA) District and a Faribault County jailer.

 

Soldo billed the school district $1,703 and found that BEA officials properly disciplined four teens charged in an assault case.

 

County officials paid Soldo $2,451 to investigate possible misconduct of jailer being mentioned in a court document during a restitution hearing related to the October 2017 assault of a BEA football player.

 

The investigation, which took more than two months, ended up being a five-page report and ultimately cleared the jailer of any wrongdoing.

 

Local authorities investigating vandalism in area

July 3, 2020

 

Local law enforcement officers are investigating a rash of vandalism reported in area cities Thursday morning.

 

In Winnebago, Police Chief Eric Olson says nine residents reported windows on their vehicles being shattered.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams says the Sheriff's Department is currently investigating some BB gun shots of windows in the Delavan and Kiester area.

 

He says there were also reports in Blue Earth and northern Iowa has had similar incidents the past two nights.

 

“We have video footage we are reviewing to try and get our suspects,” Adams says.

 

According to authorities, some businesses have reported windows being shot out and other damage as well.

 

In Blue Earth, one business owner posted on social media they are offering a $350 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who shot out the front window of their store on Main Street.

 

On the city's website, Olson encourages anyone who may have seen anything suspicious to call the police department at (507) 893-3218.

 

Residents can also call the Sheriff's Department at (507) 526-5148 or the Blue Earth Police Department at (507) 526-5959.

 

Genesis Academy purchases treatment center building

July 1, 2020

 

Students at Genesis Classical Academy (GCA) in Winnebago will be attending school at a different location this fall.

 

And, it will not be at the former school building owned by Veterans Enterprises, Inc. of Madelia.

 

United Hospital District (UHD) of Blue Earth has sold the former Adolescent Treatment Center (ATC) facility and campus to GCA.

 

Rick Ash, CEO of United Hospital District, says for the past 10 years UHD and ATC staff have promoted and encouraged the education, health and well-being of adolescents.

 

Now, that will be able to continue with the sale of the building to Genesis Academy.

 

“We are pleased that this beautiful facility can continue to be used by another local non-profit organization with the focus on children and education for the benefit of the broader community,” says Ash.

 

Five years ago Genesis Academy opened its doors with nearly 30 students in grades pre-K through 4th located in the north end of Heartland Senior Living-Parker Oaks campus.

 

Genesis board president Bill Erickson says the new campus will be a tremendous asset for the non-denominational Christian school to grow into a pre-K through grade 12 academy.

 

“It will allow us to continue to offer a rich and robust educational alternative for area students and families,” says Erickson. “This move will also provide Genesis a permanent home with room to expand.”

 

GAC officials say that renovation at the ATC is currently under way to adapt the building to meet the school's needs.

 

Genesis, which has more than tripled in size since opening, is currently enrolling students in grades pre-K through 9th for the upcoming school year.

 

Alleged officer misconduct complaints under review

July 1, 2020

 

A state agency regulating law enforcement practices will review alleged complaints filed against the Winnebago Police Department.

 

A 16-second video showing officer Jacob Pettit putting his arm around a person's neck to take them down to the ground on May 6 has been turned over to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

 

Also, footage of the arresting officers appearing to deny the person medical attention when being booked at the Faribault County Jail has been submitted.

 

In a letter dated June 23, POST Board standards coordinator Angie Rohow says they have received the allegations of misconduct made against some members of the police department.

 

“Your complaint will be reviewed by our Complaint Investigation Committee and staff to determine if the POST Board has jurisdiction,” says Rohow. “You should expect to hear something in 30 to 60 days.”

 

In addition to establishing training programs and standards of conduct, the POST board oversees licensing and certification of peace officers.

 

In a related matter, Tripleanews.com has learned complaints also have been filed with Winnebago's city administrator.

 

“We will be passing them along to an attorney who specializes in these cases,” says Jake Skluzacek, city administrator.

 

One of the complaints accuses police officers of “abuse of power and overreach” when they enforced a governor's executive order.

 

The other complaint reportedly deals with law enforcement's handling of a traffic stop for suspected driver's license cancellation on May 6.

 

Authorities investigating Post Office break-in

June 28, 2020

 

Three law enforcement agencies are trying to figure out who recently broke into the Elmore Post Office.

 

Local, county and federal authorities, however, aren't releasing much details about the incident.

 

Police Chief Steve Linde says the break-in occurred sometime between Saturday, June 20, and Monday, June 22.

 

“Some post office equipment was missing along with packages waiting to be picked up,” says Linde.

 

Nicole Hill, United States Postal Service communications specialist for the Northland & Hawkeye District, says the Postal Inspection Service is conducting an investigation.

 

A spokeswoman with the Postal Inspection Service, who did not wish to be identified, wouldn't comment on the investigation but says more information on the case may be released.

 

That could include whether the United States Postal Service will offer a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons involved.

 

Linde says the Faribault County Sheriff's Office is assisting his department with the ongoing investigation.

 

Breaking into a post office building and stealing packages are federal offenses and each carry a fine and up to five years in prison.

 

Anyone who may have information is being urged to contact the Elmore Police Department by calling (507) 943-3237.

 

Some firefighters get tested for COVID-19

June 23, 2020

 

The coronavirus has left the Winnebago Fire Department a little shorthanded.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that seven of the department's firefighters have been tested for COVID-19.

 

“Once they got word that there could have been COVID exposure during a call, they decided as a department to get testing done for those who were on the call,” says City Administrator Jake Skluzacek.

 

Under a mutual aid agreement, Blue Earth and Delavan fire departments have volunteered to help.

 

Skluzacek says a first round of testing was done last week and another round is scheduled later this week.

 

“No positives have come back,” he says. “They need to administer two tests in order to account for false positives.”

 

Some of the firefighters are self-quarantining, says the city administrator, depending on the requirements for their full-time jobs.

 

Currently, there are 22 volunteer firefighters on the department's roster who respond to fire, search and rescue, and hazardous material emergencies in a 118 square mile area.

 

Delavan man injured again in motorcycle accident

June 22, 2020

 

For a 37-year-old Delavan man, riding a motorcycle the past year has turned out to be quite dangerous.

 

Shortly after midnight on July 25, 2019, Tyler Day Neal was riding his motorcycle on Highway 109 when he was struck from behind by an eastbound pickup truck.

 

Neal was taken to United Hospital in Blue Earth and later airlifted to Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester. He reportedly suffered fractures to his head and face, broken ribs and road rash.

 

Almost a year later, Neal was riding a motorcycle on Highway 169 when it was struck around 3:38 p.m, on Wednesday, June 17.

 

According to the Faribault County Sheriff's Office, Neal was traveling north on a 2017 Harley Davidson when another vehicle rear-ended him.

 

County authorities say that witnesses saw a white truck hit the motorcycle, which was later recovered near the scene of the collision by Blue Earth police.

 

Chief deputy Scott Adams says there is currently an ongoing investigation of the incident.

 

“We found 3.9 grams of methamphetamine at the scene but not on a person,” says Adams. “That's part of our investigation, to determine who it belongs to.”

 

The owner of the truck, according to authorities, was believed to be Colby John Beck who left the scene and was arrested in Elmore and transported to the county jail.

 

Neal was taken to United Hospital and then airlifted to Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester.

 

The sheriff's office was assisted by the Blue Earth police and fire departments, UHD Ambulance and the Minnesota State Patrol.

 

Beck, 26, of Elmore made his first court appearance on June 18 in Faribault County District Court before Judge Troy Timmerman and bail was set at $2,500 cash.

 

He has been charged with felony criminal vehicular operation and a gross misdemeanor charge of a driver failing to stop-injury.

 

Beck's next court appearance is an omnibus hearing that has been scheduled for Aug. 10.

 

Did officer use chokehold during recent arrest?

June 18, 2020

 

A friend of a Winnebago man says a local police officer used “excessive force” when he was arrested after being stopped for a traffic violation.

 

“I am appalled. He used a chokehold,” says the friend. “Something needs to happen and I want it done right now.

 

The friend is referring to a 16-second video that shows police officer Jacob Pettit putting an arm around Andrew Holm's neck to take him to the ground.

 

Tripleanews.com asked Police Chief Eric Olson whether officers in his department are allowed to use a chokehold or any other contact near the neck area to subdue a person.

 

His one-word response, “No.”

 

The friend says she has sent a copy of the video to Mayor Jeremiah Schutt and hopes he will look into the matter.

 

In the wake of George Floyd's death, the city of Minneapolis has banned the use of chokeholds by police.

 

According to a court complaint, an officer saw Holm driving a vehicle on the afternoon of May 6 and knew that he did not have a license.

 

The officer reportedly initiated a traffic stop as Holm pulled into his mother's driveway.

He ignored the officer's commands and headed into the house.

 

Holm came back outside but resisted arrest as his mother screamed at the officer and other officers who arrived at the scene, according to court documents.

 

Holm reportedly grabbed at a deputy's duty belt and took his keys. A stun gun was used to subdue him, according to court papers, and an officer injured his knuckles during the scuffle.

 

Court documents say that Holm spit in officer's face while he as being taken to a squad car and while en route to jail he told the officer he would not forget the officer's name.

 

Holm reportedly continued to be combative at the jail and threatened to assault staff. He told jail staff he had used methamphetamine and marijuana.

 

Holm was charged with felony and gross misdemeanor counts of assaulting a police officer, gross misdemeanor driving after license cancellation, gross misdemeanor obstructing the legal process and misdemeanor fleeing police on foot.

 

Wells plant shutdown due to COVID-19

June 6, 2020

 

The coronavirus has temporarily shutdown a Wells company that employs more than 150 people.

 

According to a press release, Wells Concrete officials became aware Thursday that an employee's family member had tested positive earlier this week for the COVID-19 virus.

 

The employee reportedly did not immediately tell company officials about the positive test and continued to work in the production areas of the plant.

 

“The company decided to close the operation yesterday morning (Thursday). It is currently being cleaned and disinfected by an environmental company,” says Mark Del Vecchio, vice president of human resources.

 

Del Vecchio says a small yard crew was assembled with appropriate precautions to allow loading and shipping of product to two job sites.

 

By doing so, he says the company was able to avoid temporarily furloughing the field crews.

 

“The facility has approximately 155 employees and we anticipate to be at full operation by Monday,” says Del Vecchio.

 

All employees are being encouraged to be tested, says Del Vecchio, if they're concerned about exposure to the virus.

 

Two deputies assist National Guard in Minneapolis

June 2, 2020

 

Last Friday was anything but a normal workday for two Faribault County Sheriff Department law officers and their families.

 

Investigator Mark Purvis and deputy Briar Bonin arrived at the Sheriff's Office for their day-shift duties.

 

Then, around 9 a.m. they got a message on their cell phone --- members of their four-county SWAT team were being asked to assist with the civil unrest in Minneapolis.

 

“My wife wasn't too thrilled when I called and told her. She just told me to be careful,” says Purvis. “I talked to my two daughters, told them I loved them and would be home later.”

 

Before the deputies could make their way to Minneapolis they needed and got the OK from Sheriff Mike Gormley and Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

 

That has never been a problem and although the two deputies could have said they didn't want to report, there wasn't any chance that was going to happen.

 

“I guess it's kind of a calling, to do anything we can. We just wanted to help,” says Purvis.

 

At a moment's notice they changed into their SWAT team uniform and made the drive to the area referred to as “The Third Precinct,” the epicenter where thousands protested the police killing of George Floyd.

 

“It was definitely shocking to see the amount of damage. I knew it was bad, but until you see it in person you don't realize it. It looked like a tornado went through the area,” says Purvis.

 

Upon their arrival, the two deputies and five other members of the SWAT team put on protective gear transported in three used ambulances donated to the group, one from United Hospital District in Blue Earth.

 

Based at the intersection of Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue, the Target store that was vandalized and looted was within walking distance as were the Auto Zone store and police station that were started on fire.

 

“There were businesses with broken windows and glass everywhere on the ground. I felt bad for the people there. But, there were a lot of people sweeping and helping to clean up the mess,” says Purvis.

 

The SWAT team's mission: arrest any protester the National Guard wants apprehended.

 

Purvis says the number of protesters were in the “multiple hundreds” with many coming and leaving. He says there was never a need to arrest anyone.

 

“With that large number of people I definitely was worried, but we never felt threatened,” he says. “But, you don't know if or when something is going to happen.”

 

Purvis and Bonin have served seven and four years respectively on the SWAT team that has some 20 members from Faribault, Freeborn, Steele and Waseca counties.

 

B.E. council to begin looking for new administrator

May 30, 2020

 

Blue Earth's search for a new city administrator may be short and not be a long, drawn-out process.

 

After three months on the job, City Administrator Kim Moore submitted a letter of resignation following a job performance review Tuesday night.

 

City Council members met behind closed doors for nearly one hour before giving Moore an “unsatisfactory” job rating.

 

“We asked her to resign the next day. She didn't have to, she could have forced us to go to the next step,” says Councilman John Huisman.

 

Moore was one of three finalists interviewed last February to replace Tim Ibisch, who accepted a position of city administrator in Kasson.

 

Under a two-year contract Moore was scheduled to start on April 1, however, she began working on March 9.

 

Huisman says the council and Moore agreed that no details of her job review would be made public if she agreed to step down.

 

“There was no one area she was deficient,” says Huisman. “It was multiple areas of not getting the job done.”

 

At Monday night's meeting, council members are expected to accept Moore's resignation and discuss plans to hire a new administrator.

 

That discussion could end up being a short one, according to Husiman.

 

“We're going to offer the job to Mary Kennedy, to see if she is still interested,” he says.

 

Kennedy was among the finalists who were interviewed last February. She is employed with Community and Economic Development Associates in Chatfield (CEDA) and serves as an economic development specialist for Blue Earth.

 

Council meets again with church, business leaders

May 24, 2020

 

Winnebago City Council appears to be sitting on the fence to letting those providing “non-essential” services to fully re-open in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

During a special meeting Thursday night, church and business leaders got another chance to air their concerns with Gov. Tim Walz's “executive order” aimed at slowing spread of the coronavirus.

 

City Administrator Jake Skluzacek says after a good discussion the council decided to lend its support by encouraging Walz to further relax his restrictions.

 

That will come by way of a resolution recommended, he says, by the League of Minnesota Cities.

 

“It does not say we are willing to not enforce the executive order, but it does still show our support for businesses and churches affected by his orders,” says Skluzacek.

 

Daren Barnett, pastor at First Baptist Church, says he wasn't too pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

 

“It is un-American to have the state say anything in regard to worship and practice of religion. It is tyrannical,” he says. “The precedent is being set for the future and it is bleak for the nation if others do not stand up for freedom.”

 

Barnett says his congregation held services on Sunday adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

 

Currently, in-person worship services of more than 10 people are banned. However, under an executive order beginning Wednesday churches may open at 25 percent capacity as long as they follow public health guidelines.

 

The new order extends to funerals and weddings, but does not include wakes, wedding receptions or graduations.

 

The venues must ensure six-foot social distancing is maintained and that capacity does not exceed a maximum of 250 people at indoor or outdoor settings.

 

Congregations that choose to re-open must develop preparedness plans, including detailed cleaning practices and social-distancing guidelines. Also, the state health department recommends all congregants wear masks and refrain from group singing.

 

On May 18, most retail stores were allowed to be open if they had a plan in place to keep their customers and staff safe.

 

Beginning June 1 bars and restaurants can serve customers outdoors, while barbers and salons can operate indoors at partial capacity if customers wear masks.

 

Outdoor seating for bars and restaurants tables must allow at least 6 feet of space between customers and tables can only serve four people or six if the people are all part of “one family unit.”

 

Workers will have to wear masks and reservations will be required. Patrons will be encouraged to wear masks and no more than 50 people can be on a business premise at any time.

 

Personal care businesses --- which includes hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors – will have to implement a COVID-19 plan and can have only 25 percent of capacity at any time. Walk-in service is banned and both the customer and worker will have to wear a mask at all times.

 

Council members are planning to hold a special meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. to approve the resolution.

 

Bar owner pleads not guilty to violating order

May 19, 2020

 

The owner of Schooter's Bar in Winnebago is fighting a charge he violated Gov. Tim Walz's executive order that bars remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

David Schuster, 56, of Delavan pleaded not guilty during an arraignment hearing conducted via telephone in Faribault County District Court before Judge Troy Timmerman on Tuesday.

 

“What was explained to us, we followed it to a tee. There was absolutely nothing handed to us on what to follow,” he says. “We never got a copy of the governor's order from the state or police.”

 

Schuster says Police Chief Eric Olson came into the bar a day before Walz's order to close took effect at 5 p.m. on March 17.

 

The bar operates Monday through Saturday but is closed on Sunday because Schuster does not have a liquor license to be open on that day.

 

According to Schuster, he and three other friends were playing cards, drinking pop and water and talking business with the doors locked on Sunday, March 22.

 

The bar wasn't and hasn't been open to the public, he says, on a Sunday for the past 14 years.

 

Schuster is planning to hire an attorney and have his case decided by a jury trial.

 

Word of the incident quickly spread and some members of the community have expressed their support.

 

And, Schuster has even been contacted by people he doesn't know.

 

“I got a letter from a disabled veteran in Wisconsin who wanted to send me money. Another guy gave me $50,” he says. “People call and say that they want to send me money. I had a guy from Hibbing call me.”

 

So, Schuster has decided if people are willing to make a donation, perhaps they should get something in return.

 

It's a T-shirt costing $15 that has four cards with the president's image and first names of the four card players, the words What's Trump and The Naughty Card Gang.

 

“I guess it's a fundraiser. It will help pay for my lawyer fees,” he says.

 

Schuster faces a misdemeanor charge of violating an “emergency powers” order, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

His next court appearance is a pre-trial hearing scheduled for June 15.

 

Council asked to stop following governor's order

May 17, 2020

 

Gov. Tim Walz may have taken Winnebago city leaders off the hook and could help making any decisions a little easier.

 

On Wednesday, Walz announced he will let a stay-at-home order expire on Monday and allow some businesses to re-open.

 

The governor's move came on the heels of a City Council meeting pushing limits of a six-foot social-distancing guideline recommended during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Council members got an earful Tuesday night from some of the nearly 30 people on why local churches and non-essential businesses should be re-opened.

 

Daren Barnett, pastor at First Baptist Church, says Walz is “skating around” state law to use peacetime emergency declarations aimed at slowing spread of the coronavirus.

 

Barnett says the governor is violating one's constitutional rights protected under the First and 14th Amendments.

 

“People are hurting, the spiritual components of society are starting to wane and immorality is growing. There's lots of trouble,” he says. “With us not being able to interact it is causing issues in the community. My counseling has tripled.”

 

Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says people being able to worship would be “a breath of fresh air,” that is important and should be allowed.

 

“I don't think people going to church is any different than what we are doing right now. You guys are even closer than you are supposed to be,” he says.

 

Councilman Rick Johnson says the public has been preached to on social distancing and for the most part has done a good job.

 

“Churches and small shops are going to be the last to open and I don't know why. Your conscience just asks you, 'Why?'” he says.

 

Makayla Nepp, a lifelong resident of Winnebago and an EMT, says she and her husband do all their shopping in the community.

 

Unlike heavily populated urban areas, she says, Faribault County has a small number of COVID-19 cases and the state has not experienced a huge outbreak.

 

“We need to let go of the fear and look at the facts. We need to reopen our town with precautions before there is nothing left. Why do we want to lose the few businesses we have?” she says.

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says the council needs more information and should not “go above the governor and overthrow authority.”

 

Councilman Calvin Howard wonders whether the council even has the power to defy the governor's executive order.

 

“I'd feel a lot better if I knew we could make that choice (re-opening) without severe repercussions,” he says. “There are layers of jurisdictions, the county could say we can't operate.”

 

Councilman Jean Anderson says Local Government Aid, which totals at least $500,000 annually, could be in jeopardy if the council ignored the governor's order.

 

She says local officials also are acting in the best interest of public safety and don't want anyone to possibly be fined or lose a license to operate.

 

Doug Hill, vice president and ag loan officer at First Financial Bank, says it's time to get back to normal despite any potential risks.

 

“I have a sense that there are some people living in fear and I don't think that has a good outcome in the long run,” he says.

 

First Financial president Bill Erickson encouraged the council to, “Take an attitude of what can we do, not what can't we do.”

 

Barnett says the governor has gone too far and questions his motives for continuing the shutdown.

 

“Anybody can see it is being played politically versus what is best at this point. When has Gov. Walz actually taken care of what we want?” he says.

 

The council asked City Attorney David Frundt to research what they could legally do and plan to hold a special meeting for further discussion.

 

Anderson says the council at this time has no choice but to obey the governor's executive order.

 

“We just can't go rogue and do whatever we want. We have to adhere to the law,” she says. “I don't think it's about politics. We just have to hang on and see what happens.”

 

Under Walz's new “Stay Safe MN” order, Minnesotans are asked to limit themselves to essential travel and stay close to home.

 

Retail stores, malls and Main Street businesses can reopen if they have social distancing in place for workers and customers and are at no more than 50 percent occupant capacity.

 

Bars and restaurants and other places where large numbers of people gather will not be allowed to reopen. However, gatherings of 10 people or fewer such as family celebrations will be allowed.

 

State officials are looking at ways to safely open bars, restaurants, barbershops and salons starting June 1.

 

Bago council gives Lucy another chance

May 13, 2020

 

A dog that attacked and seriously injured Winnebago's K9 officer will get a second chance and be allowed to live.

 

“I've owned dogs for over 30 years and I've never had a dog attack another dog or person. I have been a very responsible dog owner. We know what she did was wrong and we just want to have a fair hearing with the full council,” Scott Reisenbigler told the council.

 

At their meeting Tuesday night, the City Council voted 3-1 to overturn a death sentence handed down on April 24.

 

Reisenbigler and his wife Katie also hired Fairmont attorney Derrick Greiner to help make their plea as to why Lucy should not be put to sleep.

 

“Sometimes mistakes happen and this one they seriously regret,” says Greiner. “It is rash and overstepping to go that far and put the dog to sleep. A conscience approach to this and a steady hand is called for.”

 

Greiner says the Reisenbiglers have taken the necessary steps to insure an incident like this doesn't happen again.

 

“Any other city within a 50-mile radius is going to allow them to keep their dog,” he says. “Scott (Reisenbigler) has told you this has never happened before. Since this happened he has not let the dog leave the house.”

 

At a special meeting on April 24, only three council members attended to have a quorum so that any action taken would be valid and legal.

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt and council member Jean Anderson voted to euthanize the dog, while council member Paul Eisenmenger cast a “no” vote.

 

This time, however, council members Calvin Howard and Rick Johnson joined Eisenmenger to give Lucy a reprieve.

 

Johnson and Howard agree that Reisenbiglers' dog should be declared dangerous and that several restrictions should be imposed.

 

“We deem it dangerous puts 100 percent of the responsibility on those two people right over there,” Johnson says in referring to the Reisenbiglers.

 

Howard says the Reisenbiglers appear to be responsible dog owners and, “There is no doubt in their minds of the severity of the situation.”

 

On April 11, Police Chief Eric Olson was walking his dog Jack around 7:30 p.m. when Reisenbiglers' pitbull mixture broke loose from its handler and attacked the K9 officer.

 

Olson was treated for an injury to his left arm, while Jack was taken to a Mapleton veterinarian and received treatment costing more than $400.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams says Olson contacted the Sheriff's Department that same night and asked if they would investigate the incident.

 

“Being that the dog had never been declared dangerous in the past, the dog owner cannot be charged criminally,” says Adams. “It was the county attorney's opinion that being the dog was not already a dangerous dog, it should not be put to sleep.”

 

Anderson and Schutt weren't swayed to change their minds on putting Lucy to sleep.

 

“The dog is dangerous. Why do we have to wait to the next time this happens and someone gets hurt?” Anderson says.

 

Schutt says his job as an elected official is to keep residents safe and that it would be hard serving as mayor knowing the dog is in the community.

 

“I think you guys will take all the precautions. But, all it takes is once and I just can't live with that. Not as long as I an sitting here. I'm sorry,” Schutt told the Reisenbiglers.

 

City Attorney David Frundt says that Winnebago, unlike most cities, does not follow state statute by having a city ordinance that is stricter than state code which allows a remedy of putting a dog to sleep.

 

Adams says in Faribault County the norm historically has been to just declare a dog dangerous and not euthanize the animal for a first incident.

 

Some of the restrictions the Reisenbiglers will have to follow include, keeping the dog fenced in; erecting warning signs and plaques; muzzling the dog if taken for a walk; having the dog wear a tag that says it is dangerous; and increasing their homeowners liability insurance from $100,000 to $300,000.

 

Also, the dangerous designation is permanent that follows the animal and must be disclosed to a new owner.

 

Dog owner expects not to be charged in attack

May 10, 2020

 

It appears the owners of a dog that attacked Winnebago's K9 officer and injured the police chief will not face charges.

 

“I've been told I won't be charged with anything,” says Scott Reisenbigler. “We have a meeting with the council on Tuesday.”

 

On April 11, Police Chief Eric Olson was walking his dog Jack when Reisenbigler's pitbull mixture broke loose from its handler.

 

Following a special City Council meeting April 24 in which the dog was declared dangerous and ordered euthanized, an investigation was conducted by the Faribault County Sheriff's Department.

 

The results of the investigation were then submitted the City Attorney David Frundt.

 

“The matter was turned over to the county attorney's office for criminal investigation due to the victim being Chief Olson and it being a conflict of interest as a result,” says Frundt.

 

County Attorney Kathryn Karjala refused to comment on the matter when contacted last Thursday.

 

At the special meeting, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt couldn't recall how city officials handled a previous dog-biting incident.

 

“From what I've been told about the case, the dog was voluntarily put down following its 10-day quarantine. Therefore, there was no need for a public hearing to deem it a dangerous dog,” says Jake Skluzacek, city administrator.

 

According to court documents, a 14-year-old boy sustained puncture wounds and bruising to his right upper arm when he was bitten in June 2017.

 

A civil suit was filed and the case was settled in April 2019 when State Farm Insurance agreed to pay the plaintiff a sum of $9,500.

 

County authorities investigate dog attack

April 30, 2020

 

It remains to be seen whether charges are filed in a dog attack injuring Winnebago's K9 officer.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that Police Chief Eric Olson recently contacted the Faribault County Sheriff's Department.

 

“The investigation is complete and David Frundt has everything,” Chief Deputy Scott Adams tells Tripleanews.com on Thursday.

 

Frundt, who serves as the city's attorney, on Wednesday said he was not aware if Olson had contacted county authorities.

 

“I have not looked at the case at all as to what charges, if any were possible, as I was not asked to do so,” says Frundt.

 

Adams would not speculate who might be charged or what type of charge they could be facing.

 

During a special meeting on April 24, the City Council voted to euthanize Scott and Katie Reisenbigler's pitbull mixture after declaring it to be dangerous

 

According to an incident report, on April 11 around 7:30 p.m., Olson was walking his dog Jack when Reisenbigler's dog broke loose from its handler.

 

Olson was treated for an injury to his left arm, while Jack was taken to a Mapleton veterinarian and received treatment costing $400.

 

Council: Dog that attacked K-9 must be put to sleep

April 25, 2020

 

A Winnebago woman sat sobbing after hearing the family's pet dog needed to be euthanized for attacking the city's K-9 officer.

 

During a special City Council meeting Friday afternoon, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt and councilwoman Jean Anderson voted to put Katie Reisenbigler's pitbull mixture to sleep while councilman Paul Eisenmenger voted against.

 

The decision to put Lucy down was made despite a plea from Police Chief Eric Olson to let her live.

 

“If you would have asked me a week ago what I thought, I probably would have sided with Jean (Anderson),” says Olson. “This is their pet. Now, if they took proper precautions I'd be fine with that.”

 

On April 11 around 7:30 pm., Olson was walking his dog Jack when Reisenbigler's dog broke loose from its handler.

 

Olson says the dog charged at them and he stood in front of Jack to try and shield him. But, it jumped in the air to get around him.

 

“It didn't want anything to do with me, it wanted the dog,” says Olson. “The attack I saw was vicious. I believe it wanted to kill my dog. I hit it with everything I had and it wouldn't come off.”

 

The council would be talking about a dead dog and not a dog attack, says Olson, if it weren't for a 2-inch thick agitation collar Jack was wearing.

 

Reisenbigler says Lucy is a rescue dog they have owned for six years and that the animal is taking Prozac and CBD oil for anxiety.

 

“She's never been aggressive toward humans at all. The reason we put her on Prozac is because she had been aggressive toward our other dog, but now she is fine,” says Reisenbigler.

 

Under a city ordinance, council members had the option of declaring the dog to be potentially dangerous or dangerous.

 

If declared dangerous, the council could choose to euthanize the dog or impose restrictions for the owner to follow.

 

City Attorney David Frundt says the Reisenbiglers would have to keep the dog fenced in, erect warning signs and plaques, muzzle the dog if taken for a walk and increase their homeowners dog insurance from $100,000 to $300,000.

 

“The animal itself would have to wear a tag that says it is a dangerous animal,” says Frundt. “The dangerous designation is permanent. What that means is that it follows the animal and that would have to be disclosed to a new owner.”

 

Councilman Paul Eisenmenger, who is a dog owner, suggested that perhaps the Reisenbiglers could find a more appropriate setting for the dog to live.

 

“I think having the animal declared dangerous and put down is a bit excessive,” says Eisenmenger.

 

But, Anderson questioned whether restrictions should be imposed on the dog only to have another incident happen again.

 

“I'd say the dog is not potentially dangerous, it is dangerous. I would hate to see someone else, a child or another dog get hurt,” Anderson says.

 

Schutt agrees with Anderson, by saying, “A dog that bites unfortunately in my opinion is a dog that should be put down.”

 

Olson was treated for an injury to his left arm, while Jack was taken to a Mapleton veterinarian and received treatment costing $400.

 

City loses money on sale of school building

April 23, 2020

 

One would think that selling a building purchased for $2 would be a huge money-maker.

 

That wasn't the case when the Winnebago City Council sold the elementary school building to Veterans Enterprises Inc. for $61,000.

 

City Administrator Jake Skluzacek says expenses totaling $68,953 was spent on the building through February of this year.

 

“These were mainly operating costs and some repairs,” says Skluzacek. “There was $150,000 taken from city reserves to fund the project for a year.”

 

Skluzacek says part of the nearly $69,000 spent includes a pre-design study conducted by WSN of Rochester costing $35,000.

 

The study identified 11 items that needed to be addressed to preserve the building without major construction.

 

Veterans Enterprises plans to provide transitional housing, educational training and health care services for former armed service members living in southern Minnesota.

 

In addition, Garth Carlson says the Madelia-based veterans group would allow Genesis Classical Academy to locate there as well as use by the public.

 

Veterans Enterprises outbid Center for Educational Development (CED) of Winnebago, a group working to transform the school into a vocational training center, recreational facility, day care, community event center and school for grades pre-K through 12.

 

CED president Scott Robertson says he's not sure what the future holds for the non-profit organization.

 

“We did some painting and repairs to the building and hired someone to find tenants to move in,” says Robertson. “I contacted contractors and got bids to do some work. We were ready to go.”

 

Bago council approves COVID-19 policy

April 19, 2020

 

Winnebago may be leading the way among area cities dealing with the effects of COVID-19.

 

With little discussion, City Council unanimously approved a coronavirus policy at their Tuesday night meeting.

 

City employees who have had to use vacation or comp time due to COVID-19 will get the hours reinstated.

 

“I don't think anybody should lose their vacation, it wasn't their fault,” says Councilman Rick Johnson.

 

Council members also agreed to pay employees, like some library staff, who may not be working or have had their hours reduced.

 

“I don't think they should be penalized and should be paid,” says Councilman Paul Eisenmenger. “It shouldn't create a hardship.”

 

Before the council approved the resolution, Johnson asked City Attorney David Frundt how Blue Earth has addressed the issue.

 

Frundt, who also serves as city attorney for Blue Earth, says he is not aware of any policy dealing with vacation or other types of compensation.

 

City officials did not say how many employees will benefit from the new policy.

 

While some City Hall staff may be working from home and the offices are closed, residents may still call (507) 893-3217 if they have any questions or concerns.

 

Bago council sells school for more than $60,000

April 16, 2020

 

Winnebago City Council turned a huge profit when they accepted a bid of $61,000 to purchase the former school building Tuesday night.

 

By doing so, converting the former site of Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) into an educational center is now the dream of Veterans Enterprises Inc.

 

Businessman Bob Weerts spearheaded an effort that began six years ago to house a day care, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and a school for grades pre-K through 12 once SPEC relocated to Fairmont.

 

“We got blindsided, it's another curve ball,” says Weerts. “If this was coming down the line I don't know why you didn't tell me earlier. Don't just look at the money, we have to do this right. The community and area have to benefit.”

 

Weerts and businessman Scott Robertson attended a Blue Earth Area School Board last year where they pledged $2 on behalf of the city to purchase the facility.

 

The Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) was formed and later the Center for Educational Development (CED) of Winnebago.

 

City leaders were quick to throw their support behind WASP's five-page plan for a multi-use facility if it was economically feasible.

 

“I know our bid of $100 is pretty meager. Six years ago our goal was to put a school in that building. I didn't plan on this of being a problem with the city,” says Robertson, president of CED.

 

Last month, council members unanimously voted to sell the building after deciding the city couldn't afford paying some of the annual operating costs estimated at $150,000.

 

Garth Carlson, Luke Weinandt and Jack Zimmerman explained the veterans group's intentions for the school.

 

Carlson says the facility will provide transitional housing, educational training and health care services for former service members.

 

“I not only see it as a place for veterans but for the whole community and it will always be available to other people,” says Carlson. “There's plenty of room there and a lot of opportunity for everyone to grow.”

 

Weinandt says the facility would serve veterans in southern Minnesota counties and that the group will be in a strong position to access federal funding for its programs.

 

“We will help veterans integrate back into society and their communities. We will help them rebuild their lives,” he says.

 

Rene Doyle, headmaster at Genesis Classical Academy, told the council that CED has developed a website and spent $5,000 in branding to promote efforts of transforming the school to give a “cradle to grave” educational experience.

 

Robertson says that Genesis, which currently has about 90 students, is “growing out of its walls” at their Heartland Communities site and would like to move into the school.

 

Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says both parties have good plans and that the council needs to look at a future that is concrete. One of his concerns was how soon could a tenant like Genesis occupy the building.

 

“I'd say immediately. They (Genesis) could move in tomorrow. There's plenty of room for both of us,” says Carlson.

 

Councilman Calvin Howard says CED and the veterans group have similar goals and believes it could be a good working relationship.

 

“This could be a boom to the community if this all works out,” says Howard. “It could be the best of both worlds. But, there is no crystal ball.”

 

Faribault Co. K9 unit assists in large drug bust

April 16, 2020

 

Faribault County's K9 officer was involved in a drug bust netting nearly 40 pounds of marijuana worth several thousands of dollars on April 7.

 

When a State Trooper stopped a car for speeding on Interstate 90, according to court papers, he reportedly smelled an overwhelming odor of marijuana.

 

That's when he called in Zeus and his handler Deputy Brittney Gehrking to help search the vehicle.

 

Court documents say that officers found 38 pounds of marijuana and 1.5 pounds of THC wax.

 

“The street value of marijuana has gone down because it's legal to buy in some states,” says Troy Christianson , patrol information officer in Rochester. “The marijuana is worth $2,000 to $4,000 a pound and the THC $50 to $60 a gram.”

 

Based on Christianson's estimates, $76,000 to $152,000 worth of marijuana and $34,000 to nearly $41,000 of THC was seized.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams says Gehrking and Zeus are frequently asked to assist in cases when drugs are suspected.

 

“They average five times a month,” says Adams. “Last month it was six and so far this month it's been five.”

 

Zion Jordan, 21, and Sayvonne Jordan, 23, both of Iowa City, Iowa, have been charged in Faribault County District Court with third-degree felony possession of 10 kilos or more of marijuana mixture.

 

Court documents say that Sayvonne Jordan was driving the car without a license and gave the trooper a false name when pulled over.

 

After providing his real name, the trooper discovered Jordan was wanted on multiple felony warrants in Iowa. He also was charged with giving a peace officer a false name, which is a gross misdemeanor.

 

Blue Earth council, employee settle case

April 12, 2020

 

Blue Earth City Council will pay more than $20,000 to end a case involving several complaints made against a city employee.

 

“We wanted to get it over with,” says Councilman John Huisman. “Because he is a union member, we couldn't hire another full-time employee until we settled the case.”

 

In the agreement, David Childs will receive slightly more than $12,000 in vacation and sick leave time accrued while working at Blue Earth Wine & Spirits.

 

“He also asked for another $10,000 and we agreed if he would resign officially,” says Huisman.

 

The council took official action on the settlement agreement during their meeting held Monday and Childs also submitted a letter of resignation.

 

Both parties also agreed that results of an investigation conducted by the Faribault County Sheriff's Department will not be made public.

 

Following a 15-minute closed-session on Jan. 30, council members placed Childs on paid administrative leave.

 

County authorities were hired in early February after city officials received several complaints. The allegations made against Childs were referred to being “simply an employment issue.”

 

Operations at Bago treatment center suspended

April 7, 2020

 

The future of maintaining a chemical dependency treatment facility in Winnebago is uncertain.

 

In a special meeting held in March, United Hospital District board members voted to suspend operations at the Winnebago Adolescent Treat Center.

 

“With all the stuff that is going on right now, no one is referring anyone,” says board member Larry Anderson. “We're not going to take any new clients and do not have a plan to re-open as a UHD facility.”

 

The 24-bed treatment facility opened in 1982 in the former Winnebago hospital building under the direction of Fountain Centers in Albert Lea.

 

After 10 years of operation, Fountain Centers planned to close the facility and re-locate in Albert Lea. But, UHD agreed to purchase and run the treatment center for male and female youths ages 12 to 18 years old.

 

In 2010, the hospital district built the present state-of-the-art facility and last year a program to provide services for mental health was added.

 

“We're trying to find another operator of that same type of business,” says Anderson. “We're really trying to find something that is good for the community and continues to be an asset.”

 

The facility still has a handful of residents and will remain open until they complete their treatment programs.

 

“Rick Ash (UHD chief executive officer) has met with the staff,” he says. “It could be a matter of days.”

 

Huge deficit forces BEA board to make cuts

April 5, 2020

 

Whether or not the Open Meeting Law (OML) was violated, Blue Earth Area School Board approved several staff cuts due to next year's budget deficit of more than $800,000.

 

A special meeting was held Thursday by video-teleconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Under the state's OML, a notice of a special meeting must be published in the district's official newspaper and posted three days before it is held. One media outlet indicates they were first notified on Wednesday.

 

Board members voted to eliminate high school principal Greg Ewing's position and cut one teacher in math, science, social studies, English language arts, music and first grade; one social worker; and reduce the English Language Learner position to half-time.

 

Six probationary teachers --- Christy Duncan, Caitlin Galagan, JoAnna Helgeson, Conan Shaffer, Katie Kaluza and Noah Anderson --- will not have their contracts renewed at the end of this school year.

 

In addition, high school science teacher Mark Franta and K-5 social worker Kelly Bleess were placed on unrequested leave of absence on grounds of lack of pupils, financial limitations and discontinuance of position.

 

Tripleanews.com was unable to obtain from Superintendent Mandy Fletcher the dollar amount the cuts actually totaled.

 

Fletcher also was asked whether district officials are considering any pay freezes or cuts for administrators, teachers or other staff.

 

Future monthly board meetings, such as the April 13 meeting, will be held by telephone or other electronic means during the COVID-19 pandemic and peacetime emergency.

 

Case against B.E. employee could be settled

April 4, 2020

 

After more than two months, a case involving complaints against a Blue Earth city employee may be coming to an end.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned the City Council plans to make a settlement offer to David Childs at their meeting Monday night.

 

The agreement reportedly would pay Childs several thousands of dollars for vacation and sick leave time accrued during the six years he has worked at Blue Earth Wine & Spirits.

 

Childs accepting the council's offer would mean results of a Faribault County Sheriff's Department investigation will not be made public.

 

County authorities were hired in early February after city officials received several complaints.

 

At that time, city attorney David Frundt referred to the allegations against Childs as “simply an employment issue.”

 

Council members placed Childs on paid administrative leave on Jan. 30 after meeting in closed-session for 15 minutes during a special meeting.

 

Because Childs is a member of a union, city officials have had to follow several procedures in resolving the case.

 

One of those is a Loudermill hearing which is part of a “due process” requirement that must be provided to a public employee.

 

At the hearing, Childs was given the opportunity to present his side of the story before the council decided whether to take disciplinary action.

 

Charge surprises Winnebago bar owner

March 28, 2020

 

The owner of Schooter's Bar and Grill in Winnebago doesn't know why he's being charged for operating after Gov. Tim Walz ordered bars to close.

 

“The first time I heard about it was today from someone,” Dave Schuster tells Tripleanews.com. “I didn't even get a citation.”

 

Schuster, 56, of Delavan reportedly was charged with misdemeanor violating an “emergency powers” order Thursday in Faribault County District Court.

 

Schuster says he and three other friends were playing cards, drinking pop and water with the doors locked on Sunday, March 22.

 

“I don't have a Sunday liquor license and haven't been open on Sundays for the past 14 years,” he says. “I didn't think it was a problem, because the bar wasn't open to the public.”

 

Schuster denies that he was uncooperate with the Winnebago policeofficer and a deputy sheriff and that he called the governor's order “communism.”

 

“I said it feels like I'm in Russia if I can't sit down at a place I own and do what I want,” he says.

 

The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

County officials react to COVID-19 crisis

March 24, 2020

 

The Faribault County Sheriff's Department has taken steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus into its jail.

 

“New people being booked are having their temperature taken and they are getting a COVID-19 screening,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

 

Some law enforcement agencies around the state have curtailed making arrests for low-level offenses.

 

In most cases, the crimes are misdemeanors and some DUIs that now result in a citation and the person not being held.

 

“Arrests are still being made for violent and assault behavior, like domestic situations,” says Adams. “It's people that may present an imminent threat to public safety.”

 

“Non-violent offenders will be issued a citation. It's not going to turn into the Wild West of there,” he adds.

 

Because the way the law enforcement center was designed, says Adams, inmates are able to be segregated and quarantined if necessary.

 

For now, inmates are not being allowed to have visitors and staff are sanitizing the entire building two times a day.

 

“All outside contact by the inmates has been halted,” says Adams.

 

Other measures have been taken to prevent possible exposure to the virus or its spreading.

 

Faribault County District Court is holding limited court hearings during the next two weeks and county commissioners held an emergency meeting by telephone on March 18.

 

The County Board declared a state of emergency for 30 days which could be extended if needed.

 

Commissioners also are limiting entrance into county buildings by locking down all facilities until further notice. Public access is being allowed for specific reasons only.

 

Anyone having questions may contact the various departments by going to the county's website at www.co.faribault.mn.us.

 

BEA officials meet, plan during COVID-19 closure

March 17, 2020

 

Blue Earth Area School District officials have been working diligently due to COVID-19 closing schools statewide through March 27.

 

During an interview on KBEW-Radio on Tuesday, Superintendent Mandy Fletcher says she, principals and teachers met a full day on Sunday to discuss how to provide on-line education to students.

 

“We're going into this focusing on solutions … to develop a plan to deliver quality distance education,” she says. “This is a big undertaking, we know it is a unique situation.”

 

School districts have essentially been given the next 10 days to address the academic needs of their students.

 

“We are really going to hone in and roll up our sleeves,” says Fletcher. “I told some of our teachers now is the time you can be creative.”

 

In addition to meeting educational needs, says Fletcher, the School District during times like this is a community resource.

 

Food service personnel are preparing breakfasts and lunches which are delivered daily in the district's five communities. In addition, child care resources are being provided for health care professionals and emergency personnel.

 

“At this point we're a much more broader entity,” she says. “We are a lifeline for many of our students.”

 

Distribution locations for the breakfasts and lunches outdoors near the school bus from 9:00-9:30 a.m. are:

  • Blue Earth: 315 E. 6th Street, southside of the K-7 building outside of Door N;

  • Frost: 315 1st Street, Julie's;

  • Winnebago: 140 South Main Street, southside of the Municipal Building parking lot;

  • Delavan: 103 South Main Street, City Clerk/Library Building;

  • Elmore: 202 Highway 169, southside of Municipal Building parking lot.

 

Anyone not having transportation to a meal distribution site may call the district's transportation office at (507) 526-3294.

 

COVID-19 updates during closure of the schools may be obtained by going to the district's website.

 

Mastin sentenced, legal problems not over

March 15, 2020

 

There will not be a new trial for a 37-year-old Blue Earth woman convicted of perjury.

 

Instead, she'll be doing some jail time.

 

Judge Troy Timmerman sentenced Allison Ann Mastin to 30 days in the Faribault County Jail after denying attorney Gary Gittus'smotion for a new trial at a hearing held March 9.

 

Mastin will be given four days credit for time already served and has been ordered to report by 7 p.m. on March 28.

 

In issuing his ruling, Timmerman rejected Gittus' arguments that his client did not receive a fair trial because her constitutional rights were violated and that assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper acted improperly by meeting with witness Wyatt Tungland two days before the start of the trial.

 

Gittus says Piper never shared information he obtained from Tungland, whose involvement in the assault of a Blue Earth Area football teammate is linked to his client's case.

 

In court documents, Piper says that Mastin's conviction is for what she said during Tungland's omnibus hearing in July 2018, not for his testimony at the trial.

 

Piper says that Mastin changes her story on whether she knew if Tungland was at her residence the night of the assault at a Winnebago residence.

 

Tungland never told investigators, says Piper, that he was at Mastin's house at any time the night of the assault.

 

Mastin was placed on supervised probation for two years and fined $1,085, which can be paid by working on Sentence-To-Serve (STS) crews.

 

In addition, she must abstain from the use of mood-alerting chemicals; complete a chemical dependency assessment; be subjected to random drug testing; give DNA samples as directed; work 40 hours on STS; cannot possess firearms, ammunition or explosives; and cannot vote.

 

Mastin has other legal issues she has been dealing with, a DWI charge and domestic assault.

 

On March 2, she pleaded guilty to third-degree driving while impaired and was sentenced.

 

Mastin has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault, which reportedly occurred while she was on trial for perjury. A jury trial has been scheduled for May 7.

 

Authorities investigating trashing of tires

March 13, 2020

 

Someone has been trashing county road ditches with old tires.

 

The topic came up briefly during discussion of Winnebago's annual Clean-Up Day at the City Council meeting held Tuesday night.

 

“We received a law enforcement memo to try and catch who's doing this,” Police Chief Eric Olson told council members.

 

Olson was responding to Councilman Rick Johnson's comment that he heard 110 tires were recently cleared from ditches west of Amboy in Blue Earth County.

 

Faribault County Chief Deputy Scott Adams tells Tripleanews.com his department received a memo alert regarding the problem three weeks ago.

 

Adams says more than 160 tires were dumped in the northeast corner of the county and Waseca and Blue Earth authorities have reported incidences.

 

“Investigators from all three counties are working together on this issue,” he says. “There is a suspect that they are investigating currently.”

 

According to Adams, the county used Sentence-To-Serve crews to pick up the tires and each county will be reimbursed for their cost of removal.

 

The person who is charged will face fines in addition to paying $3 to $5 per car tire and $10 for a truck tire.

 

While the city has no problem with used tires being discarded improperly, there will be a drop-off collection site on Clean-Up Day scheduled 3-6 p.m. on May 28. Last year, one dump truck load of tires was collected.

 

Winnebago council looking to sell school

March 11, 2020

 

A group's dreams for the Center for Educational Development (CED) of Winnebago may have gone up in smoke Tuesday night.

 

City Council members went into closed-session for nearly 45 minutes to discuss the potential sale of the former elementary school building.

 

“I am real surprised and had no idea this was going to be discussed,” says CED board member Scott Robertson. “I was under the impression we were working with the city to make it a vocational training center and a place for community events.”

 

An agenda item to discuss sale of city property at 132 1st Ave. S.E. seemed to catch Robertson off guard because he asked the council if that was not the address of the school building.

 

Robertson told council members that Genesis Classical Academy would be interested in leasing a portion of the building for $30,000 a year or pay $50,000 to use the entire facility.

 

He says the revenue from Genesis and other potential renters would help offset yearly operational costs estimated at $150,000.

 

The city purchased the school for $2 from Blue Earth Area School District after Southern Plains Education Cooperative decided to move to Fairmont.

 

City leaders threw their support behind Winnebago Area School Project's five-page plan to convert the building into a day care, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and a school for grades pre-K through 12th.

 

Following the closed-session, Councilman Rick Johnson made a motion that the city sell the building and advertise for bids as soon as possible.

 

Johnson says that while working on this year's budget it became evident that the city couldn't afford paying the operating costs.

 

Councilman Calvin Howard agrees with Johnson by saying, “Looking at our budget situation I don't think it is in the best interest to be going in that direction right now.”

 

Another factor in the council's decision may have been the uncertainty of gaining funds from the Legislature to make needed repairs estimated at $1.5 million.

 

Council members plan to review any bids that are submitted at their April 14 meeting and may take action.

 

For now, the council voted to table a letter of intent from Genesis to lease space.

 

“I don't think Genesis has intentions to buy the building,” says Robertson. “We (CED) were doing what we set out to do, to help the city find tenants and save them money.”

 

Licensed doctor arrested, faces charges

March 6, 2020

 

A rural Winnebago man who is a licensed physician is facing three felony counts and a misdemeanor charge.

 

John Christian Urban, 60, has been charged with domestic assault by strangulation, terroristic threats, three-degree assault – substantial bodily harm and driving while intoxicated.

 

According to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, Urban has an active license in the state. A physician data center of state medical boards shows that Urban also has a license from Arkansas.

 

Tripleanews.com has been unable to confirm whether Urban has ever practiced medicine in the area.

 

According to court documents, Faribault County authorities responded to a 911 call at 5:23 p.m. on March 1 from a woman saying she was assaulted by her boyfriend.

 

When Deputy Brittney Gehrking arrived at the rural Winnebago residence, she met with the alleged victim and her daughter.

 

The woman's face was swollen, court papers say, and there was blood on her face and around her nose.

 

Court papers say the victim confronted Urban about his drinking and driving when he arrived at home.

 

Urban reportedly assaulted the woman in the driveway when he pushed her into a snowbank and began to punch her in the face.

 

Court papers say that Urban allegedly choked the woman so hard that she could not breathe and said that he was going to kill her.

 

The alleged assault ended when the woman's juvenile daughter pulled into the driveway, according to court documents.

 

Gehrking and Chief Deputy Scott Adams interviewed the girl, who said she did not witness the assault.

 

Urban reportedly told the girl that her mother had fallen and then got into a vehicle and left the residence.

 

Deputies obtained the license plate number, make and model of the vehicle Urban was driving and waited in the driveway until he returned home.

 

Around 8:42 p.m., a vehicle moving slowly, stopping frequently and having its headlights turned on and off several times approached the residence.

 

Urban reportedly pulled out of the driveway when he saw Adams squad car and drove east on 225th Street.

 

Court documents say Urban eventually stopped after being pursued by Adams and Gehrking and that the deputies drew their weapons when he refused to get out of his vehicle.

 

Gehrking was able to place handcuffs on Urban and a knife was found when he was patted down.

 

Deputies performed a field sobriety test after noticing Urban's eyes were bloodshot and watery and detecting an odor of alcohol. He reportedly had a blood-alcohol level content of .13.

 

Urban's initial court appearance in Faribault County District Court is scheduled for March 16.

Public's help sought in Blue Earth mail theft

March 1, 2020

 

Blue Earth police are asking the public to be on the lookout for a vehicle involved in the theft of mail early Friday morning.

 

Police Chief Tom Fletcher says the pickup was a dark-colored diesel with dually wheels, yellow lights on top of the cab and lighted rear fenders.

 

Fletcher says the vehicle was pulling a large silver and black enclosed trailer with red lights.

 

“There was a video but the images have not been helpful thus far,” he says. “No other businesses were hit and they did not appear on any other cameras around town that we know of.”

 

According to authorities, the mail was taken around 3:00 a.m. Friday, Feb. 28, from a mailbox at Ron's Electric Motor Repair located at 1005 N. Main Street.

 

The Faribault County Sheriff's Department on late afternoon Friday posted on social media photos of the pickup and trailer captured on video.

 

Fletcher says that the owners of the business believe the only items of mail stolen were customer invoices.

 

Theft of mail is considered a federal offense and a felony that could result in prison time and a fine and also state prosecution.

 

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Blue Earth Police Department at (507) 526-5959 or the Sheriff's Department at (507) 526-5148.

 

Another attorney accuses prosecutor of misconduct

Februay 28, 2020

 

Another attorney says the Faribault County Attorney's Office acted improperly by interviewing his client without permission.

 

“I am flabbergasted and incensed. I object to my client being forced to testify without the advice of his counsel at that interview and trial,” says Chris Ritts, an attorney for Wyatt Tungland.

 

In an affidavit filed in Faribault County District Court, Ritts says assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper knew he was representing Tungland for an alleged probation and still subpoenaed him for an interview at the County Attorney's Office.

 

“They did not obtain my permission and did not invite me to attend the interview either personally or via telephone,” he says. “I have never heard such a thing or seen it done in 35 years of my practice in law.”

 

According to court documents, Piper met with Tungland two days before the start of a jury trial for a Allison Ann Mastin, 37, of Blue Earth.

 

Tungland testified at the two-day trial in which Mastin was convicted of perjury, but found innocent of aiding an offender --- obstructing an investigation.

 

Court papers say that Tungland recorded the meeting with Piper and gave the audio recording to Mastin's attorney at the end of the trial when jurors began deliberations.

 

Attorney Gary Gittus also has accused Piper of “prosecutorial misconduct” and is seeking a new trial for Mastin. A hearing has been scheduled on March 9 before Judge Troy Timmerman.

 

Neither Gittus nor Ritts have indicated whether they will file a complaint against Piper with the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board which could result in disciplinary action.

 

Last April, Tungland pleaded guilty to felony third-degree assault in the October 2017 beating of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate.

 

Under an Alford plea, Tungland maintained he was innocent but admitted there may be sufficient evidence with which the prosecution could likely convict him.

 

Ritts says his client's rights were violated when he wasn't allowed to explain his Alford plea or enter it was evidence at the trial.

 

“My client had the right to remain silent and I may have advised him to do so, depending on the circumstance,” he says. “I certainly would not have let him talk to Mr. Piper.”

 

Mastin's attorney files request for new trial

February 20, 2020

 

An attorney for a Blue Earth woman convicted of perjury last month is seeking a new trial claiming his client's constitutional rights were violated and there was prosecutorial misconduct.

 

Allison Ann Mastin, 37, was convicted of perjury following a two-day trial that began on Jan. 23.

 

In court papers filed on Feb.7 in Faribault County District Court, attorney Gary Gittus says jurors rendered an inconsistent verdict when a 12-member jury found Mastin not guilty of aiding an offender – obstructing an investigation.

 

During a July 2018 contested omnibus hearing for Wyatt Tungland, Mastin and her daughter testified that he could not have been involved in the assault because he was at their house when the beating occurred.

 

Last April, Tungland pleaded guilty to felony third-degree assault in the October 2017 beating of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate.

 

Under an Alford plea, Tungland maintained he was innocent but admitted there may be sufficient evidence with which the prosecution could likely convict him.

 

The court was in error when it failed to allow Tungland, says Gittus, to explain his Alford plea to the jury during his testimony.

 

In court documents, Gittus accuses assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper of misconduct when he met with witness Tungland two days before the start of the trial.

 

He says that Piper failed to provide the defense a witness contact form or any disclosure in writing as required by law.

 

“This meeting uncovered key evidence concerning Mr. Tungland's ability to know, remember and relate the events,” he says.

 

According to court papers, Tungland recorded the meeting without Piper's knowledge, which Gittus says could have been entered as evidence.

 

During the meeting with Piper, Tungland reportedly said his brain was “mush” due to nine concussions he has suffered and he could not remember much about the assault at the time authorities interviewed him on Nov. 17, 2017.

 

Gittus says Piper acknowledges that Tungland's memory may be bad by saying, “I know, I've read your medical.” He says Mastin rights were violated by not being able to question and confront Tungland about his concussions.

 

Gittus contends that Piper did not allow Tungland to have an attorney present during their meeting knowing that he was facing a possible probation violation.

 

Court documents say that Gittus first became aware of the audio recording when Tungland gave it to him after the jury began deliberations.

 

Another example of prosecutorial misconduct, according to Gittus, occurred when Piper told Tungland, “I don't want to kick you when you're down.”

 

Gittus claims that Piper also was out of line when he sent a letter to Judge Michael Trushenski on Jan. 7.

 

Gittus says that Piper requested specific information about Tungland's attorney, Chris Ritts, receiving a transcript of a statement that he made to law enforcement in December 2017. He also wanted to know whether the judge or his law clerk remembered an oral response from Ritts.

 

The court allowed the final law enforcement witness to testify, says Gittus, about newspaper and social media reporting about the original assault and alibi. He says this allowed lawyers to completely disregard any of the court's previous rulings.

 

“This allowed the floodgates of social media involvement to be considered by the jury, despite the objection of the defense and previous rulings by the court,” adds Gittus.

 

Winnebago hires consulting firm for $23,000

February 19, 2020

 

A financial consulting agency affiliated with the company that audits the books for Winnebago got the inside track for a $23,000 contract.

 

The auditors are recommending we do this,” Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz told City Council members at their monthly meeting held Feb. 11.

 

Sturtz was referring to the auditing firm of Abdo, Eick & Meyers of Mankato, which lists AEM Financial Solutions on its website.

 

At the end of her 30-minute presentation outlining a 5-year long-term plan, debt and utility rate studies, Jean McGann acknowledged she is a consultant to Abdo, Eick & Meyers.

 

McGann quoted the council a price of $26,500, however, offered a $3,500 discount if her company was selected.

 

“It is a living and breathing document that provides a playbook for you,” she says. “It puts into perspective as to what needs to be done and how you are going to pay for it.”

 

Under state law, the council was not required to follow the competitive bidding process for a contract under $25,000 because there is an exemption for professional services.

 

However, the state Legislature in 2014 adopted a streamlined approach for cities to follow if technical and professional services to be received are estimated to cost between $5,000 and $25,000.

 

City officials could have used a process called a “Quick Call” to obtain proposals from a minimum of three vendors.

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt, council members Jean Anderson, Calvin Howard and Paul Eisenmenger all seemed to be in agreement that hiring AEM is a good idea.

 

Schutt says the results of McGann's work would be, “a great tool to understand what our needs are.”

 

Howard says the document, “will help future councils to see what is being done and will provide a third perspective.”

 

While Eisenmenger thinks hiring AEM would be money well spent, he says no decision should be made until absent Councilman Rick Johnson has a chance to express his opinion.

 

Before approving the contract with McGann, Anderson expressed why the council shouldn't wait.

 

“We need to start, the sooner the better. So we can get the ball rolling,” she says.

 

BEA tackles budget deficit of more than $800,000

February 14, 2020

 

Blue Earth Area (BEA) School District is doing a little spending to chip away at a revised budget deficit estimated to be around $818,000.

 

School Board members approved an “early retirement incentive” for three teachers and the community education director at their monthly meeting held Monday night.

 

Superintendent Mandy Fletcher says staff who are eligible and choose to retire will receive $10,000 that will be put into a Health Retirement Account.

 

“It allows us to replace retiring staff with a less expensive staff member, restructure departments or absorb the retirement without replacing the position,” says Fletcher. “All three of those options give the district the opportunity to save dollars in salary and benefits.”

 

Fletcher would not say whether a pay freeze for administrators, teachers or other staff is being considered.

 

Some of the top non-teaching annual salaries include the superintendent at $133,313; high school principal, $105,600; fiscal service coordinator, $99,500; middle school principal, $98,000; assistant middle school principal, $83,000; activities director, $79,272; and school nurse, $70,504.

 

Negotiators for the School Board and teachers' union have been holding talks, says Fletcher, and both sides have maintained professionalism.

 

“I expect to have an outcome shortly that I think everyone ---- staff, board and community --- can be very proud of,” she says. “One thing that I have seen firsthand throughout this process is the desire for both sides to do right by our students.”

 

To help identify budget cuts, board members voted to hire the firm of Robert W. Baird Co. Inc., to provide a six-phase process at a cost of $10,500.

 

“They can take an outsiders point of view and pick apart our finances and really narrow down where we are overspending,” Fletcher says. “They can give a good and unbiased recommendation.”

 

School district residents may be asked to vote on another operating levy referendum during the upcoming presidential general election this November.

 

In November 2019, voters rejected a 10-year referendum expected to generate about $900,00 a year.

 

Fletcher says despite a valiant effort through social media, community meetings and mass mailings, the referendum was narrowly voted down, 756-721.

 

Board members voted to pay Rapp Strategies Inc., of Minneapolis $9,500 to gather information and determine why the referendum failed.

 

“It was hard to get the five communities in our district engaged. Rapp Strategies will help guide us so we can be efficient and do what we need to do to unite our communities,” says Fletcher.

 

Stats: Sheriff's Department staff stays busy

February 6, 2020

 

The numbers may be down, however, staff at the Faribault County Sheriff's Department aren't slowing down.

 

County authorities have 750 square miles to cover and each deputy drives an average 40,000 miles a year.

 

In 2019, Sheriff Mike Gormley, Chief Deputy Scott Adams and 10-full-time deputies responded to 8,539 calls.

 

That was slightly less than 2018's total and about 1,100 fewer calls than the 9,600 tallied in 2017.

 

“We've been seeing an increase every year up to 2017,” says Adams. “We were busier last year, but it was a different type of being busy. We're running our deputies ragged.”

 

Adams points out that more time is being spent on mental health and violent offender cases.

 

“When I first started in 1994, we probably had a couple mental health calls a year,” says Adams. “Last year, we had 89 and they generally take five to seven hours each.”

 

Four full-time dispatchers and part-timers handled nearly 21,000 calls last year, while jailers had slightly more than 700 inmate bookings.

 

Adams says dispatchers handled 410 fire calls and nearly 1,900 ambulance/first responder calls. He says there also were 578 wireless 911 hang-up calls and 48 911 hang-up calls that deputies had to check out.

 

Housing inmates has proven to be quite profitable and generated extra income for the Sheriff's Department coffers.

 

Adams says other counties paid $150,685 to keep their prisoners at the jail. In addition, the department made $25,000 from pop and candy sales and $18,000 from phone cards.

 

“We buy items for the jail and deputies from the money,” he says. “A lot of our office computers has come out of that money.”

 

Of the 121 vehicle accidents last year, four resulted in fatalities. That's well below the double-digit number recorded in 2015.

 

“That year we had an average of one-and-half fatalities a month. I don't ever want to see that again,” says Adams. “A good share of them was for lack of seat belt use.”

 

Contrary to popular belief, Adams says that deputies aren't stalking bars at closing time to write DWI citations.

 

He says “public education” is a huge reason for why there were 28 driving under the influence tickets issued last year.

 

Woman arrested, charged while on trial

January 26, 2020

 

The start of Day 2 in the two-day jury trial of a Blue Earth woman charged with perjury had to be delayed because the defendant was a no-show.

 

According to court records, Allison Ann Mastin, 37, was arrested Thursday night reportedly for domestic assault and spent the night in Faribault County Jail.

 

“She was booked into our jail late Thursday evening,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that Judge Troy Timmerman had to delay the trial on Friday for about one hour so a bail hearing could be held.

 

Mastin was accused of lying under oath during a July 2018 hearing held for Wyatt Eugene Tungland, who ultimately was convicted of assaulting a former Blue Earth Area football teammate in October 2017.

 

Mastin claimed that Tungland could not have been involved in the assault because he was at her home during the time the alleged beating occurred.

 

On Thursday, witnesses called to testify included Tungland, Mastin's daughter, Blue Earth police officer Tharen Haugh, Winnebago police officers Jacob Petitt and Emily Bonin.

 

Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson reportedly was the lone witness to take the stand on Friday before the 12-member jury began deliberations.

 

After some three hours, the jury convicted Mastin of perjury but found her not guilty of aiding an offender -obstructing an investigation.

 

Perjury, which is felony, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

 

Timmerman has ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set the sentencing date for March 9.

 

On the domestic assault charge, court records show that Mastin was released without bail, however, she must follow several conditions.

 

Mastin must keep her attorney and court administrators informed of her current address; not use mood-altering chemicals; have no assault or disorderly conduct; and be subjected to random drug testing.

 

A pre-trial court hearing has also been scheduled for March 9.

 

Missing teen found in Faribault County

January 25, 2020

 

A nationwide search for a missing Minnesota female teen ended after nearly seven months Thursday night in Faribault County.

 

“She is now in protective custody in our county,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “Her parents must be ecstatic, their missing daughter has been found.”

 

Adams says the Sheriff's Department was first notified on Tuesday that 17-year-old Madison Virginia Hjermstad might be somewhere in the county.

 

Local authorities started working on tips provided by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).

 

On Thursday morning around 10:30 a.m., Adams says the BCA called to say that Hjermstad might be living in Minnesota Lake.

 

Adams says he and four deputies along with the Minnesota Lake Police Department spent hours gathering intelligence.

 

With the help of County Attorney Kathryn Karjala they were able to obtain a search warrant from Judge Troy Timmerman.

 

Authorities used an unmarked squad car to surveil a house where the teen was believed to be living with 45-year-old Robert Delbert Sargent.

 

“We basically watched the house for numerous hours. We were able to see a female matching her description through the window and another male party,” he says. “We weren't going to give up. We had a pretty good idea by her picture that was her in the house.”

 

Law officers developed a game plan and entered the home around 7:30 p.m. and within five minutes they found the teen.

 

“Once we had a male party in custody and the vicious animals corralled, we found her upstairs in a bedroom,” Adams says.

 

Sargent was not the male taken into custody, but the chief deputy says the BCA knows his whereabouts and will finish the case.

 

“Our part ended up being a search, rescue and recover operation,” says Adams.

 

Hjermstad of Willmar was first reported missing in July 2019 and her case gained national attention through the Minnesota Crime Alert Network for missing persons.

 

W'Bago police using "fine"money

January 20, 2020

 

Who ever said that crime doesn't pay.

 

The Winnebago Police Department is reaping the benefits from the actions of some wrongdoers.

 

Police Chief Eric Olson told City Council members at their last meeting he wants to buy three new computers for the department's squad cars.

 

And, he plans to use money collected from court fines totaling nearly $20,000.

 

“We can't write paper tickets anymore, the courts won't take them,” says Olson. “Since my dad retired in '99, in the policing world we have come to totally relying on computers.”

 

Besides purchasing needed equipment, Olson says, monies from fines may be used for officer training.

 

He says that 20 percent of the fines collected are put into the department's K9 fund to cover expenses for Jack.

 

I used court fines money in 2015 to purchase our K9 and all of the training came out of that,” he adds.

 

After acquiring the three computers, says Olson, the fund for fines will have a balance of around $14,000.

 

 

Judge bans use of some evidence in perjury trial

January 12, 2020

 

A Faribault County judge says “rumor evidence” cannot be used in the jury trial of a Blue Earth woman charged with perjury.

 

“All social media and texts are suppressed, including newspaper accounts,” says defense attorney Gary Gittus. “He reserved any ruling on whether the proper foundation can be laid for her daughter's notes and texts.”

 

Gittus is representing 37-year-old Allison Ann Mastin, who is accused of lying under oath during a July 2018 hearing held for a teen convicted of assaulting a former Blue Earth Area football teammate in October 2017.

 

During a pre-trial hearing held Monday, Judge Troy Timmerman ruled in favor of county prosecutor LaMar Piper's motion to not allow news reports, social media posts and Tripleanews.com stories during the two-day jury trial scheduled to start Jan. 23.

 

Gittus says news reports and social media posts are “highly problematic and highly prejudicial,” and have no relevance in front of a jury.

 

“We are going to try our case with actual witnesses with knowledge, not through the news media,” says Gittus. “We are not disputing the horrific nature of the incident.”

 

Timmerman did not decide whether a text from Mastin's daughter to the assault victim could be entered as evidence in the trial.

 

In the Nov. 19, 2017, text, Piper says that Mastin's daughter asks, “I want to know how big a part Wyatt (Tungland) was in this. He is being blamed for everything.”

 

Piper says that Mastin was aware of the text before she was called as a witness for the contested omnibus hearing.

 

Gittus disputes Piper's claim and says his client went immediately to police and gave them the texts.

 

Under oath. Mastin and her daughter --- who once dated Tungland --- said he was at their house during the time of the assault in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017.

 

According to court documents, Tungland in a nine-page statement to law enforcement on Nov. 17, 2017, admitted being present during the assault and gave specific details of what he observed.

 

Because the judge is scheduled to hear another case on Jan. 24, Timmerman and the attorneys will hold a telephone conference on Jan. 17 to decide if back-up dates are needed for the trial.

 

Mastin has pleaded not guilty to perjury and aiding an offender. The perjury charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, while aiding an offender has a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

 

Was release of investigation results delayed?

January 6, 2020

 

Investigation of a Faribault County jailer costing nearly $2,500 may have been completed sooner than previously reported.

 

In a Tripleanews.com story published Sept. 28, Sheriff Mike Gormley was quoted as saying, “It's not wrapped up yet, it takes time.”

 

But, according to County Auditor/treasurer Darren Esser, an investigator hired to look into possible misconduct by jailer Tara Sunken was paid three days later.

 

Esser says Michelle Soldo of Soldo Consulting Group, P.C., of Woodbury received a payment of $2,451 on Oct. 1.

 

However, based on Gormley's comment it appears he had not yet received Soldo's five-page report that cleared Sunken of any wrongdoing.

 

“We used her prior and have gone to that because of other agencies being busy. I haven't seen a bill yet, I don't think,” Gormley wrote in an e-mail on Dec. 6

 

It wasn't until near the end of November that Gormley told Tripleanews.com that Soldo was finished with the investigation and the results would be released by County Attorney Kathryn Karjala at a later date.

 

At the time Gormley was contacted he refused to give the name of the investigator, who ironically was the same one hired by Blue Earth Area (BEA) School District to determine if officials properly disciplined four teens charged in an assault case.

 

Soldo billed the school district $1,703 and found that BEA officials had conducted with advice of legal counsel, “timely and thorough preliminary and expanded investigations for more than a month.”

 

W'bago increases police OT budget

January 1, 2020

 

Winnebago Police Department is hoping to solve at least one problem area of its budget this year.

 

“I have been trying get an increase in overtime dollars every year since I have been here,” says Police Chief Eric Olson, who have been with the department for more than five years.

 

City Council members have agreed to increase the department overtime budget from $6,000 to $11,000 this year.

 

At the council's Dec. 10 meeting, City Administrator Jake Skluzacek reported that the department had already spent $15,000 on overtime.

 

The amount of overtime hours logged in the past three years has gone up every year. In 2017, officers totaled nearly 352 hours; nearly 370 in 2018; and almost 560 this year.

 

“Narcotics and narcotic search warrants have gone up,” says Olson. “This isn't to say that Winnebago has a worse problem than in past years, it means our investigations have come together and we have acted on information given to us.”

 

Olson says in some cases it could take up to a year to gather enough information to obtain a search warrant for probable cause that a crime may have been committed.

 

Of all the types of investigations conducted, says Olson, DWI cases are not only time-consuming but require immediate attention.

 

“A report has to be done and completed the following day,” he says. “Instead, our officers could be out in the community doing their jobs.”

 

Currently, the department has three full-time officers and six listed on its part-time roster.

 

Olson says he would like to have another full-time officer because finding help to cover shifts, if needed, is getting difficult.

 

“Part-time help is getting harder to find,” he says. “They are not always available to work because they have other full-time jobs.”

 

In addition to solving crimes and responding to calls from citizens, officers can patrol as many as 30 miles in an eight-hour shift. During the night shift of 11 ½ hours, the amount can be up to 80 miles.

 

Sex offender goes back to prison

December 19, 2019

 

The number of Level 3 sex offenders living in Winnebago is down to two.

 

James Nicholas Dahlager, 38, has been returned to prison in Stillwater after being arrested on Dec. 5 by Faribault County Authorities for an alleged probation violation.

 

Sarah Fitzgerald, director of communications and media relations with the state's Department of Corrections (DOC), says Dahlager was held in jail until the DOC conducted a hearing.

 

“After the hearing, if the violation is substantiated, it will become public information,” says Fitzgerald.

 

Tripleanews.com has been unable obtain information regarding the nature of Dahlager's probation violation.

 

Fitzgerald says Dahlager was on supervised release with Ramsey County Community Corrections before moving to Winnebago.

 

According to the DOC website, Dahlager was returned to Stillwater on Dec. 10 and his anticipated release date is July 26, 2020.

 

Dahlager was released from prison on Oct. 15 and transported to Winnebago by two Intensive Supervised Release (ISR) program agents.

 

In 2000, he was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a 12-year-old girl in Brown County.

 

Also, he had a juvenile offense when he was 13 and sexually assaulted a 4-year-old girl.

 

Dahlager reportedly assaulted one of victims while attending a religious service.

 

His criminal history also includes convictions of aggravated first-degree robbery in LeSueur and Lyon counties.

 

 

Bago festival held without music

December 15, 2019

 

Bah Humbug. It was the night the music died in Winnebago.

 

There was plenty of festive cheer during the annual Frosty Fest celebration held on Friday, Dec. 6, at the Municipal Center.

 

But, one thing was missing --- Christmas songs blaring downtown from the city's sound system.

 

Being unable to figure out how to get the speakers to work, says City Administrator Jake Skluzacek, was one reason for the lack of yuletide favorites.

 

Another may have been the threat of possible legal action being taken.

 

According to Skluzacek and Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz, a local musician expressed her concern of using copyrighted music at city-sponsored events.

 

“It was brought to our attention one day before Frosty Fest,” says Sturtz.

 

Skluzacek says the city has been in touch with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers association (ASCAP) to obtain a license.

 

“The cost is $345 a year or the city could be facing a $750 fine for using the music without permission,” he says.

 

According to ASCAP's website, the association has more than 725,000 members and licenses more than 11.5 million songs and scores that are played and performed publicly.

 

“The city proactively contacted us,” says Michele McKinney. “But, ASCAP does not litigate against governmental entities.”

 

Level 3 sex offender arrested, jailed

December 8, 2019

 

Almost two months after moving to Winnebago, a Level 3 sex offender is back behind bars.

 

James Nicholas Dahlager, 38, according to the Faribault County Jail's roster website, was arrested Thursday, Dec. 5, and booked into the facility at 1:02 p.m.

 

Dahlager was taken into custody by county authorities for an alleged probation violation.

 

“All I know is that he is being held in our facility for the Department of Corrections,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

 

Dahlager was released from a state prison on Oct. 15 and transported to Winnebago by two Intensive Supervised Release (ISR) program agents to his new residence located on the 500 block of South Main Street.

 

During a community notification meeting held Oct. 22, Dahlager's agent --- Eric Starke – reassured those in attendance that he wouldn't be allowed, “to walk freely around town,” and that all his movements had to be pre-approved.

 

Because Dahlager is a Level 3 registrant he was required to be on GPS monitoring for at least 60 days but it could be longer if deemed necessary.

 

In 2000, Dahlager was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a 12-year-old girl in Brown County and sent to prison.

 

Dahlager also had a juvenile offense when he was 13 and sexually assaulted a 4-year-old girl.

 

Brad VanderVegt, community notification coordinator with the state's Department of Corrections, says Dahlager assaulted one of his victims while attending a religious service.

 

Dahlager's criminal history includes convictions of aggravated first-degree robbery in LeSueur and Lyon counties.

 

Report: Jailer did nothing wrong

December 6, 2019

 

A Faribault County jailer has been cleared of any wrongdoing or misconduct following an investigation that took more than two months.

 

“The allegations were not substantiated,” says County Attorney Kathryn Karjala. “There are no criminal charges pending nor planned against correctional officer Tara Sunken.”

 

An investigation was launched after Chief Deputy Scott Adams learned that Sunken was mentioned in a court document related to the October 2017 assault of a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Karjala says that Michelle Soldo of the Soldo Consulting Group, P.C., conducted the employment investigation that ended up being a five-page report.

 

Dale Hurley, the assault victim's father, wasn't caught off-guard when hearing the results of the investigation.

 

“I wish I could say I was surprised,” says Hurley. “But, after the actions of the parents of the kids, nothing in Blue Earth surprises me.”

 

The county attorney says because no disciplinary action was taken against Sunken, details of the report are not public data and are protected by state law.

 

Sunken was named in a court document used by the county attorney's office during a restitution hearing for a co-defendant convicted in the assault.

 

A defendant's mother texted her husband, court papers say, and told him that Sunken warned a co-defendant's mother that the cops were going to get a warrant for his cell phone that reportedly contained a video of the beating.

 

According to the court document, the phone was lost when the parents and their son took a weekend trip to Iowa to watch a college football game.

 

Also, Hurley says his son told authorities that he and another teen charged in the assault went to Sunken's home to get alcohol to take back to the house party in Winnebago where the beating occurred.

 

Report done, findings to be released

November 27, 2019

 

Faribault County's sheriff cannot release information on an investigation involving a current jailer.

 

I've been instructed to tell you that you'll need to contact the county attorney,” says Sheriff Mike Gormley.

 

Tripleanews.com has submitted a Data Request form to County Attorney Kathryn Karjala.

 

Due to the holiday, I will likely not get to processing this request until next week,” says Karjala.

 

Gormley would not say how many pages the report contained or who conducted the investigation.

 

Authorities in the past have asked outside law enforcement agencies to look into complaints of possible employee misconduct.

 

Sunken has not been placed on administrative leave, says Gormley, and is still listed as an employee according to the department's website.

 

In June, Tripleanews.com contacted the Sheriff's Department regarding jailer Tara Sunken, who was mentioned during investigation of an assault involving a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams at that time asked the county attorney's office for information to launch an investigation which began in early September and was just completed this month.

 

Sunken was named in a court document used during a restitution hearing for a co-defendant convicted in the October 2017 assault in Winnebago.

 

Mother of a defendant texted her husband, court papers say, and told him that Sunken warned a co-defendant's mother that the cops were going to get a warrant for his cell phone that reportedly contained a video of the beating.

 

The phone was lost when the parents and their son took a weekend trip to Iowa to watch a college football game, according to a court document.

 

Also, the victim's father says his son told authorities that he and another teen charged in the assault went to Sunken's home to get alcohol to take back to a house party.

 

Administrator proposes pay freeze

November 20, 2019

 

Winnebago's city administrator and police chief are stepping up to limit the increase in next year's budget.

 

The question is whether Blue Earth Area (BEA) School District administrators will do the same when the School Board has to consider making budget cuts of at least $1 million.

 

During a work session held Monday night, City Administrator Jake Skluzacek told council members that a proposed tax levy hike of 17 percent has been trimmed to 12.34 percent.

 

Skluzacek says he and Police Chief Eric Olson are willing to take a pay freeze as a way to further reduce the levy increase.

 

Council member Paul Eisenmenger expressed his appreciation that two city employees will take less pay during a budget crunch.

 

“It's an unbelievable gesture by both of you because living costs aren't getting any cheaper or easier,” says Eisenmenger. “Is there anything we can cut?”

 

The levy could be reduced to around 8.5 percent if the council decides the police department will not have a fourth officer.

 

Council members met with department heads looking at areas to cut to address a proposed tax levy of $689,351, an increase of $76,000.

 

“I just don't want to be in double digits. I think that would be hard to sell,” says Councilman Rick Johnson.

 

Skluzacek and Olson taking a freeze in pay would amount to a total annual savings of only $6,000.

 

“I think we can still consider the pay freeze. If we have to do it, we can,” says Skluzacek.

 

Meanwhile, BEA officials will have to make “severe cuts” says Superintendent Mandy Fletcher as a result of an operating referendum being voted down on Nov. 5.

 

Fletcher and board chairperson Susan Benz would not say if pay freezes for administrators will be considered to deal with a budget deficit estimated to top $1million next school year.

 

In 2020, the board's negotiating team and the district's three principals will be working on a new master contract.

 

High school principal Greg Ewing is being paid $105,600 this year, while middle school principal David Dressler is making $98,000 and assistant middle school Conan Shaffer's salary is $83,000.

 

Fletcher is being paid an annual salary of $133,000 this year and is scheduled to earn $134,995 in 2020-21 and $137,020 in 2021-22.

 

Dixie Carbonic --- staying or leaving?

November 18, 2019

 

City leaders may be wondering what the future holds for one of Winnebago's largest employers.

 

When Corn Plus closed its doors last August and went into what company officials called a “cold idle,” there was question what impact that would have on Continental (Dixie) Carbonic Products Inc.

 

“I have not heard they are leaving. They moved one line to another location, but that's all I have heard,” says Mayor Jeremiah Schutt.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that the company's mail is being forwarded to its main headquarters in Decatur, IL.

 

City Administration Jake Skluzacek says he doesn't have any information regarding the company's status in Winnebago.

 

“I have tried to set up a meeting with the manager over there, but he has never gotten back to us,” says Skluzacek.

 

Dixie Carbonic used carbon dioxide gas, a by-product from Corn Plus, to produce dry ice and employed as many as 40 workers.

 

According to the company's website, the facility in Winnebago was one of 50 plants located in the U.S. and Canada where dry ice in cut block and pellet form is produced.

 

What's next for school building?

November 17, 2019

 

Now that the City of Winnebago has possession and keys to the school building, work on converting it into a multi-purpose facility is in full swing.

 

City Administrator Jake Skluzacek says District 23 state Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) plans to seek funding next legislative session to help with needed repairs.

 

“I did hear from her people and she is working on drafting a bonding bill for the school,” he says. “We are going to need a lot of information and are working on it.”

 

Skluzacek's comments came during a recent meeting of the city's Economic Development Board held earlier this month.

 

District 23A Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) has already indicated he'll ask the Legislature for $2 million to make repairs at the school estimated to cost $1.5 million.

 

City officials are looking at renting out space at the school as a way to generate revenue and they may have someone who is interested.

 

At their meeting on Tuesday, City Council members went into closed-session to discuss a potential lease agreement.

 

“I can't release the possible tenant's name,” says Skluzacek. “I will be going into the school with them next week to try and find a space that works.”

 

The council also earlier this month held a special meeting to hire Keith Navarro as the facility's boiler operator. For now, he will work one to two hours a day and be paid $20 an hour.

 

At the School Board meeting on Thursday, board members passed a resolution finalizing a purchase and sale agreement with the city to buy the school for $2.

 

The facility will be called the Center for Educational Development in Winnebago and is expected to house a day care center, recreational facility, community event center, vocational training center and a school for grades pre-K through 12th.

 

Did group help defeat referendum?

November 10, 2019

 

Members of a group who opposed passage of Blue Earth Area's (BEA) excess levy referendum aren't taking any credit for its defeat Tuesday.

 

In fact, two persons associated with the group didn't know who placed ads on KBEW Radio on behalf of the Five Star Group.

 

The 10-year referendum, which would have generated about $900,000 a year in revenue, was narrowly voted down, 756-721.

 

The Five Star Group, consisting of 10 community members and business leaders, was formed in April 2015 when BEA officials proposed closing the Winnebago Elementary School.

 

District officials have said that passage of the operating levy was needed to avoid future cuts that are estimated to be at least $1 million. Last year, School Board members trimmed the budget by $425,364.

 

Superintendent Mandy Fletcher says despite being saddened by the election results, she remains optimistic about the future of Blue Earth Area.

 

“Over the coming months, we will be looking at many, many numbers and options to make some tough decisions this spring,” says Fletcher.

 

“We have indeed encountered a setback … we will always do what is in the best interest of our students and continue to build the trust within our communities,” she adds.

 

At the polling places in Blue Earth and Frost, voters supported the referendum 449-309 and 75-53, respectively.

 

However, it was a different story at the polls in Winnebago, Delavan and Elmore.

 

More than 72 percent casting ballots in Winnebago voted against the referendum with a vote of 200-76.

 

Almost 63 percent of the Delavan voters, 124-73, said no, while in Elmore the vote was 70-50 against.

 

“The district --- staff, students and communities --- are strong and determined and will learn and grow together,” says Fletcher.

 

The levy would have brought in $900 per pupil in the first year, followed by inflationary increases in each of the remaining nine years.

 

Nearly $94,000 spent on squad cars

November 7, 2019

 

The Faribault County Sheriff's Department in the past year has had six vehicles damaged in accidents, however, six replacements have been added.

 

On Tuesday, county commissioners approved a request by Sheriff Mike Gormley and Chief Deputy Scott Adams to spend nearly $94,000 to buy three vehicles.

 

Two pickup trucks totaling $59,350 will be purchased from Hawkins Chevrolet in Fairmont and a 2020 Ford Explorer Police Interceptor SUV from Fairmont Ford for $34,385.

 

This year, the Sheriff's Department budgeted $98,500 for replacement squad cars.

 

Adams says three vehicles sustained about $51,000 in damages during a high-speed chase involving a stolen car in November 2018 near Elmore.

 

He says two other squad cars have been struck by deer and another was backed into.

 

“One misconception is that we are self-insured,” he says. “That is not the case. We are covered by an insurance company, just like the public sector.”

 

During the chase speeds reached 90 mph prior to the driver going into a bean field, says Adams, and 60 mph before he was cornered and apprehended.

 

Adams says he doesn't think the department needs look at making any changes when conducting a pursuit.

 

“Our policies fit within state statutes and with the Minnesota POST Board rules. So, I am not sure what we would re-evaluate,” he adds.

 

Shortly after the high-speed chase the County Board approved buying three vehicles, but Adams at that time said it had nothing to do with the vehicles that were damaged.

 

Rather, the Sheriff's Department was able to save more than $8,000 on each vehicle that were already included in the 2019 budget.

 

Former jailer sentenced for violation

October 30, 2019

 

A former Martin County jailer was sentenced in Faribault County District on Monday for violating an order for protection – domestic abuse.

 

Beau Karge, 40, of Frost was arrested around 9:32 a.m. by a Blue Earth police officer on June 24 and then transported to the county jail.

 

Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart says Karge returned to work shortly after the incident but now is no longer with Sheriff's Department.

 

His last day was Sept. 19 and he chose to leave,” says Markquart. “It had nothing to do with any violation.”

 

Karge was sentenced to 90 days in jail and given three days credit for time already served. The remaining 87 days were stayed if he successfully completes his probation.

 

He was placed on supervised probation for one year and given two months to pay a $585 fine.

 

Other conditions imposed by the court include:

  • must follow recommendations of a mental health therapist;

  • obtain a chemical dependency assessment within 30 days;

  • get permission for his probation officer to leave the state;

  • abstain from use of mood-altering drugs;

  • follow all state and federal laws;

  • may not possess any firearms;

  • subjected to random drug testing;

  • inform court officials of any change in address or phone number.

 

 

Public safety main focus of meeting

October 27, 2019

 

Nearly 50 people attending a sex offender community notification meeting held Oct. 22 in Winnebago were reassured that the public's safety is of the utmost importance.

 

“Where they spend their waking hours is where we want to have our attention most focused, not where their heads hit the pillow at night,” says Brad VanderVegt, community notification coordinator with the state's Department of Corrections.

 

James Nicholas Dahlager, 38, was released from a state prison on Oct. 15 and transported to Winnebago by two Intensive Supervised Release (ISR) program agents to his new residence on the 500 block of South Main Street.

 

VanderVegt says as of July 1, 2019, there are 18,000 people required to register as an offender in the state, with 54 of those registrants living in Faribault County.

 

While there are 15 registrants with a Winnebago address, Police Chief Eric Olson says eight are actually living within the city limits.

 

“What the chief said, that should be the most reassuring thing your hear tonight,” says VanderVegt. “Your law enforcement officers and other professionals know who these folks are, where they are and where they should be.”

 

Dahlager will be the third Level 3 sex offender to move to Winnebago, bringing the total of Level 3 registrants in the county to five.

 

“We're watching them. We know what they are doing and have all eyes on them.” says Olson.

 

In 2000, Dahlager was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a 12-year-old girl in Brown County and sent to prison.

 

VanderVegt says Dahlager also had a juvenile offense when he was 13 and sexually assaulted a 4-year-old girl.

 

“He exploited access to the victim while attending a religious service,” he says. “He was in a church and she was comfortable enough with him to follow him into a bathroom.”

 

Eric Starke and Kristen Isaksson, ISR agents for Dahlager, answered questions citizens may have had about the supervision process.

 

Starke says Level 3 registrants are required to be on GPS monitoring for at least 60 days but it could be longer if deemed necessary.

 

“We will not allow him to be near a school,” says Isaksson. “If you know of a daycare, let us know.”

 

Olson says that schools and daycare providers are always notified when a sex offender moves into the city.

 

Starke and Isaksson say that Dahlager isn't allowed to freely walk around town and that all his movements are pre-approved.

 

“We had about three hours to explain his conditions and rules. The do's and don'ts of what he can and can't do,” says Starke.

 

Although Dahlager does not have a job, VanderVegt says he will be expected to find work and not just sit on the couch watching cartoons and TV shows.

 

Dahlager's criminal history includes convictions of aggravated first-degree robbery in LeSueur and Lyon counties, which was a concern to some at the meeting.

 

“With the resources we have, I don't believe he will have a chance to commit robbery,” says Olson.

 

Anyone with questions or wanting more information may contact the Police Department by calling (507) 893-3218.

 

Mastin case going to trial next year

October 23, 2019

 

A Blue Earth woman will stand trial next year on two felony charges related to the October 2017 assault of a former Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Allison Ann Mastin, 37, has pleaded not guilty to perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation.

 

Mastin's attorney, Gary Gittus of Rochester, says he was not able to settle the case with Faribault County prosecutors.

 

“No plea agreement could be reached. I can't say how negotiations went, that's privileged information,” says Gittus.

 

The two-day jury trial has been scheduled for January 23 and 24 in Faribault County District Court in Blue Earth.

 

During a contested omnibus hearing in July 2018, Mastin and her daughter testified that Wyatt Eugene Tungland of Frost could not have been involved in the assault.

 

Under oath, Mastin and her daughter--- who once dated Tungland --- said he was at their house during the time of the assault in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017.

 

According to court documents, Tungland in a nine-page statement to law enforcement on Nov. 17, 2017, admitted being present during the assault and gave specific details of what he observed.

 

A conviction of perjury has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, while aiding an offender carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

 

Meeting set for Level 3 sex offender

October 16, 2019

 

Another Level 3 sex offender will be moving to Winnebago soon, so a community meeting is scheduled to be held next week.

 

“This individual has served the sentence imposed on him by the court and is transitioning into the community,” says Eric Olson, Winnebago police chief.

 

Olson says the meeting is being held Tuesday, Oct. 22, for 38-year-old James Nicholas Dahlager beginning at 6 p.m. in the Community Room at the Municipal Center.

 

Because a Level 3 sex offender is considered a high risk to re-offend, state law requires a public meeting be held by law enforcement to provide information to local residents.

 

According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) website, Dahlager was convicted of attempted second-degree criminal sexual misconduct with a child under age 13 in Brown County. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison and fined $2,500.

 

A look at Dahlager's criminal history shows he has been convicted of aggravated first-degree robbery in LeSueur and Lyon counties.

 

Earlier this year he was serving prison time in Stillwater for convictions of possession or sale of stolen counterfeit checks and financial transaction card fraud.

 

Olson says representatives from the DOC and Winnebago Police Department will provide those at the meeting useful information on public safety.

 

DOC officials are expected to provide Dahlager's general area of residence, photos and a description, when and where his past criminal behavior occurred.

 

Dahlager will be the second Level 3 sex offender, says the police chief, to move to Winnebago since July 2018.

 

Cyber-attack not cause of damage

October 10, 2019

 

Despite a news report in the Fairmont Sentinel on Wednesday, a cybersecurity breach last month did not cause damage to the Blue Earth Area High School gymnasium floor.

 

“We actually had a plan to fix the floor prior to the cybersecurity event,” says Superintendent Mandy Fletcher. “It was not the cause of the damage. I'm not sure why it was implied as such.”

 

Fletcher says damage to the gym floor was actually caused by the heavy rains that occurred in August.

 

It's expected to cost $75,000 to repair and replace the damaged portion, sand the entire floor and install new graphics.

 

“We have a narrow window of opportunity to get the floor finished by the time winter sports begin,” Fletcher says. “It will take about five to six weeks. We hope everything goes smoothly so we can resume our activities as normal.”

 

Student class officers have assisted the district's facilities committee and Fletcher to develop design options for the floor.

 

On Sept. 19, an early morning cyber-attack attempted to impact a device that controls the building's automation system.

 

Hackers demanded a Bitcoin ransom, says the superintendent, in exchange for giving back the district control of the system.

 

Fletcher says no private data of staff or students was compromised or exposed during the breach.

 

Ambulance service owed thousands

October 6, 2019

 

Area residents owing a local ambulance service for a ride may have to start paying up.

 

Winnebago Area Ambulance has more than $30,000 in outstanding bills and has hired American Accounts and Advisors to begin collecting.

 

“It's a huge, outstanding amount,” says ambulance Captain Cari Jenkins. “We need to be able to pay our bills.”

 

Nationally, rural ambulance services struggle to cover operating costs due to inadequate Medicare, Medicaid and insurance reimbursements. And, often they eat the charges for uninsured residents.

 

“The ambulance is largely self-funded through their charges and donations received,” says City Administrator Jacob Skluzacek.

 

Last year, the budget for Winnebago Area Ambulance was $150,550 and it is expected to increase by $2,000 for 2020.

 

Jenkins says EMS crews cover the areas of Amboy, Delavan, Huntley and parts of Blue Earth and Martin continues.

 

“We operate 24/7,” says Jenkins. “We're a volunteer crew and our people get paid very little.”

 

Under the agreement, American Accounts and Advisors will keep 20 percent of any overdue bills collected. If the city seeks legal action, the collections company will retain 40 percent.

 

Investigation may wrap up soon

September 28, 2019

 

A Faribault County jailer remains on the job as an probe into possible misconduct continues.

 

Earlier this month, the County Attorney's Office gave the Sheriff's Department information regarding a jailer mentioned during the assault investigation of a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

“It's not wrapped up yet, it takes time,” says Sheriff Mike Gormley. “I'm not going to comment until it's over.”

 

“I can't disclose details. I should know more by the end of next week,” he adds.

 

In June, Chief Deputy Scott Adams contacted county prosecutors after learning that Tara Sunken was named in a court document prior to a restitution hearing for a co-defendant convicted in the October 2017 assault.

 

After receiving transcripts and documents, Gormley began preliminary work on the internal investigation.

 

“Someone else is doing it. We always have an outside agency do the investigation,” he says, although he would not name them.

 

The mother of a defendant texted her husband, court papers say, and told him that Sunken warned a co-defendant's mother that the cops were going to get a warrant for his cell phone that reportedly contained a video of the beating.

 

The phone was lost when the parents and their son took a weekend to Iowa to watch a college football game.

 

Also, the victim's father says his son admitted in a written statement that he and another teen charged in the assault went to Sunken's home to get alcohol to take back to a house party in Winnebago where the beating occurred.

 

BEA victim of security breach

September 24, 2019

 

Blue Earth Area School District officials acted quickly to thwart hackers efforts to gain control of the district's schools unless payment was made.

 

“They said we would need to contact them for the amount, which we did not do,” says Superintendent Mandy Fletcher. “They were attempting to gain a Bitcoin ransom in exchange for giving us back control of the automation system.”

 

The cyber-security attack occurred in the early morning hours of Thursday, Sept.19, and attempted to impact a device that controls a building automation system.

 

Fletcher says the security breach was discovered when the district's head of facilities was conducting routine checks on the system.

 

The district's technology team, with the assistance of the building's automation company, was able to locate where the problem was isolated.

 

BEA officials contacted local law enforcement as well as technology companies working with the district to make them aware of what happened.

 

“Fortunately, the automation company was able to send a technician to be on site and replace the old system,”says Fletcher. “After assessing air quality, it was determined it was safe to proceed with the regular school day.”

 

No private data of staff or students, according to the superintendent, was compromised or exposed during the breach.

 

Fletcher says BEA is a member of the South Central Service Cooperative, which has started offering districts training and education to help protect themselves against security breaches.

 

Group waits to get into Bago school

September 23, 2019

 

Frustration. No access to the building. A project that's in a “holding phase.”

 

That was the common theme City Council members heard during a special meeting held Wednesday to discuss the Winnebago school project.

 

“It isn't Blue Earth Area that's holding us hostage, it's Southern Plains,” says Councilman Rick Johnson.

 

Businessman Bob Weerts and Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) board members Renee Doyle and Scott Robertson gave an update on plans to convert the school into an educational and multi-purpose use facility.

 

Weerts says he's been in contact with persons who would like to provide vocational training for radio broadcasters, plumbers, electricians and boiler operators.

 

“It's really hard to sell something when you can't go look at it,” says Weerts. “People are interested in what we are doing here. But, it's really hard when you get red lights and can't move.”

 

Although Southern Plains Education Cooperative has re-located into its new $10 million-dollar facility in Fairmont, they have a lease to remain at the school until Nov. 1.

 

WASP board members say they would like to do some painting in the gymnasium and other repairs, but aren't allowed in the building.

 

Annie Leibel, hired by the city for economic development services, says she and some council members toured the school. She says the HVAC system needs to be replaced and some new windows should be installed.

 

“The stairs are slippery and alarms go off because of condensation,” says Leibel. “In a couple of rooms sewage was backing up into the sinks and because of mold in the boys locker room it could not be used.”

 

Sara Mittelstadt, director of Southern Plains, says work still needs to be done at their new facility and there confidential files and other items that have to be moved out of the Winnebago school.

 

“I have not been contacted directly or asked by city staff if they can do painting. I would need to check with our insurance company about the liabilities of this,” Mittelstadt says.

 

Doyle, who is the headmaster at Genesis Classical Academy, says WASP is moving forward with branding efforts, gaining non-profit status and hiring a director.

 

WASP has developed a five-page plan to put a day care, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and Genesis' grades pre-K through 12th at the school.

 

“It is sitting there, a golden opportunity,” she says. “What do we do on day one in November in trying to raise money?”

 

Council members may have found a short-term revenue source by way of the Blue Earth Area gymnastics program and Genesis Academy.

 

Leibel says it is her understanding that district officials are still looking for a place for the team to practice and hold meets from November through February.

 

Council members voted to allow the district use of the gym at a cost of $1,000 a week and also to charge Genesis $50 an hour for up to six hours a week.

 

The city will be paying the building's operating costs for the first year estimated to be $100,000, but will be reimbursed once WASP secures funding through grants and fund-raising efforts. So far, the project has received a $20,000 grant from Bevcomm.

 

Judge denies motion to drop charges

September 14, 2019

 

A 37-year-old Blue Earth woman will face two felony counts related to the October 2017 assault of a former Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Judge Troy Timmerman has signed a five-page order denying Allison Ann Mastin's attorney --- Gary Gittus of Rochester --- motion to dismiss perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation charges.

 

The defendant intentionally intended to aid (Wyatt) Tungland by providing false or misleading information,” the judge wrote.

 

Timmerman cites Mastin's knowledge prior to her testimony along with admissions to law enforcement after her testimony in his ruling.

 

(It) would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to entertain an honest and strong suspicion that she made a false material statement under oath regarding Tungland's presence at her home during the time of the assaults and that the defendant did not believe it to be true,” he wrote.

 

Timmerman says Mastin must stand trial and an arraignment hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 8 in Faribault County District Court.

 

During a contested omnibus hearing in July 2018, Mastin and her daughter took the stand and testified that Wyatt Eugene Tungland of Frost could not have been involved in the assault.

 

Under oath, Mastin and her daughter --- who once dated Tungland --- said he was at their house during the time of the assault in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017.

 

According to the order, Tungland in a nine-page statement to law enforcement on Nov. 17, 2017, admitted being present during the assault and gave specific details of what he observed.

 

Tungland and three other teens were charged and convicted in the assault of a teammate that occurred during a party at a teammate's home in Winnebago.

 

If convicted of perjury, the maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The aiding an offender charges carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

 

Pets allowed to stay put, for now

September 11, 2019

 

A Winnebago man says his two pets aren't noisy or out loose and running wild.

 

So when Mike Mahlstedt got a letter from Police Chief Eric Olson on Aug. 14 telling him he had to get rid of them, he decided to take his case to the City Council Tuesday night.

 

After all, Bella and Penelope --- Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs --- have been part of the family for nearly seven years.

 

“The previous city administrator said I could have them,” says Mahlstedt. “I'm upset that I've been told I have to get rid of them.”

 

According to the letter signed by Olson, owning the pigs violates a city ordinance that lists them as a farm animal.

 

Mahlstedt contends that pot-bellied pigs were not classified as a farm animal when he bought them at a county fair when they were a few weeks old. But, now they are illegal to own.

 

Councilman Rick Johnson disagrees with Mahlstedt, saying the ordinance, “hasn't been changed in the 12 years I've been on the council.”

 

Councilman Paul Eisenmenger glanced over the ordinance and could not find that pot-bellied pigs are allowed in city limits.

 

“Every animal in here as listed I see as being a farm animal, including a pot-bellied pig,” he says.

 

Mahlstedt says the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not considered a pot-bellied pig to be a farm animal.

 

Ingrid Chrisman told the council when she lived in Phoenix, residents could own a pot-bellied pig because they were not a farm animal.

 

The pigs --- that weigh between 100 and 120 pounds – are in an enclosed pen in the backyard. Mahlstedt says there are a couple of residents who know he has two pet pigs and bring them tomatoes, apples and pears from time to time.

 

The council was in agreement to study the issue before deciding if Mahlstedt can keep the two swine.

 

“I was relieved that they didn't make me get rid of them. It would be like losing a kid,” he says. “I'm going to fight them up to the end. I'd take this to court if I have to.”

 

For now, Belle and Penelope have gotten a reprieve. At least until the next council meeting.

 

Prosecutors turn over information

September 9, 2019

 

Faribault County prosecutors have finally given the Sheriff's Department information related to a jailer mentioned during the assault investigation of a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams tells Tripleanews.com that Sheriff Mike Gormley is examining the documents.

 

He is reviewing the transcripts and may ask for more information,” says Adams. “Any internal investigation that the Faribault County Sheriff's Office does will be completed by an outside investigator.”

 

Adams responded to a question on whether Sunken has been placed on administrative leave by saying, “We are currently at full working staff.”

 

In June, Adams contacted the County Attorney's Office after learning that jailer Tara Sunken was named in a court document prior to a restitution hearing for a co-defendant convicted in the October 2017 assault.

 

According to court papers, the mother of a defendant texted her husband and told him that Sunken warned a co-defendant's mother that the cops were going to get a warrant for his cell phone that reportedly contained a video of the beating.

 

The cell phone was lost when the parents and their son took a weekend trip to Iowa to watch a college football game.

 

Also, the victim's father says his son admitted in a written statement that he and defendant charged in the assault went to Sunken's home to get alcohol to take back to a house party in Winnebago where the assault occurred.

 

Tungland facing 3 assault charges

September 4, 2019

 

A former Blue Earth Area football player convicted of assaulting a teammate in October 2017 is now facing two felony assault charges in Blue Earth County.

 

Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 20, of Frost, is accused of punching three strangers at a housing complex near Minnesota State University around midnight Monday.

 

He has been charged with two felony counts of third-degree assault-substantial bodily harm and fifth-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

 

A court complaint says Tungland allegedly punched a man after being denied entrance into a party.

 

According to the victim and three witnesses, Tungland came to the door uninvited and when asked to leave, he hit the man in the face. The man reportedly was knocked to the ground and chipped a tooth.

 

The complaint says that Tungland then ran to another residence where two men were on the porch and he allegedly tried to take their beers.

 

Tungland reportedly punched both men in the face when they refused to give him the beers. The complaint says one of the men put Tungland in a headlock but he got away.

 

One of the victims suffered a broken nose, says the complaint, and may require surgery.

 

Tungland has reportedly violated conditions of his probation related to his Faribault County assault conviction and has a court hearing scheduled for Sept. 13 in Martin County District Court.

 

At his court hearing Wednesday in Blue Earth County, bail or bond was set at $50,000 with no conditions or $20,000 with conditions.

 

Tungland may not possess alcohol or controlled substances; must stay a reasonable distance away from the victim's residence; have no contact with the victims; be subjected to random drug testing; remain law-abiding; and keep the court and his attorney informed of his current address.

 

Tungland facing legal troubles

September 3, 2019

 

A former Blue Earth Area football player convicted in the October 2017 assault of a teammate may be back in hot water again.

 

Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 20, of Frost has reportedly violated conditions of his probation and has a court hearing scheduled for Sept. 13 in Martin County District Court.

 

Faribault County court administration officials say details of the alleged probation violation are not public information and not included in court documents.

 

Tungland may also have some legal troubles in Blue Earth County, according to sheriff department's jail roster.

 

Records show that he was booked into the facility Monday night at 9:21 p.m. on first-degree burglary charges.

 

Meanwhile, a restitution hearing set for Aug. 23 was canceled after the parents of the assault victim and Tungland agreed that he pay $1,000 in financial damages rather than the $2,125 they were seeking.

 

In April, Tungland pleaded guilty to a felony third-degree assault charge under an Alford plea, By doing so, he maintained he was innocent but admitted there may be sufficient evidence with which the prosecution could likely convict him.

 

Tungland spent 11 days in the Faribault County Jail and was given two years to pay a $1,085 fine.

 

Some conditions of his probation included no use of alcohol or a controlled substance; submit to random drug testing; no threatening, harassing or assaultive behavior; and may not possess firearms, ammunition or explosives.

 

According to Tungland's case file, he was placed on five years supervised probation and given a stay of imposition, which would reduce the felony to a misdemeanor if he successfully completes conditions of his probation.

 

City left in the dark on Corn Plus

August 31, 2019

 

The future of Corn Plus ---- operating in Winnebago since 1994 ----- at this point seems to be unclear and confusing.

 

Two members of the plant's board of directors --- Don DeLanghe and Ted Landsteiner --- reported Wednesday afternoon that the state's first ethanol plant was closing.

 

But, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says company officials informed him the facility is going into what they call a “cold idle.”

 

“They told us they're hoping not to shut down forever,” says Schutt. “They want to do some restructuring and it is their intention to open at a later date. We're hoping to work something out and keep it going.”

 

City Administrator Jacob Skluzacek and Annie Leibel, who has been hired by the city to provide economic development services, visited Corn Plus on Wednesday and were told the plant is not closing.

 

“Everything is kind of unofficial right now and the city doesn't officially know what's going on,” says Skluzacek. “We're just going to wait and see if they release any information.”

 

By Friday, more than 600 shareholders of the the locally owned cooperative received a letter telling them the company would be shutting down operations over the next week.

 

According to the letter, the board of directors have pursued many options including selling the plant and financial restructuring.

 

Corn Plus continues to lose money monthly, says the letter, and the company's current financial agreement is scheduled to expire next week.

 

“A resolution satisfactory to Compeer, Corn Plus' primary lender, has not been achieved,” says the letter. “We will continue to discuss the situation with Compeer and other stakeholders but at this time we have no indication whether operations will resume at a future date.”

 

Corn Plus reportedly has about 40 workers who are expected to be laid off.

 

It is not known what impact the ethanol plant's financial troubles might have on Dixie Carbonic, which uses carbon dioxide gas from Corn Plus to produce dry ice.

 

Carbonic officials were not available for comment on whether any of the company's 40 workers will be affected.

 

Corn Plus will be closing its doors

August 28, 2019

 

Corn Plus --- operating since 1994 and the first ethanol plant in Minnesota --- is reportedly closing the Winnebago facility.

 

That has been confirmed by Ted Landsteiner, a member of the plant's board of directors.

 

Landsteiner says letters are being mailed out to stakeholders this week informing them of the board's decision to shutter the plant's doors.

 

Winnebago businessman Bob Weerts and Steve Core were the original founders of Corn Plus when they convinced nearly 160 farmers to invest in the farmer-owned cooperative.

 

Weerts was on the road Wednesday when he heard of the plant's closing.

 

“It's pretty sad,” says Weerts. “It was started from scratch and was built into a successful business. It began as a dream and now the dream is over.”

 

Weerts wonders what impact the closing may have on other businesses.

 

For example, Continental Carbonic, Inc., uses carbon dioxide gas from Corn Plus to produce dry ice. The company employs about 40 people.

 

Corn Plus reportedly has about 40 workers who are expected to be laid off.

 

Winnebago Mayor Jeremiah Schutt and City Administrator Jacob Skluzacek were unavailable for comment.

 

No investigation following report

August 28, 2019

 

Turns out that the actions of two Faribault County law officers during the 2014 crash of a Blue Earth police car weren't questioned, after all.

 

According to an Albert Lea Police Department detective's report, jailer Tara Sunken backed into the squad car on April 20 while driving with a suspended license and causing $3,000 in damages.

 

The detective's investigation says police officer Chad Bonin called D.J. Bullerman to write up the accident report.

 

Bullerman reportedly did not issue Sunken a citation after running a computer check of her driver's license.

 

“The Faribault County Sheriff's Office did not undertake an employee investigation regarding Ms. Sunken or Mr. Bullerman based on either individual's conduct regarding a car crash,” says Kathryn Karjala, Faribault County Attorney.

 

The county attorney's comment contradicts what Chief Deputy Scott Adams told Tripleanews.com a couple weeks ago.

 

Adams implied there was an investigation and that details of findings and whether disciplinary action was taken could be obtained by making a data request to Sheriff Mike Gormley.

 

On Aug. 15, Gormley contacted Tripleanews.com by e-mail and indicated he, “will work on it.”

 

Five days later, Karjala e-mailed Tripleanews.com and said that Gormley forwarded the data request to the County Attorney's Office.

 

The sheriff has not responded on why he asked Karjala, who has served as county attorney since January 2018, to provide information about an incident that occurred several years before she took office.

 

Also, county officials have not explained why they believe the employees did not violate the department's personnel and misconduct policies.

 

Jailer named in 2014 investigation

August 16, 2019

 

For a Faribault County jailer, it's not the first time they have been mentioned in an investigation.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams tells Tripleanews.com the Sheriff's Department sought an internal investigation following release of a report involving alleged misconduct by a Blue Earth police officer more than five years ago.

 

Adams would not comment on the investigation, however, says details of findings and whether disciplinary action was taken could be obtained through a data request.

 

Tripleanews.com has contacted Sheriff Mike Gormley for information that can be made public.

 

In 2014, former police officer Chad Bonin served a three-day suspension without pay for failing to report an accident involving his squad car in a timely manner and riding in a car where alcohol was being consumed.

 

An Albert Lea Police Department detective, who conducted the investigation, says Bonin contacted a deputy on duty around 10:45 p.m. on April 20 and told him his squad car was involved in an accident at a Blue Earth residence.

 

Because of the deputy's location, Bonin decided to call deputy DJ Bullerman to write up the accident report.

 

Bonin told Bullerman that Tara Sunken, a jailer at the Sheriff's Department, backed into his squad car with her GMC Yukon. Damage to the car, according to the police chief, was $3,000.

 

It is not clear whether Bonin's vehicle was parked at the end of the driveway and partially in the street or in the driveway.

 

The report says when Bullerman ran a computer check on Sunken's driver's license he discovered it was suspended on Feb. 26 for not paying a traffic fine. According to state records, her license was reinstated on April 29.

 

Bonin claims that Bullerman made a statement to the effect, “it happened on private property, right” and that the deputy also commented that if both vehicles were in the driveway he was not going to worry about the driving after suspension.

 

Under state law, a person does not need a driver's license to operate a motor vehicle on private property. If one's license has been suspended, revoked or canceled, however, law forbids operating a vehicle anywhere in the state including private property.

 

Sunken also has been mentioned during the investigation of four teens charged in the assault of a football teammate.

 

In June, Adams contacted the County Attorney's office after learning she was named in a court document prior to a restitution hearing for a co-defendant convicted in the assault.

 

According to court papers, the mother of a defendant texted her husband and told him that Sunken warned a co-defendant's mother that the cops were going to get a warrant for his cell phone.

 

Also, the victim's father says his son admitted in a written statement that he and a defendant charged in the assault went to Sunken's home to get alcohol to take back to a house party in Winnebago where the beating occurred.

 

The Sheriff's Department has yet to receive any transcripts or information from the County Attorney's office.

 

So far, county billed nearly $70,000

August 12, 2019

 

If you are looking for information, just ask and you shall receive.

 

It took only two days for Darren Esser, Faribault County auditor/treasurer/coordinator, to supply the information requested by Tripleanews.com.

 

Former assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper has been paid $69,645 since being hired following the arrest of four teens charged in the beating of a former Blue Earth Area football player.

 

A list of vouchers submitted by Piper show he has received 29 payments for his hours of service through May 21, 2019.

 

With the exception of one case, says Esser, all of Piper's work has been related to the October 2017 assault that occurred during a party at a teammate's home in Winnebago.

 

Piper's part-time rate of $60 an hour is far less than the average going rate of $100 to $200 that attorneys can earn in small communities.

 

Faribault County board chairman Bill Groskreutz says although the unexpected costs weren't part of the County Attorney's budget, someone had to be hired to handle the additional work overload.

 

“We didn't plan for this, how can you,” says Groskreutz. “Someone has to pay for it, to prosecute the cases.”

 

Although all four assault cases have been settled with convictions, legal costs will continue to rise.

 

Piper is still working on a perjury case involving one of the co-defendants and a restitution case in which parents of the victim are seeking financial damages from co-defendant Wyatt Tungland.

 

He also is reviewing investigation reports and transcripts surrounding the assault at the request of Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

 

After learning that jailer Tara Sunken reportedly was mentioned in court documents, Adams contacted County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis.

 

Assault cases have also cost county

August 4, 2019

 

When will the legal fees end? The Faribault County commissioners don't know.

 

In fact, they have no idea how much has been spent so far on cases related to the assault of a former Blue Earth Area (BEA) football player.

 

“It has been two years that this has been going on. It's really dragging on,” says County Board chairman Bill Groskreutz.

 

When four teens were charged in the October 2017 beating of a teammate, County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis hired former assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper to prosecute the cases.

 

Based on Groskreutz's calculations, although unofficial, he estimates that Piper has been paid around $30,000 by the end of last year.

 

“I don't believe the county attorney has ever been asked that question, how much has Piper received,” Groskreutz says.

 

A person familiar with the situation and who wished to remain anonymous tells Tripleanews.com that the amount spent could be more than $60,000.

 

Darren Esser, county auditor/treasurer/coordinator, has yet to respond to a request for information.,

 

Legal costs for the time being will continue to mount as two cases continue to make their way through the court system.

 

In one case, Judge Troy Timmerman will decide whether perjury charges are dismissed and a restitution hearing for the Hurleys has been scheduled for Aug. 28 in Martin County District Court.

 

They are seeking financial damages from co-defendant Wyatt Tungland and the case will be heard by Judge Michael Trushenski.

 

Piper, who is being paid an hourly wage, also is reviewing investigation reports and transcripts surrounding the assault at the request of Chief Deputy Scott Adams.

 

Adams contacted the County Attorney's Office after learning that a jailer's name reportedly has been mentioned in court documents.

 

Will BEA legal costs start declining?

July 26, 2019

 

There's no doubt there's been a drastic spike in legal fees for Blue Earth Area School District the last two years.

 

The question is how much of the nearly $70,000 spent on attorneys in 2018 and so far this year is tied to four students charged in the October 2017 assault of a football teammate.

 

Former interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen says researching to determine if the increased legal costs are related to the assault cases would be difficult.

 

It would be quite time consuming, if even possible, to break everything down by specific cases,” says Jensen. “Often the invoices include many various activities for which we have engaged the attorney.”

 

According to monthly billing reports provided in School Board meeting packets, the district has paid Knutson, Flynn, Deans & Olsen $3,783 in 2013; $780 in 2014; $3,869 in 2015; $10,199 in 2016; and $5,011 in 2017.

 

Following the arrest of the four teens in November 2017, payments to the Twin Cities law firm jumped to $42,326 in 2018.

 

Billing records show two large payments of $19,360 and $12,710 were made on Feb. 27, 2018 and Aug. 31, 2018, respectively.

 

So far this year, the district has paid $989 on Feb. 28; $11,351 on March 29; $5,676 on May 31; and $9,395 on June 28.

 

Tripleanews.com contacted the law firm last month and was unsuccessful in obtaining detailed legal expenses associated with the assault cases.

 

Minhquang Trang, an attorney with Knutson, Flynn, Deans & Olsen, responded by email saying what was being requested is unclear. A second email to clarify the type of information being sought has not been answered.

 

Trang represented school district officials who were subpoenaed to appear at a restitution hearing for one of the co-defendants.

 

Another attorney, Michelle Kenney, attended board meetings immediately following news of the assault to provide advice and answer any questions from the public.

 

County attorney has yet to respond

July 20, 2019

 

Waiting. Waiting. And, still waiting.

 

A month ago, county authorities asked the Faribault County Attorney's Office for information about an employee mentioned in the assault investigation of a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams says County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis has yet to turned over any transcripts.

 

“It may be a good idea for you to call her,” says Adams, when contacted by Tripleanews.com for an update.

 

On July 12, Tripleanews.com e-mailed Karjala-Curtis regrading the status of Adams' request to have an official record. And, she has not responded.

 

Sheriff Mike Gormley says he's been told that assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper has been out of the country and that may be the reason for the delay.

 

Piper handled the prosecution against four teens charged in the October 2017 beating of a football teammate during a house party in Winnebago.

 

The victim's father says his son admitted in a written statement that he and a defendant charged in the assault went to the employee's home to get alcohol.

 

The employee also is named in a court document filed in district court for a restitution hearing held for one of the co-defendants.

 

According court papers filed by Piper, the person was working in the Sheriff's Department in November 2017 when the teens were arrested and charged.

 

The mother of a defendant texted her husband, says court document, that the employee warned a co-defendant's mother that the cops were going to get a warrant for his cell phone.

 

A letter from the teen's attorney to Piper dated June 22, 2018, says the boy and his parents went away for the weekend on Nov. 17, 2017. During that trip, he reportedly lost his cell phone.

 

Adams says if an investigation is conducted it will be to determine if the employee's behavior was unlawful or violated any personnel policies.

 

Wrongdoing has not been tolerated since Gormley was elected in 2006.

 

At least three employees have been fired following investigations into alleged misconduct by outside agencies.

 

New administrator: Just call me Jake

July 11, 2019

 

Winnebago's new city administrator sat patiently as the City Council conducted its meeting Tuesday night.

 

After nearly an hour, the next item on the agenda was to hire Jacob Skluzacek and approve a contract he negotiated with City Attorney David Frundt.

 

Before reading some details of the agreement, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz jokingly admitted she was not going to try and pronounce his last name.

 

“Don't worry about it, just call me Jake,” Skluzacek told Sturtz.

 

Following the meeting, Skluzacek was busy introducing himself to council members, shaking hands and answering questions.

 

I'm looking for a house and getting ready to move,” he says. “I'm excited to get started and I'm going to work really hard.”

 

Skluzacek is a Lonsdale native and graduated from Winona State University in May 2019 with a bachelor of science degree in public administration and a bachelor of arts degree in political science.

 

Skluzacek began his duties immediately the next day and will earn an annual salary of $52,000 while being on a six-month probationary period.

 

Other terms of the contract include:

  • earning up to 200 hours of vacation and 960 hours of sick leave;

  • health insurance;

  • the city matching contributions made to the PERA retirement fund;

  • reimbursement for mileage expenses;

  • and the city providing a cell phone.

 

For the record, the phonetic pronunciation of Skluzacek --- Sklooze-ah-check.

 

Former ZBM exployee wins, trial set

July 8, 2019

 

A former employee of Zierke Built Manufacturing (ZBM), Inc., has won the first round in his civil lawsuit against the Fairmont-based company.

 

Now, Leroy John Larson is hoping to cash in even more if a jury rules in his favor.

 

Last year, Larson sued ZBM in Faribault County District Court for wages and sales commissions earned in 2017 the company has not paid him.

 

Judge Troy Timmerman in a partial summary judgment says company officials must pay Larson commissions totaling $20,428 and $4,240 in penalties.

 

“The issue of whether Larson has additional wages and commissions that remain earned and unpaid shall be determined at trial,” says Timmerman.

 

Larson's suit says that ZBM officials owe him $40,976 in sales commissions and he wants the company to pay attorney and witness fees and any expenses if he wins his case.

 

A one-day jury trial scheduled for July 17 in Blue Earth and includes a witness list of eight will be decided by six jurors.

 

Among the witnesses expected to testify include ZBM founder and president Greg Zierke; Kyle Zierke, ZBM vice-president; and Lisa Bromeland, former ZBM office manager.

 

Court documents say the Zierkes have voluntarily dismissed any counterclaims filed against Larson.

 

According to court papers, Larson began working as a sales representative with the company in 2008 and was earning an annual salary of $73,500 plus commissions when he resigned in February 2018.

 

Sheriff dealing with jail staff issues

July 4, 2019

 

Martin County Sheriff's Department has had to deal with some adversity among its jail staff the past few months.

 

Despite spending some time recently in the Faribault County Jail, Sheriff Jeff Markquart says Beau Karge is still employed as a jailer.

 

According to court documents, Blue Earth police officer Tharen Haugh stopped Karge at 540 4th St. in Frost around 9:32 a.m. on June 24.

 

Court papers say that Karge, 40, of Frost was arrested and then transported to the county jail.

 

Karge was issued a citation and has been charged with domestic abuse --- violate order for protection. He has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for July 8.

 

At his initial court appearance, Karge was released without bond and the following conditions:

  • ordered not to use alcohol or controlled substances except prescribed medications;

  • may be subject to random drug testing;

  • must attend future court hearings;

  • and remain in contact with his attorney.

 

On another matter, Markquart says that Martin County commissioners accepted the resignation of jail administrator Mark Geerdes effective April 2.

 

Markquart would not say if Geerdes' resignation was the result of an investigation into a complaint or violation of personnel policies.

 

BEA board says "no" to Winnebago

July 1, 2019

 

At a special meeting Tuesday night, Blue Earth Area School Board denied a request from the city of Winnebago.

 

City officials were asking if members of Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) could begin painting this summer in the former school building's gymnasium.

 

Interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen says district officials want to be good neighbors and help out, but under a purchase agreement the city assumes ownership on Nov. 1.

 

“I wasn't too happy when I read in the paper a quote saying they were frustrated, 'we can't get in there, we can't do anything,'”says Jensen. “Wait a minute, both parties signed that agreement. Why would you feel frustrated you can't get in there to start working?”

 

Scott Robertson, a board member of WASP, says he had no idea the request to make renovations at the former Winnebago School was on the board's agenda.

 

“It was a surprise to me. I didn't know anything about the meeting and don't know if anyone from our group or the city was invited. I think someone would have gone,” Robertson says.

 

Board members cite two issues for not letting WASP into the school before ownership changes hands.

 

Jensen says taking on additional liability would be a concern even though Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says the city is looking into obtaining insurance.

 

“I just know that we own the facility and any major catastrophe could happen. I would be surprised we are not somehow dragged into the liability end of that,” he says.

 

Jensen says Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) is holding summer school classes through the end of summer and the principal does not want anyone else in the building.

 

SPEC has given district officials a letter indicating they want to continue leasing the facility through the end of October.

 

“Technically they have possession and full use of the building up to the point,” Jensen says. “They don't want anything to do with any liability when they have their kids in the building. I think we are obligated to honor that.”

 

Board member Kyle Zierke agrees with Jensen, saying that if he were selling a house he would not let the buyer remodel the basement while still living there because of liability issues.

 

“To me it is a hard no. I know exactly what is going to happen,” says Zierke. “It's going to be the gym, then it's going to be, since we're in here can we do the hallway, can we rip out the lights. It's going to be question after question.”

 

Robertson says he understands why SPEC would not want anyone in the building when students are attending classes, but if the facility is empty there shouldn't be a problem.

 

“We just want to get in there as soon as we can. We have a lot of work to do and we need to get started. The sooner the better,” he says.

 

Discussion shifted to use of the school's gym by the girls gymnastics program this coming school year.

 

Board member Sara Hauskins says it was disheartening to read that the gymnastics team using the gym was an issue because she thought the district had a “gentlemen's agreement” to do so.

 

“I see it is always going to be a dangling carrot and it's best to move on,” Hauskins says.

 

Robertson says use of the gym was not included in the purchase agreement, but WASP was willing to work with district officials if it was needed for the upcoming gymnastics season.

 

Jensen says WASP also may have plans for using the gym and thinks the gymnastics program should be in Blue earth.

 

“It might be best if we relocate here and come up with our own long-term solution” he says.

 

Winnebago could fill vacancy soon

June 27, 2019

 

After meeting in closed-session for more than 30 minutes, Winnebago City Council may be a step closer to hiring a new city administrator.

 

City Attorney David Frundt was given the go-ahead to negotiate a contract with Jacob Skluzacek of Lonsdale, the lone finalist interviewed during a special meeting held Monday night.

 

Skluzacek withstood grilling by council members, followed by their discussion on whether to restructure current city staff to save more than $30,000 a year.

 

For 25 minutes, Skluzacek answered 10 questions covering areas such as management style, employee expectations, a capital improvement plan, handling difficult people and long-range planning.

 

“I think teamwork and working together is the best way to do something,” says Skluzacek. “I try not to hover over anyone and let them do their jobs. I don't want to start telling people how to do things.”

 

The May 2019 graduate of Winona State University, with a bachelor of science degree in public administration, took a driving tour of the city before meeting with the council.

 

“It reminds me of home,” he says. “I grew up in a small community, southern Minnesota is where I want to stay.”

 

In his “first 30 days” on the job, Skluzacek stresses his primary focus will be developing a plan to achieve three main goals identified by the council.

 

“I'll need a lot of information from you, nobody knows the community better,” he says. “I'd get to know the council and community members better … then I'd go head-strong on the three main issues.”

 

Overall, council members were quite impressed with Skluzacek and his answers.

 

“I liked that he focused on teamwork, he just didn't use it as a buzz word,” says Councilman Calvin Howard. “I really like he's from a small town, it's helpful to keep things in perspective.”

 

Council member Jean Anderson says Skluzacek is, “A very enthusiastic young man who brings a lot of good ideas to the table. He stresses communication and good working relationships with everyone.”

 

Councilman Rick Johnson likes that Skluzacek is approachable and easy to talk to.

 

“He is very upfront and honest. And, he doesn't play with words, ” adds Johnson.

 

Skluzacek's response that working on a budget is the least appealing part of being a city administrator caught the attention of Mayor Jeremiah Schutt.

 

“It struck me wrong and sent a red flag up. It's a huge part of the job,” Schutt says.

 

Council members eased Schutt's concern, saying most city administrators would say that developing a budget isn't something they like doing.

 

Johnson presented a recommendation offered by a five-member committee that interviewed city administrator candidates.

 

Under the option, current City Hall staff would be restructured to include a clerk/treasurer, part-time administrative assistant and two part-time office assistants.

 

“One of the reasons for doing this is money. It's all about money,” says Johnson.

 

Currently, the annual wages for the three office staff totals around $145,000. The restructuring plan would save the city an estimated $35,000 annually.

 

Anderson says she wants to hire an administrator so the city has a “perceived leader,” someone who community members can go to with their concerns.

 

Howard says the debate over hiring an administrator is often more emotional than logical.

 

“Losing an administrator and hiring a city clerk I feel would be a downgrade,” he says.

 

Schutt and Anderson also wondered the quality of help the city would get from part-time workers.

 

If a contract agreement is reached with Skluzacek, the council could hold a special meeting or wait until their July 9 meeting to approve it.

County authorities seek information

June 20, 2019

 

A Faribault County Sheriff Department official was surprised to hear an employee's name was mentioned during the investigation of an assault involving a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Dale Hurley, the father of the victim, says his son admitted in a written statement to prosecutors that he and a defendant charged in the beating went to the employee's home to get alcohol for a party held in October 2017 at a Winnebago residence.

 

When contacted about Hurley's claim, Chief Deputy Scott Adams told Tripleanews.com on May 31, “I had not heard that. I will talk to the county attorney's office.”

 

Adams didn't waste any time contacting County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis in hopes of getting some answers.

 

“She is digging through the transcripts to get me the information,” Adams says. “We will wait and look at it before deciding if an investigation is needed.”

 

“We're not going to tolerate any behavior that's unlawful or violates personnel policies,” he adds.

 

The employee also is mentioned in a court document filed in district court prior to a hearing held for one of the four defendants.

 

According to court papers filed by assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper, the person was working in the Sheriff's Department in November 2017 when the teens were arrested and charged in the assault.

 

A court document says a defendant's mother sent a text message to her husband that the employee warned another mother of a teen involved in the assault that the cops were going to get a warrant for his phone.

 

In a letter dated June 22, 2018, from the teen's attorney to Piper, the boy and his parents went away for the weekend on Nov. 17, 2017, and he reportedly lost his phone during the trip.

 

Lawmaker to seek $2M for repairs

June 18, 2019

 

Next legislative session, a state lawmaker will seek funding for $1.5 million in repairs the Winnebago School building needs so it can be used as a multi-purpose facility.

 

District 23A Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) attended a City Council work session held Monday to discuss use of the school after Southern Plains Education Cooperative relocates to Fairmont.

 

“There's a possibility of getting some money,” says Gunther. “I have in mind $2 million.”

 

A group called Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) has developed a five-page plan to convert the school into a day care center, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and a school for grades pre-K through 12th.

 

Renee Doyle, a member of WASP and headmaster at Genesis Classical Academy, says papers have been filed with the Secretary of State Office to obtain non-profit 501(c)3 status.

 

“It's rolling along, there are a lot of ideas and concepts,” says Doyle. “We've got a new name and a logo is being designed. The branding is in process.”

 

WASP has opened a checking account, she says, and deposited a $20,000 check they recently received from Bevcomm.

 

Once the city assumes ownership of the school and allowed to move in, the facility will become known as the Center for Educational Development of Winnebago.

 

At their June 11 meeting, Dana Hlebichuk, an architect with Widseth, Smith and Nolting (WSN) of Rochester, gave council members highlights of a pre-design study that cost the city $35,000.

 

“This gives you a very clear road map on how to preserve this facility moving forward using limited funds,” he says. “The structural system is all there, it is not failing. The use of this building is at least another 50 years, if it is taken care of.”

 

The study identified 11 items that needed to be addressed to preserve the building without any major construction.

 

Work requiring immediate attention include tuck pointing; foundation repair; waterproofing; roof replacement in the gymnasium and locker room; installing energy efficient windows and lighting,

 

Hlebichuk says major upgrading of the mechanical system to bring it up to code would cost at least $2 million.

 

Southern Plains is scheduled to move out of the building by Nov. 1, but that could be extended up to 240 days if renovation work at their Fairmont site in not completed.

 

Blue Earth Area School District officials have inquired whether the district can use the gymnasium for girls gymnastics this fall, which was not part of the purchase agreement.

 

Doyle balked at the idea because it would interfere with fund-raising events and private receptions that could held in the gym.

 

Bob Weerts, who came up with the idea of turning the school into a multi-use facility, says BEA officials weren't friendly during talks to buy the school. Now, he says WASP and the City Council are in the driver's seat.

 

“I'm not trying to play hard ball with the school district, but they keep throwing us curve balls,” Weerts says.

 

Council members and WASP agreed to have Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz and Annie Leibel of CEDA contact BEA Superintendent Mandy Fletcher and Southern Plains to discuss when the city may enter the building to make improvements and any other issues.

 

Two interviewed for Bago vacancy

June 13, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council got a brief update on the search for a new city administrator at their meeting Tuesday night.

 

City Council member Rick Johnson says a five-member committee interviewed two finalists last Friday.

 

There's no big update yet,” says Johnson. “But, it's not at a standstill.”

 

Besides Johnson, other members of the search team include council member Jean Anderson; Jessi Sturtz, deputy city clerk; and residents Bob Grant and Amy Fenger.

 

Although the names of finalists can be made public under the state Data Practices Law, Johnson and Anderson were reluctant to do so.

 

Following the resignation of Chris Ziegler last February, city officials sought help from Wendell Sande of South Central Service Cooperative to find a replacement.

 

Sande says the city received a total of six applications for the position and hope to have someone hired by the first part of July.

 

At the request of Tripleanews.com, Sande identified the finalists as Brad Potter of Mankato and Jacob Skluzacek of Lonsdale.

 

Resumes provided by Sande show a clear contrast in the candidates experience in working with governmental entities.

 

Potter is the owner of CommunityFix, a company that works with local governments, citizens and non-profits to solve pertinent local issues.

 

He describes himself as a results-oriented individual, “offering 20 years experience in public administration, city planning, community and economic development, and financial management.”

 

Skluzacek graduated from Winona State University on May 10, 2019, with a bachelor of science degree in public administration and bachelor of arts in political science.

 

While attending college, Skluzacek was a city administration intern in Winona from January 2019 to May 2019.

 

Skluzacek writes in his resume that he's a motivated college graduate seeking a career in public works and administration.

 

Interested in learning how to better serve the citizens of Minnesota, while at the same time gaining the skills and experience which are necessary in this profession,” says Skluzacek.

 

For now, administrative duties are being handled by Sturtz, part-time assistant Deputy Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson, with Sturtz being in charge of the office at City Hall.

 

Last teen sentenced in assault case

June 11, 2019

 

Shortly after the teen who allegedly assaulted his son was sentenced, Dale Hurley walked out of the Martin County Courthouse to retrieve some court papers.

 

Upon re-entering the courthouse, 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland held the door open as Hurley came in from the drizzling rain.

 

Tungland is the last of four defendants to be sentenced in the beating of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate during a house party held October 2017 in Winnebago.

 

It's been insane. They were all weak sentences and today's was the worst,” says Hurley. “He broke the law after the assault and got hardly anything.”

 

Last April, Tungland pleaded guilty to a felony charge third-degree assault under an Alford plea That means he maintains his innocence but admits there may be sufficient evidence that could likely convince a jury to find him guilty.

 

According to Tungland's case file, he was placed on five years supervised probation and given a stay of imposition, which would reduce the felony to a misdemeanor if he successful completes conditions of his probation.

 

LaMar Piper, assistant Faribault County Attorney, and defense attorney Chris Ritts told Judge Michael Trushenski they were in agreement with a pre-sentence investigation report completed by probation officials.

 

But, Piper did ask Trushenski to consider imposing a $1,000 fine and having Tungland spend 25 days in jail.

 

Piper says three co-defendants in the case took responsibility for their actions and cooperated with authorities during the investigation.

 

He has done the opposite. Mr. Tungland has had a number of involvements with the law after the assault,” says Piper. “He has not fully admitted his involvement. I don't see anything that he acknowledged or learned anything from what has happened.”

 

Trushenski told Tungland the court is concerned that he violated release conditions by getting into trouble while his case was pending.

 

I'm ordering that Mr. Tungland serve two additional weekends in jail,” says Trushenski. “I would hope he would reflect on what happened in this matter.

 

Tungland has already spent nine days in the county jail and was ordered to report the weekends of June 21 and 28. Trushenski also issued a fine totaling $1,085 and gave him two years to pay it.

 

Other conditions of Tungland's sentence include:

  • no use of alcohol or controlled substance;

  • no contact with the victim;

  • may not possess firearms, ammunition or explosives;

  • may not vote until discharged from probation;

  • submit to random drug testing;

  • tell probation officer within 72 hours of having contact with law enforcement, being charged with a new crime or change in address, employment or phone number;

  • no threatening, harassing or assaultive behavior;

  • 40 hours of sentence to serve;

  • and, obtain permission from probation officer to leave the state.

 

Woman faces perjury, hearing set

June 10, 2019

 

An attorney for a woman accused of lying during a hearing for a teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football player is now requesting a contested omnibus hearing.

 

An omnibus hearing scheduled March 4 was canceled and now Gary Gittus has asked court officials to set aside one hour for a hearing on July 10 in Faribault County District Court.

 

The defendant reserves the right to call any person in the police report and also (Wyatt) Tungland,” says Gittus.

 

Court documents show that a witness list of more than 10 includes:

  • Blue Earth police officer Tharen Haugh;

  • Winnebago police officers Emily Bonin and Jacob Pettit;

  • Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson;

  • and Tungland's co-defendants Blake Barnett and Dalton Nagel.

 

In court papers filed Feb. 15 in district court, Gittus sought to have the case against 36-year-old Allison Ann Mastin of Blue Earth dismissed.

 

No probable cause exists to believe that the defendant willfully perjured herself under oath and aided the offender and obstructed the investigation,” Gittus contends.

 

Mastin and her daughter ---- who once dated Wyatt Eugene Tungland ---- testified during a hearing last July that he could not have been involved in the assault.

 

Under oath, both said that Tungland was at their house when the assault occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, during a teammate's house party in Winnebago.

 

Mastin says her daughter and Tungland fell asleep while watching a movie and that he woke up around 3:30 a.m. and left.

 

According to court papers, Tungland's attorney did not tell Mastin about his client's statement to police admitting to being at the party.

 

Court documents say that Tungland reportedly did not say anything about being at Mastin's house any time that night.

 

Mastin is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation, which carry maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and 30 months in prison and a $5,000 fine, respectively.

 

Teen sentenced in juvenile court

June 7, 2019

 

The third of four teens charged in the assault of a Blue Earth Area football teammate has been sentenced.

 

However, no details are available because the hearing held in Blue Earth County juvenile court was closed to the public.

 

Dale Hurley, father of the victim, says the Faribault County Attorney's Office has informed him that assistant Chief Judge Gregory Anderson rejected a recommendation by probation officials and found Caden Ochsendorf to be guilty and delinquent.

 

Citing the state's Data Practices Law and a juvenile records law, Faribault County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis and assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper did not provide any details of the sentence.

 

Hurley says in a text message from Piper, the prosecutor says, “He now is guilty of felony assault. AS ARE ALL OTHERS. The record remains until he hits 25 yrs of age. It will decay or be unavailable after that but I think it is always “there.”

 

Ochsendorf was charged with third-degree assault and aiding and abetting third-degree assault in the beating of a teammate at house party in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, in Winnebago.

 

When authorities charged Ochsendorf he was 15 years old at the time and they mistakenly released his name to the public.

 

In another case, 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in Martin County District Court.

 

Last April, Tungland pleaded guilty to third-degree assault under an Alford plea, while charges of aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21 were dismissed.

 

Under the plea, Tungland maintains he is innocent but admits there may be sufficient evidence with which the prosecution could likely convince a jury to find him guilty.

 

Resignation letter not public data

May 29, 2019

 

One of the first orders of business facing Blue Earth Area School District's newly-hired superintendent may be a resignation letter.

 

At the request of Tripleanews.com, attorneys for the School District have released the heavily redacted letter.

 

Interim Superintendent Dr. Jerry Jensen sought legal advice to determine what information could be made public.

 

Citing the state's Data Practices Act, the district's attorneys say most of the letter's contents are considered private personnel data.

 

Only the first and last paragraphs as well as the teacher's signature and titles were not blacked out.

 

With this letter, I hereby submit my resignation from the Blue Earth Area School District, effective June 7, 2019,” the teacher wrote. “At your convenience, I will be glad to discuss my resignation and the reassignment of my work to others.”

 

Tripleanews.com has learned the letter was critical of School District administration, however, the teacher who wished to remain anonymous would not confirm nor deny the alleged accusation.

 

I have never enjoyed being the center of attention and would prefer to leave my position peacefully in order to obtain another elsewhere,” the teacher says in an e-mail.

 

The teacher adds, “I would prefer not to be the source that turns into the latest news.”

 

Judge issues order for restitution

May 23, 2019

 

A judge is limiting the amount of restitution that will be paid to the parents whose son was beaten by four Blue Earth Area football teammates in October 2017.

 

According to court papers filed in Faribault County District Court, Dale and Tonya Hurley are seeking more than $12,500 in monetary damages.

 

But, Judge Michael Trushenski says the Hurleys will not be compensated for moving expenses to Nebraska totaling nearly $7,400.

 

“The court is not allowing some of the losses, it's only those for loss wages and travel to and from court hearings,” says LaMar Piper, assistant Faribault County Attorney.

 

On May 17, a restitution hearing was held for 19-year-old Dalton Lee Nagel of Blue Earth.

 

Nagel, who is on probation for pleading guilty to aiding and abetting third-degree assault and fifth-degree criminal sexual misconduct, has been ordered to pay $2,000 within 30 days following the hearing.

 

Dale Hurley says his family was forced to leave Blue Earth because they were being intimidated.

 

“We had to move so it was safe for our son and he could get an education,” he says. “The only thing they (school officials) provided was schooling in another district. Why should he have to go somewhere to go to school, they should be the ones. My son did nothing wrong.”

 

Court documents show as many as 14 people were subpoenaed for the hearing, however, none on the potential witness list testified.

 

Among those who were served papers included:

  • Blue Earth Area interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen;

  • former superintendent Evan Gough;

  • former high school principal Richard Schneider;

  • head football coach Randy Kuechenmeister;

  • activities director Rob Norman;

  • Winnebago police officer Jacob Pettit;

  • UHD human resource manager Shanna Gudahl;

  • and, John and Elizabeth Schavey.

 

According to court papers, school district officials at one point sought legal advice from the Twin Cities law firm of Knutson, Flynn & Deans regarding the subpoenas.

 

In one instance, attorneys for the law firm contend that Piper violated the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct by contacting Jensen and Kuechenmeister without their permission.

 

Piper says it's probable that restitution hearings will be held for three other teens who also pleaded guilty to various assault charges.

 

W'bago used for expansion efforts?

May 17, 2019

 

It's not clear what role Winnebago, if any, may be playing in a Fairmont company's plans for future expansion.

 

Last December, Brad Wolf informed fellow Economic Development Authority board members that Zierke Built Manufacturing (ZBM), Inc., was bringing some of its operations back to Winnebago because they had run out of room.

 

Wolf said that Zierke Built was planning to use a building it owns on Sixth Avenue Southeast to employ an unspecified number of welders.

 

ZBM owner and president Greg Zierke was tight-lipped when Tripleanews.com asked him to provide an update.

 

“It's low key, that's all I am going to tell you,” says Zierke. “I'm not going to tell you anything.”

 

Recently, the company purchased newsprint ads that say, “Zierke Built Manufacturing, Inc., is expanding operations in the Fairmont and Winnebago areas.” and, “We're looking for welders!”

 

In August 2017, ZBM closed its doors in Winnebago because a shortage of workers and limited space were hindering the company's growth.

 

In addition, the company had exhausted 12 years of tax breaks provided under the state's JOBZ program.

 

Fairmont Development Authority director Linsey Preuss worked with company officials to get a 10-year tax abatement for 100 percent of the property taxes on their buildings, with the amount not to exceed $231,000 over the 10 years.

 

The company brought 40 existing jobs to Fairmont and has added 20 since, well ahead of a requirement to hire 30 employees over three years.

 

Now, Preuss has convinced city officials to apply for a $300,000 loan from the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) for new expansion.

 

When asked, Preuss wouldn't say if ZBM's return to Winnebago has anything to do with the MIF application because the company is reportedly at full capacity and might not have the space to expand at its Fairmont site.

 

“I do not understand the question,” she says. “The city of Fairmont is helping them expand in Fairmont.”

 

If a MIF loan is approved, ZBM would purchase a laser cutter and a brake press and also must create 20 new full-time jobs at a wage of $16 per hour.

 

Victim's father gets OK to comment

April 20, 2019

 

It's been 18 months since a Blue Earth Area football player was beaten at a house party held by a teammate in Winnebago.

 

Four teens were ultimately charged in the assault that occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, and left a sophomore lineman unconscious.

 

The victim's father, Dale Hurley, drove some 370 miles from his home in Nebraska to attend a plea hearing held Wednesday in Fairmont for the last of four defendants to settle their case.

 

“It's been a long ordeal for our family and it has truly upended our lives,” says Hurley. “Our faith, friends and support programs have gotten us through this.”

 

In order to make any statements to the media, Hurley needed to get the OK from Judge Michael Trushenski because a “gag order” he imposed last month has not been lifted.

 

Although the final defendant pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, Hurley says he was disappointed because it was an Alford plea --- which means he still maintains his innocence.

 

“What a coward. He can't admit he did it and was wrong,” he says. “At least the other three defendants had enough guts and courage to admit they were wrong.”

 

Hurley says he doesn't know how someone can say they're innocent after giving a 10-page statement to police that they were present when the assault occurred.

 

During a contested omnibus hearing, two witnesses for the defendant testified he was at his ex-girlfriend mother's house during the time period of the assault.

 

One of them ended up being charged with perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation.

 

The Hurleys also filed a civil lawsuit last November seeking more than $12,500 in damages associated with lost wages, moving expenses and closing costs on purchasing a house.

 

Hurley says he expects to increase the amount for financial compensation but hasn't yet determined by how much.

 

Any restitution that is awarded will be divided by defendants who are held responsible.

 

Hurley has at least one more trip back to Minnesota and it will be for a sentencing hearing scheduled June 11 for the last defendant.

 

“Coming back, it's been a constant reminder of what happened,” he says. “But, it's been getting better since we moved away.”

 

Because one of the defendants charged in the assault was 15 years old at the time of the incident, his case was heard in juvenile court and any details of the outcome are not made public.

 

The other three of the defendants settled their case without having a jury trial and that saved the county a lot of money.

 

“All of them got a plea deal. I think they got off pretty easy,” says Hurley.

 

Important plea detail not mentioned

April19, 2019

 

A Faribault County prosecutor left out an important detail when he said a Frost teen pleaded guilty to an assault charge.

 

On Wednesday, assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper told Tripleanews.com that 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland pleaded guilty to a felony charge of third-degree assault.

 

What Piper forgot to mention was that Tungland made an Alford plea during his hearing held before Judge Michael Trushenski in Martin County District Court.

 

When Tungland's mother became aware of Piper's error, she first contacted Tripleanews.com and then their attorney Chris Ritts.

 

In an e-mail to Tripleanews.com, Ritts did confirm that Tungland had entered an Alford plea.

 

Under the plea, Tungland maintains he is innocent but admits there may be sufficient evidence with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find him guilty.

 

Charges of aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21 were dismissed.

 

A four-day jury scheduled April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court in Blue Earth has been canceled.

 

Tungland is the last for four teens who were charged in the assault of former Blue Earth Area (BEA) football teammate to settle his case. The other three defendants also pleaded guilty to various charges after reaching plea deals with prosecutors.

 

The assault occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, during a house party at the home of a BEA football player in Winnebago.

 

A pre-sentence investigation has been ordered prior to Tungland's sentencing that is scheduled to be held on June 11.

 

Tungland pleads guilty to 1 charge

April 18, 2019

 

There will be no trial for a Frost teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area (BEA) football teammate in October 2017.

 

Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 19, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of third-degree assault on Wednesday in Martin County District Court in Fairmont.

 

Charges of aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21 were dismissed.

 

A four-day jury was scheduled to be held April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court in Blue Earth.

 

“For the record, the trial for next week is stricken off the court calendar,” says Judge Michael Trushenski.

 

The hearing Wednesday was scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. but Trushenski granted defense attorney Chris Ritts' request to start a half hour earlier.

 

Because of the earlier start time, the lone media representative at the hearing arrived at the posted court calendar time and did not hear any of the proceedings.

 

Following the hearing, Trushenski said he did not address the issue of a “gag order” he imposed last month on all parties involved in the case.

 

The “gag order” was issued at the request of the Faribault County Attorney's Office, who accused Ritts of making disparaging comments about assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper in a Tripleanews.com story on Feb. 28.

 

At the request of Tripleanews.com the judge said Piper and Ritts could make a comment if both parties agreed to do so.

 

When Piper asked Ritts if he would be willing to speak to the press he said no and then uttered an expletive at the reporter.

 

Piper and the assault victim's father Dale Hurley met for more than 20 minutes in the Law Library room, while Ritts, Tungland and his mother were meeting nearby in the Jury room.

 

Tungland is the last for four teens who were charged in the assault to settle his case.

 

The other three defendants also pleaded guilty to various charges after reaching plea deals with prosecutors.

 

The assault occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, during a house party at the home of a BEA football player in Winnebago.

 

A pre-sentence investigation has been ordered prior to Tungland's sentencing that is scheduled to be held on June 11.

 

Students lobby to keep teacher's job

April 15, 2019

 

Blue Earth Area School Board balked at interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen's recommendation to cut more than $507,000 from next year's budget.

 

Instead, board members approved trimming $425,364 which saved an elementary teaching position and a half-time, full-time equivalent position in the high school Social Studies Department.

 

The budget cuts are needed because the district currently has a deficit of $801,000 and that is expected to reach $1.2 million in the 2019-20 school year.

 

Because a large crowd was expected at Monday night's meeting, it was held in the elementary school multi-purpose gymnasium.

 

Five people spoke out against the proposed cuts during the public input portion of the meeting.

 

High school senior Tate Thielfoldt presented each board member with copies of a petition signed by 221 students asking that Social Studies teacher Paul Nienaber not be on the chopping block.

 

Thielfoldt read a prepared statement praising Nienaber for his work in the classroom, community and as a coach in football and baseball.

 

He is an outstanding teacher who is both hard working and caring,” Thielfoldt says. “The emphasis placed on respecting others in Mr. Nienaber's classroom makes his classroom an inviting environment for the student to study history.”

 

Thielfoldt says students understand and realize that board members have tough decisions to make, however, Nienaber shouldn't lose his job.

 

It is the opinion of our senior class and along with other countless members of the student body that Paul Nienaber should be noticed as an excellent teacher who deserves to keep his position in school,” says Thielfoldt.

 

Brent Legred told board members a good educational system is the result of its teachers, not brick and mortar. In addition to being a good teacher, he says Nienaber is a high quality coach who is part of the local Fellowship of Young Christian Athletes organization.

 

We don't want to let him slip away. He has a rare gift to be truly able to connect with kids in a passion to help make sure they succeed,” says Legred. Mr. Nienaber will be one of teachers when your kids will be asked 10 or 20 years down the road who was the major positive contributor in their life --- he is one of the names they will bring up.”

 

Legred says the letter written by the students should not be taken lightly and the 221 signatures they gathered in one day is outstanding.

 

Board member Frankie Bly, who is a former teacher, says teachers are not the only ones who play an important role in educating students and the board should not cut Nienaber's position.

 

After comments that were said tonight, the individual has an affect on kids,” says Bly. “Coaches have a unique opportunity to have a positive affect that classroom teachers don't.”

 

Among the cuts that totaled $507,847 were four teaching positions, however, this includes two teachers who have retired and two who have requested a leave.

 

Other reductions include: teachers on call; a bus route; Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment proctors; tech coaches; 2.4 paraprofessionals; and one technology integration position from .6 full-time equivalency to .4.

 

Despite making the cuts, board members will have to deal with a budget shortfall of nearly $600,000. They are considering asking the public to vote on an operating excess levy referendum.

 

Meeting closed to discuss grievances

April 13, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council went into closed-session to discuss a supervisory and administrative staff issue at their April 9 meeting.

 

After nearly an hour behind closed doors, City Attorney David Frundt says council members took no action.

 

There are a couple of city employees who have requested to have the council review their personnel files pursuant to the city personnel policy in the form of a grievance,” says Frundt. “Because this is personnel file information, it is private information.”

 

The closed-session discussion appears to be related to a letter sent to the Personnel Committee that sparked a verbal spat between council members Rick Johnson and Paul Eisenmenger at a March work session.

 

Eisenmenger called the letter,”surprising and weird” and wanted to know the contents of the letter.

 

But, Johnson said the matter was similar to an attorney/client privilege relationship and nothing could be said at that time.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned the “employee grievances” may be related to some city workers possibly not following the chain of command process outlined in the personnel policy.

 

At his final council meeting, former City Administrator Chris Ziegler had some advice for council members if they hire a new administrator.

 

If you go down the path of an administrator, I would say the most important thing is to follow the chain of command,” Ziegler says. “Make sure that everyone on the council reinforces the personnel policy and chain of command.”

 

Former councilman Scott Robertson has told Tripleanews.com that in the past there have been times when an employee who had a concern or problem would go directly to the mayor or a council member instead of Ziegler.

 

They would basically cut him out of the process and they were micro-managing,”says Robertson. “It's like you're getting back-doored.”

 

Frundt says under the state Data Practices Act, if the council takes any action on the grievances that information cannot be made public.

 

Olson remaining as Bago police chief

April 6, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council may have had its hands full in filling vacancies. 

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that Police Chief Eric Olson was one of four finalists for the chief post of the Morris Police Department.

 

Olson and three other candidates were interviewed in early March, however, he did not get the job.

 

The Morris City Council selected someone at their March 12 meeting who had been serving as interim chief since late January.

 

Olson has been police chief in Winnebago for nearly five years and is currently sharing some of the administrative duties until a city administrator is hired.

 

The council has yet to begin the process to replace Chris Ziegler, who resigned effective Feb. 22.

 

During their March meeting, council members decided to seek the help of South Central Service Cooperative in the search for a new administrator.

 

Deficit to top $1M, BEA looks at cuts

April 6, 2019

 

After voting to hire and pay a superintendent more than $130,000 a year, the Blue Earth Area (BEA) School Board began to discuss budget cuts for next year.

 

BEA administrators say the reductions are needed because the district currently has a deficit of $801,000 and that could reach $1.2 million in the 2019-20 school year.

 

Interim superintendent Jerry Jensen told board members during a special meeting held April 1 that next year's deficit, “Is a little bit down from what we initially thought.”

 

Jensen presented a list of potential cuts totaling $343,069 that included a first grade teacher, Title 1 teacher and high school physical education instructor.

 

Other staff members on the chopping block were a 2.4 paraprofessionals; a tech integration position and coaches; MCA proctors; and teachers on call. In addition, a bus route would be eliminated.

 

Cuts labeled as “secondary consideration” were one teacher for each grades 3, 5, and 6 and one section for each grade level 8 through 11. The savings would amount to $259,177.

 

Nothing is etched in stone, but probably these things should happen,” says Jensen. “What you do this spring isn't going to get you out of the woods. You have to look at long term solutions that make educational sense.”

 

District officials are hoping for a 2 percent increase in state funding this legislative session that could lower the deficit by nearly $200,000.

 

Taxpayers in the school district could be asked to vote on an operating referendum to generate more revenue.

 

If voters approved a referendum of $500 per pupil unit that add $526,000 to the district's coffers; $700 per pupil unit, $750,402; and $900 per pupil unit, $964,804. The property tax increase on a home valued at $150,000 would be $137, $217 and $297, respectively.

 

Board member Frankie Bly says past boards have not sought an operating referendum because it was hard to justify when having $3.2 million in reserves.

 

We don't have an operating excess levy, other school districts do,” says Bly. “And, we pride ourselves on that. We knew there was going to be a time for an excess levy, maybe it's now.”

 

Although an exact dollar figure was not given, school officials estimate the district has two months of operating expenses or about $2.5 million in reserves.

 

Some other possible cuts identified are a second grade teacher for $47,483; social worker, $67,893; one principal, $80,000; school resource officer to half time, $38,000; one clerical position, $39,000; and school bus, $80,000.

 

With the reduction of class sections, says Jensen, that could lead to an increase in disciplinary issues.

 

As a result, Jensen doesn't think what he calls “support services” such as a social worker, principal or resource officer should be eliminated or reduced because of school safety.

 

Board member Jeremy Coxworth suggests making cuts --- like a principal -- that will not have a negative impact on a student's education.

 

The teacher is the asset of our staff,” says Coxworth. “Whenever they talk making cuts, it's teachers. I think we could look elsewhere.”

 

Board members are expected to take another look at the budget reductions during their next meeting on April 8.

 

We don't like these choices, it does affect staff and kids,” says Jensen.

 

Attorney seeks lesser assault charge

April 3, 2019

 

An attorney for a teen facing two felony counts of assault in the beating of a Blue Earth Area football teammate wants the charges reduced.

 

In a letter to Judge Michael Trushenski dated March 28, Minneapolis attorney Chris Ritts says he will ask the court for what he calls “a durational departure on a straight plea,” for 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland.

 

Ritts says he wants a gross misdemeanor assault sentence for his client and made the request during a pre-trial hearing held March 29.

 

A motion hearing has been scheduled for April 17, however, it's not clear if it is to address Ritts' request. The hearing is being held a week before the start of Tungland's four-day trial set for April 23-26.

 

Tungland has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

In the letter, Ritts says the assault that occurred on Oct. 19, 2017, during a house party in Winnebago did not cause substantial bodily injury.

 

“Wyatt played a minor role in the crime compared with other defendants, he lacked substantial capacity,” he says. “Grounds exist that tend to excuse and/or mitigate his culpability, although not amounting to a complete defense and finally that he is particularly amenable to probation.”

 

Ritts says the victim's alleged concussion diagnosed Nov. 6, 2017, was the result of over a dozen football games and practices in which he took multiple hits to his head. He says one of the hits on Oct. 28 was so severe that it cracked his helmet.

 

According to Ritts, medical reports also will show that the victim was suffering from mononucleosis during this time.

 

“Dr. Steven Noran, M.D., a board certified neurologist, will testify that based on the victim's mono and subsequent athletic activities, no competent doctor could diagnose to a degree of medical certainty that he suffered a concussion on or about Oct. 19,” Ritts says.

 

Ritts contends that the evidence is incomplete and uncertain that his client committed the assault and that Tungland has an alibi as to where he was when the beating occurred.

 

“The victim never identified Wyatt in his statement as one of the people who hit him,” says Ritts. “We have a text from the victim stating that he knows Wyatt did not hurt him and is his friend.”

 

Ritts says his client, three other co-defendants in the case and the victim were consuming alcohol at the party and perceptions are unclear.

 

The judge is being asked to consider that Tungland suffers from ADHD and concussion syndrome that affects his cognitive ability to remember, focus and understand.

 

Ritts says his client is currently taking medication to address his medical issues, has completed counseling and chemical dependency classes.

 

In addition, Ritts says Tungland recently became a father, has child care duties for his son as well as finishing his GED and working to support his family.

 

Contract more than $130,000 a year

April 2, 2019

 

The new superintendent for Blue Earth Area School District will be earning more than $130,000 a year.

 

It took less than a minute for School Board members to unanimously approve a three-year contract for Mandy (Lloyd) Fletcher during a special meeting held Monday night.

 

Before taking a vote, interim superintendent Jerry Jensen told the board that the contract was, “pretty much boilerplate language.”

 

Under the agreement, Fletcher will be paid an annual salary of $133,000 for the 2019-20 school year; $134,995 for 2020-21; and $137,020 for 2021-22.

 

The contract was negotiated between the board chairperson Susan Benz and Ed Waltman of South Central Service Cooperative.

 

Fletcher will receive health and life insurance and the district will match up to $3,000 in an annuity plan. She also will be paid 20 working days of vacation annually.

 

According to the four-page contract, which begins July 1, 2019, and ends June 30, 2022, terms may be modified but they cannot be reduced.

 

Fletcher was among a list of four finalists recommended by South Central Service Cooperative.

 

Board members narrowed the field to two and interviewed Fletcher on March 20 and David Pace, superintendent at Greenway Public Schools in Coleraine, on March 21.

 

Fletcher is a 1999 graduate of Blue Earth Area and has been the superintendent/principal at Granada-Huntley-East Chain since 2017.

 

Investigation cost more than $18,000

March 29, 2019

 

Blue Earth has finally received a bill for an investigation that cost more than $18,000 and the results will never be made public.

 

At their meeting on April 1, City Administrator Tim Ibisch says the City Council will be reviewing an invoice submitted by Everett & VanderWiel on March 22.

 

City officials hired the Twin Cities area law firm to look into a complaint filed against former police officer Chad Bonin last November.

 

Attorney Pamela L. VanderWiel spent 87 hours on the investigation for a cost of $17,420 and billed the city another $708 for lodging, mileage and transcription fees.

 

Although the 42-page report details findings regarding alleged misconduct, the results will remain confidential because of a separation agreement reached between the city and Bonin.

 

Under the agreement, Bonin was paid accrued benefits in sick leave, vacation and compensation time that totaled $10,753.

 

City Attorney David Frundt says council members had the opportunity to take further action after reviewing the investigation report.

 

Frundt says the council could have held a Laudermill hearing, but decided not to do so.

 

“Mr. Bonin would have had the right to respond to the allegations and investigation report and to set out his side of the story to the council,” he says. “The city could then determine if any discipline was appropriate and to take action for that discipline, including termination at that time.”

 

Judge issues "gag order" in case

March 20, 2019

 

A judge has issued a “gag order” in the case of a Frost teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate.

 

Faribault County prosecutors made the request during a court hearing held March 1 in Blue Earth before Martin County Judge Michael Trushenski.

 

According to court papers, Wyatt Eugene Tungland's attorney Chris Ritts is accused of making disparaging comments in a news story in Tripleanews.com about the prosecutors, specifically assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper.

 

Trushenski has instructed all parties and attorneys in the case and law enforcement officials not to discuss any aspect of the case with the press.

 

All employees in the County Attorney's Office and staff working for Ritts also are included under the order.

 

“The order applies to the defendant, defendant's immediate family, the victim's immediate family and the Winnebago Police Department,” says Trushenski.

 

The press may still have access to any hearings or files involving the case. However, persons associated with the case must have permission from the court to make any public comment.

 

Tungland has pleaded innocent to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21. His trial is scheduled April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court.

 

Trial to remain in Faribault County

March 19, 2019

 

The trial for a Frost teen charged in the beating of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate will not be moved nor delayed.

 

In a March 18 ruling, Martin County District Court Judge Michael Trushenski says 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland's trial will be held as planned --- April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court.

 

Tungland has pleaded innocent to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Defense attorney Chris Ritts argued during a hearing held March 1 that his client could not get a fair trial due to pretrial publicity and because he is an African-American living in a predominantly white county.

 

Ritts suggested Hennepin, Ramsey, Carver or Aitkin counties as possible locations for the four-day jury trial.

 

But, Trushenski says extensive media coverage of the case does not present a reasonable likelihood that Tungland would not get a fair trial.

 

“It appears to the court that those stories are fact-based and not inflammatory or opinionated/biased against the defendant,” he says. “Additionally, many of those stories are six months to a year old.”

 

The judge says potential jurors exposed to print and television news reports is insufficient to show prejudice.

 

“Rather, the test is whether a prospective juror can set aside an impression or opinion and render an impartial verdict,” Trushenski says.

 

On the issue of race, the judge says none of the news stories presented by Ritts mention race, “The defense attorney is the only person who has made an issue of the defendant's race.”

 

While the court is aware the population of Faribault County is predominantly white, says the judge, the defense provided no information about the county's demographic makeup.

 

Trushenski dismissed Ritts' contention that “conversation strings” on social media would impact the trial, saying they appear to essentially be from the same individuals.

 

In trying to get the trial delayed, Ritts says a witness charged with perjury was a “calculated move” by the Faribault County Attorney's Office to deprive his client the right to a fair trial.

 

Last July, a mother and daughter testified during an omnibus hearing that Tungland could not have been involved in the assault because he was at their house during the time of the incident.

 

Ritts says because the witness is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation, her attorney has told him she will plead the fifth under the Fifth Amendment to protect herself from self-incrimination.

 

“The defendant has not shown that the Faribault County Attorney's Office interfered with the witness's decision to testify or her decision to plead the fifth,” Trushenski says. “The state (county attorney's office) has the right to file charges against individuals who they believe committed a crime.”

 

Council decides to hire administrator

March 14, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council will seek the help of South Central Service Cooperative in their search for a new city administrator.

 

During a work session prior to Tuesday's council meeting, discussion at times turned testy between council members Rick Johnson and Paul Eisenmenger.

 

At the center of their disagreement was a letter to the Personnel Committee that Eisenmenger called,”surprising and weird.”

 

Eisenmenger says he has talked with former City Administrator Chris Ziegler two times since he resigned and contents of the letter was never mentioned.

 

I want to know. You may think I do, but I don't,” Eisenmenger told Johnson, “ It looks very suspicious and strange.”

 

Johnson says because the matter is similar to an attorney/client privilege relationship nothing can be said at this time.

 

When it gets time to go to the council, it will,” says Johnson. “There is a chain of command and a process.”

 

Johnson raised his voice, at one point, and Eisenmenger responded, “ You don't have to yell at me.”

 

After the meeting, Johnson was vague when asked to comment on the letter.

 

There's a complaint and it's being addressed. I've turned it over to the city attorney,” he says.

 

Johnson was the lone dissenting vote against hiring a city administrator, saying it is something he has thought about during the past three administrators.

 

He says the city's population has decreased and wonders if taxpayers can afford to continue paying for the position. When Ziegler left he was earning more than $65,000.

 

We have department heads, the council and office staff. If everyone works in a cohesive manner, as a team, it will work,” he says. “Everything is in place. I think it can work and we can save a chunk of money.

 

Councilman Calvin Howard says not having a city administrator would mean that council members might have to get involved in the day-to-day operations.

 

I don't think it's a good time to be cutting down on office help,” he says. “Things seem to be going in the right direction.”

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says a city administrator is needed because, “There's very positive energy going on right now in the city.”

 

Schutt says council member Jean Anderson, who did not attend the meeting, also supports maintaining the position..

 

City leaders cite a $3 million, 16,000-square-foot expansion project at Heartland Senior Living; a nearly $9 million street and infrastructure project in the northwest part of town; and a group's plan to turn the Winnebago school into a vocational training center as reasons for having an administrator.

 

You'll save money not having an administrator, but the ball is going to be dropped somewhere,” says Howard.

 

Eisenmenger says there has to be someone in charge to deal with any concerns and questions that staff or the public may have.

 

While he supports hiring an administrator, that may not be enough to satisfy Eisenmenger.

 

What happened to drive out someone who has lived in the community for several years? Eisenmenger asks. “What happened?”

 

Until someone is hired, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz, City Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson will handle administrative duties.

 

The council also voted to give them each a $3 an hour pay raise and increase Staloch's hours to full-time status.

 

Motion filed to delay Tungland trial

February 28, 2019

 

A attorney for a teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football player is now asking that his client's trial be delayed.

 

On Friday, Chris Ritts of Minneapolis will present arguments before Judge Michael Trushenski on why he thinks 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland's trial should not be held in Faribault or Martin County.

 

Tungland's four-day jury trial is scheduled April 23-26 in Blue Earth, but Ritts says he has filed a motion for continuance.

 

Ritts says he needs more time to prepare because a witness at Tungland's contested omnibus hearing held last July was recently charged with perjury.

 

“In my 30 years of being a lawyer, I've not seen this done at this stage. It's usually done after the trial when one has testified,” he says. “This rotten prosecutor has done this to take out my star witness, not that he genuinely believes she committed perjury.”

 

“I believe it was done intentionally, so I could not use her as a witness. I've been told her attorney has advised his client to plead the fifth, meaning she cannot testify,” he adds.

 

Allison Ann Mastin is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation.

 

Mastin and her daughter under oath testified that Tungland could not have been involved in the assault because he was at their house during the time of the incident in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017.

 

Tungland has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Three other teen boys were charged in the assault that took place during a party held at another teammate's home in Winnebago. Their cases have been settled after reaching plea agreements.

 

Administrator tells why he resigned?

February 24, 2019

 

Winnebago's departing city administrator may have given a hint as to one reason why he's leaving.

 

At a special City Council meeting Tuesday night, Chris Ziegler had some pointed advice after nearly 40 minutes of discussion on whether to hire a replacement.

 

“If you go down the path of an administrator, I would say the most important thing is to follow the chain of command,” says Ziegler. “Make sure that everyone on the council reinforces the personnel policy and chain of command.”

 

Council members approved Ziegler's resignation during a Feb. 12 meeting and his last day on the job was Feb. 22.

 

Former councilman Scott Robertson says in the past there have been times when an employee who had a concern or problem would go directly to the mayor or a council member instead of Ziegler.

 

“They would basically cut him out of the process and they were micro-managing,”says Robertson. “It's like you're getting back-doored. That's why we are where we are right now --- without an administrator.”

 

Council members debated whether to eliminate the city administrator's position or whether those duties could be handled in-house.

 

Councilman Paul Eisenmenger expressed his concern that the city has had a high turnover of administrators in the 13 years he has lived here.

 

“We've gone through four and we can't keep doing this,” he says. “As soon as we take a step forward, we take two steps back. We drive them out.”

 

Eisenmenger says the administrator's position can be overwhelming because of the wide range of duties and knowledge that is required.

 

“It's not fair to condemn him (Chris) for some things he doesn't know,” says Eisenmenger. “I don't think we are going to find someone to meet everyone's expectations.”

 

Although councilman Rick Johnson was not in attendance, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says he had a phone conversation with him to get his thoughts.

 

“He wants to explore options and would like to gather more information,” says Schutt. “What is going to make more sense to Winnebago and the taxpayers?”

 

Schutt favors maintaining a city administrator because he believes the position is necessary to help Winnebago grow and move forward.

 

“Where are we today and where will we be in the future,?” says Schutt. “What are wants, needs and realistic goals?”

 

Council member Jean Anderson cites the nearly $9 million northwest infrastructure project and the city taking over ownership of the school building as a reason for hiring an administrator.

 

“We need someone positive,” she says. “At the end of the day we need to have a figure head, a leader the community can report to.”

 

Councilman Calvin Howard thinks the city should conduct a search for an administrator because someone needs to be in charge of the day-to-day operations.

 

“Who would be boss, doing the hiring and firing,?” asks Howard. “We have to make it lucrative enough so we aren't just a resume builder.”

 

Robertson told council members called not hiring an administrator would be “a huge mistake and crazy.”

 

He says currently there is no one on city staff who are qualified to prepare an annual budget or write grants to fund various projects.

 

“You don't want to eliminate a position to save money,” says Robertson. “We lost a real leader at a real important time for this city. We don't have a point person now and it bothers me.”

 

For now, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz, part-time assistant Deputy Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson will handle administrative duties, with Sturtz being in charge of the office at City Hall.

 

Schutt says that he and Anderson met with the three to discuss what should be done in the interim.

 

“We're all going to have to buck up too and help,” he says. “They aren't going to be able to handle all the duties.”

 

Council members approved full-time employment status for Staloch and must still decide how much additional pay she, Sturtz and Olson will earn.

 

If the council decides to hire an administrator, they can expect it will be a lengthy process.

 

“It could take two to three months,” says Ziegler. “We want to give a good window for applications. I'd say three weeks.”

 

 

Teen on probation for assault in jail

February 23, 2019

 

A Blue Earth teen sentenced in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate is back in jail.

 

According to the Faribault County Jail roster, 19-year-old Dalton Lee Nagel was taken into custody and booked at 2:31 a.m. Saturday.

 

Nagel is facing a pending charge of violating probation conditions that were placed on him when he was sentenced last summer.

 

Among the conditions, Judge Michael Trushenski ordered Nagel not to use alcohol or mood-altering drugs not prescribed by a physician. Tripleanews.com has not been able to confirm if that is why Nagel was arrested.

 

A second restitution hearing for Nagel scheduled on Friday was canceled. It was been set for April 5 in Martin County District Court.

 

Parents of the victim are seeking more than $12,500 damages, according to court documents.

 

LaMar Piper, assistant Faribault County Attorney, says the amount of compensation will be divided among those held responsible.

 

So far, three teens who were charged in the October 2017 assault have had their case settled.

 

Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 19, of Frost has requested a four-day jury trial which will be held April 23-26 in Blue Earth.

 

He has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Tungland's attorney, Chris Ritts of Minneapolis, has filed court papers seeking to have the trial moved to another county.

 

A court date has been set for March 1 in Faribault County District Court before Trushenski to hear Ritts' motion for a change of venue.

 

Were details prematurely released?

February 18, 2019

 

Oops! Don't print that?

 

Either Blue Earth officials provided information to one newsprint outlet and not another or a local newspaper has jumped the gun.

 

According to an article in this week's publication, police officer Chad Bonin was terminated effective Feb. 13 and details of monetary compensation to be paid by the city was also reported.

 

On Friday, City Administrator Tim Ibisch gave Tripleanews.com a different version.

 

Ibisch says that a separation agreement of employment OK'd by the council still needs to be approved by Bonin and his attorney.

 

“Once it is finalized, those details can be made public,” says Ibisch.“I will forward you a copy of the agreement once it is fully authorized.'

 

The city administrator says Bonin accepting the separation agreement would mean that investigation findings of a complaint filed against him last November would remain confidential.

 

However, if Bonin was indeed fired, under state law information found in a 42-page investigation report can be made public.

 

Last December, the City Council hired the Twin Cities area law firm of Everett & VanderWiel to look into alleged misconduct by Bonin.


Under the contract, two attorneys from the law firm were paid $200 an hour in addition to any legal assistant and paralegal services each at a rate of $100 an hour.


The city also paid for mileage, travel, expert fees, courier fees and out-of-pocket expenses.


Bonin has been with the police department since March 12, 2012, and was currently earning an annual salary of $60,765,


This isn't the first time Bonin has faced a complaint involving alleged misconduct allegations.


In 2014, he was accused of four counts of police officer misconduct, however, an investigation substantiated just two of the charges. As a result, he served three days of suspension without pay.

 

Case against B.E. officer nears end

February 15, 2019

 

The fate of a Blue Earth police officer on paid administrative leave since Dec.6 may soon be known.

 

After weather canceled two hearings between the City Council, officer Chad Bonin and his labor union attorney, a meeting between the parties was held on Wednesday.

 

“The City Council met to discuss a separation agreement,” says City Administrator Tim Ibisch. “Once it is finalized, those details can be made public.”

 

An investigation into alleged misconduct by Bonin was recently completed by the Twin Cities area law firm of Everett & VanderWiel.


A 42-page report details findings regarding a complaint that was filed against Bonin last November.
 

If the separation agreement is approved by officer Bonin and his legal counsel, then the details of our investigation would remain confidential,” says Ibisch.

 

So far, the city has not seen a bill for the cost of the investigation.
 

Under the contract, two attorneys from the law firm were paid $200 an hour in addition to any legal assistant and paralegal services each at a rate of $100 an hour.
 

The city also paid for mileage, travel, expert fees, courier fees and out-of-pocket expenses.

 

Bonin has been with the police department since March 12, 2012, and is currently earning an annual salary of $60,765,
 

This isn't the first time Bonin has faced a complaint involving alleged misconduct allegations.

 

In 2014, he was accused of four counts of police officer misconduct, however, an investigation substantiated just two of the charges. As a result, he served three days of suspension without pay.

 

In one violation, the veteran officer violated police department policy while he was off-duty and rode in a car where alcohol was being consumed.


The other violation involved Bonin failing to report an accident involving his squad car in a timely manner.

 

The accident reportedly involved his parked vehicle being hit by a car driven by an acquaintance of his and was not reported for two days.

 

Council reviews investigation report

February 1, 2019

 

An investigation into alleged misconduct by a Blue Earth police officer has been completed.

 

City Council members held a special meeting Monday afternoon in closed-session to discuss the lengthy and detailed report.

 

And, when the meeting was re-opened to the public they took no action.

 

“The council reviewed the report for approximately one hour,” says City Administrator Tim Ibisch. “It is 42 pages long and will remain sealed until the process is complete.”

 

Last month, the Twin Cities area law firm of Everett & VanderWiel was hired to investigate a complaint filed against officer Chad Bonin last November.

 

Council members placed Bonin on paid administrative leave on Dec. 6 after meeting behind closed doors to discuss the matter.

 

The investigation report is expected to be an agenda item at the next council meeting to be held on Feb. 4.

 

If the council decides not to any disciplinary action, then none of the report's findings will be made public.

 

Bonin has been with the police department since March 12, 2012, and is currently earning an annual salary of $60,765,

 

This isn't the first time Bonin has faced a complaint involving alleged misconduct allegations.

 

In 2014, he was accused of four counts of police officer misconduct, however, an investigation substantiated just two of the charges. As a result, he served three days of suspension without pay.

 

In one violation, the veteran officer violated police department policy while he was off-duty and rode in a car where alcohol was being consumed.

 

The other violation involved Bonin failing to report an accident involving his squad car in a timely manner.

 

The accident reportedly involved his parked vehicle being hit by a car driven by an acquaintance of his and was not reported for two days.

 

Attorney seeks to have trial moved

January 23, 2019

 

A defense attorney for a teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate wants to have his trial moved to another county.

 

Chris Ritts of Minneapolis says he filed a motion on Wednesday seeking a change of venue for 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland of Frost.

 

He is not going to get a fair and impartial trial,” says Ritts. “The prosecutor (LaMar Piper) has distorted the facts in the case.”

 

A four-day jury trial has been scheduled for April 23, 24, 25 and 26 in Faribault County District Court in Blue Earth.

 

Tungland has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Ritts says Piper has displayed “prosecutorial misconduct” by his unprofessional conduct and behavior.

 

Media news stories and comments on social media, says Ritts, played a factor in deciding to seek a new location for the trial.

 

Tungland and three other teen boys were charged in November 2017 in the beating of a football teammate that left him unconscious.

 

Three of the cases were settled with plea agreements, says Ritts, because Piper bullied the defendants by threatening them with scare tactics.

 

Ritts says the prosecutor shouldn't have been surprised with a woman's testimony that Tungland couldn't have been involved in the assault.

 

“I made the prosecutor aware of the alibi,” he says. “He never got off his tail and did anything. He didn't investigate it.”

 

Allison Ann Mastin faces two felony counts for her statements made under oath during a contested omnibus hearing for Tungland in July. She testified that he and her daughter were at her house during the time the assault occurred.

 

A court date has been set for March 1 in Faribault County District Court before Judge Michael Trushenski to hear Ritts' motion to move the trial.

 

Perjury charge filed in assault case

January 23, 2019

 

A woman has been charged for allegedly lying during a hearing held for one of the teens charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area High School football teammate.

 

Allison Ann Mastin, 36, of Blue Earth is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation.

 

During a contested omnibus hearing in July, Mastin and her daughter took the stand and testified that Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 19, of Frost could not have been involved in the assault.

 

Faribault County prosecutor LaMar Piper says several months of investigation was needed before deciding whether to charge Mastin.

 

After listening to her testimony and reading her interview in October 2018 with Officer Emily Bonin, we're satisfied that she tried to mislead the officers in the case and the court,” Piper says.

 

Under oath, Mastin and her daughter --- who once dated Tungland --- said that he was at their house during the time of the assault the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017.

 

Mastin says her daughter and Tungland fell asleep while watching a movie and that he woke up around 3:30 a.m. and left.

 

According to the new charges, Tungland's defense attorney did not tell Mastin about his client's statement to police admitting to being at the party.

 

Court documents say that Tungland reportedly did not say anything about being at Mastin's house at any time that night.

 

Tungland and three other teen boys were charged in the beating of a teammate unconscious during the house party in Winnebago.

 

A four-day trial has been scheduled for Tungland from April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court.

 

He has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

 

Report about assault seems to differ

January 21, 2019

 

Information given to Blue Earth Area School District officials regarding the assault of a former football player seems to contradict that given to Winnebago police.

 

Dale Hurley says when his wife found out during their son's visit to a doctor on Nov. 6 that he been allegedly assaulted by four teammates, she immediately went and told an assistant coach.

 

“She told them everything that happened,” says Hurley. “She gave the coach all of their names.”

 

On Nov. 9 School District resource officer DJ Bullerman contacted Winnebago police about a possible assault that occurred during a house party at the home of a football player in Winnebago.

 

“We were told a few names that may have been involved,” says Police Chief Eric Olson. “Some of them were mentioned and others we found out. We had to put the case together.”

 

Hurley says the day after his wife reported the assault to school officials, he received two text messages from the owner of the house where the assault took place.

 

The texts read, “John just called Mr. Norman and there is no proof anyone (sic) of it … so we will see.

 

“Can you call me.”

 

It's unclear if authorities have questioned School District administrators about the assault.

 

In a hearing held last July for one of the defendants charged in the case, Winnebago police officer Jacob Petitt testified that the superintendent, activities director and high school principal might be interviewed.

 

“I don't have any comment on that,” says assistant Faribault County Attorney LaMar Piper.

 

District guided investigator in probe

January 17, 2019

 

A Blue Earth Area School Board member who claims district officials had input into an investigation may have been right after all.

 

“The School District did provide a partial list of issues that were being raised by others related to the matter,” says former Superintendent Evan Gough.

 

Board member Jeremy Coxworth has said in the past that an investigator was given “bullet points” to follow to determine whether the district responded properly after learning on Nov. 6 that a football player was assaulted by four teammates.

 

Although district officials received guidance from legal counsel and the Minnesota State High School League, they had some concerns.

 

In an e-mail to Tripelanews.com, Gough provides the following questions that school officials wanted Soldo Consulting, P.C., to address:

 

  • Did the school handle the initial report appropriately? Some have questioned whether this was a mandated reporting situation.

  • Did the school “sweep this under the rug?”

  • Was the school really able to open a second investigation?

  • Did the investigation rely on hearsay?

  • Why did the school allow the boys to play in a football game on November 10, 2017?

  • Was the punishment handled properly?

  • School districts work under the preponderance of evidence whereas the court system must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Did the district follow appropriately?

 

In her findings, Michelle Soldo concludes the district conducted timely and thorough preliminary and expanded investigations for more than a month.

 

In a letter to the board, Soldo wrote, “Speculation, conjecture and uninformed allegations that district actions were not prompt and appropriate are refuted by the record."

 

Stolen ATM had thousands of dollars

January 12, 2019

 

An ATM stolen from a Blue Earth bank more than four months ago contained several thousands of dollars.

 

That's according to Police Chief Tom Fletcher.

 

“The machine has yet to be recovered,” he says. “There was $8,340 inside of it.”

 

Authorities continue to investigate the theft that occurred at First Bank during the early morning hours of Friday, Sept. 7.

 

The police chief at this time there are no new developments in the case.

 

According to police reports, a man entered the ATM lobby around 4:12 a.m. and began using a pry bar and sledge hammer to try and remove it.

 

When he was unable to free the machine, authorities say, he left the lobby and backed a pickup onto the sidewalk.

 

The man then reportedly went back into the lobby with a logging/tow chain and put it around the ATM and the drove the pickup forward and dislodged it.

 

A new ATM has been installed in the same lobby and Fletcher says he was not asked for any advice as to where it should be located.

 

“I know the new ATM has more security features and is reinforced,” he says.

 

In addition, there is a security camera in the lobby and another one outside on the building.

 

Police believe the suspect who stole the ATM may have had some help because he had a radio with him to communicate with a lookout or lookouts.

 

He is described as having an athletic build and was wearing a long, light colored shirt or a dark hooded sweatshirt, with dark pants, a hat and a facemask.

 

The truck in the theft reportedly was stolen from Hawkins Chevrolet in Fairmont and later recovered by the Faribault County Sheriff's Office at 400th Avenue and County Road 4, about six miles west of Frost.

 

Anyone with possible information regarding the theft is asked to call the Blue Earth Police Department at (507) 526-5959.

 

Zierke may bring workers to Bago

December 6, 2018

 

A company that left Winnebago last year may be bringing some workers back to the city.

 

Brad Wolf, a member of the city's Economic Development Authority board, says he recently spoke with Greg Zierke, owner of Zierke Built Manufacturing (ZBM), Inc.

 

He has no more room in Fairmont,” says Wolf. “He's hoping to get some welders back in Winnebago.”

 

Wolf told EDA board members at their Wednesday meeting that Zierke may not sell a vacant company building located on Sixth Avenue Southeast.

 

He says Zierke did not say exactly how many welders would actually be employed in Winnebago.

 

ZBM officials cited inadequate space and difficulty in hiring skilled welders as reason for re-locating.

 

When the company left Winnebago, it employed 40 people and operated two buildings covering about 70,000 square feet.

 

In other business, the EDA may be looking to hire Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) to work on business projects.

 

We definitely need help,” says board member Jean Anderson. “It's something we should look into.”

 

According to its website, CEDA was founded in 1986 and is based in Chatfield. It serves communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

 

Faribault County and the city of Blue Earth each pay CEDA at least $50,000 a year to provide economic development services.

 

Mary Kennedy of CEDA told board members she will now be working four days for Blue Earth and that Annie Leibel has been added to their office at the Ag Center to work four days for the county.

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says he's interested in meeting with CEDA officials to see what the agency can offer the city.

 

“You'd get the whole CEDA team, with over 100 years of experience,” says Kennedy. “Anything that an economic development coordinator would do, we could do.”

 

EDA board members asked Kennedy if she could have CEDA officials attend their next meeting scheduled for Jan. 2.

 

Former employee sues Zierke Built

December 1, 2018

 

A former employee of Zierke Built Manufacturing, Inc. has waited long enough and wants to get paid.

 

Leroy John Larson has filed a civil lawsuit seeking wages and sales commissions earned in 2017.

 

Although the company moved its operations from Winnebago to Fairmont last year, a judge has determined the case should be heard in Faribault County.

 

According to court documents, Larson began working as a sales representative with Zierke Built in May 2008.

 

Larson, who was earning an annual salary of $73,500 plus commissions, submitted his resignation last February.

 

Court papers say that Larson last year made a verbal demand that he be paid some wages and commissions earned in 2017.

 

Kyle Zierke, the company's vice president, reportedly told Larson last January that he was working on finalizing calculations for the commissions.

 

Larson was never paid and in April submitted a written demand for all back wages and commissions.

 

In his suit, Larson is seeking judgment for an amount in excess of $50,000, attorney fees, expenses and “any other and future relief the court deems equitable and appropriate.”

 

The next hearing in the case is a scheduling conference that will be conducted by telephone on Dec. 4.

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