Mille Lacs Messenger
By: Vivian La Moore
Tribal officers speak out about the county’s allegations that Tribal Police were hiding cases and information
Mille Lacs County officials took state law enforcement authority away from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s Tribal Police Department based on, among other issues, the county’s allegations tribal police were hiding cases and information from the sheriff and county attorney. Some information was in fact sensitized (hidden) from the eyes of the sheriff and his staff, but the county attorney knew all about it, according to tribal police, and he gave the officers the okay, they said.
Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh does not agree entirely, however.
The 25-year cooperative law enforcement agreement between the Band and Mille Lacs County was revoked by the county effective July 21, 2016.
One of the main reasons provided to the public by the county was “failure to cooperate and coordinate with the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office.” A correlating reason provided by the county was “The Band’s participation in an Intertribal Violent Offenders Task Force Joint Powers Agreement.”
Violent crimes task force
Tribal PD did in fact, participate in an inter-tribal task force that began in 2015. The Great Nations Gang and Drug Task Force was a collaborative effort by The Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, Upper Sioux Community, and Lower Sioux Community police departments to combat violent offenders and drugs in the communities they serve. The idea was gang members and drug dealers were rez hopping – moving from one reservation to another. By forming a joint task force, all tribal police departments could work together, Tribal officer B said.
This task force was funded in part by a grant through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Violent Crime Enforcement Teams program. The program is both state and federally funded, authorized under Minnesota Statutes 299A.642. Each VCET provides extensive data reports to the DPS on a quarterly basis. (DPS.MN.gov.)
According to Tribal officer A, during the relatively short period the task force was in operation they successfully executed 10 to 12 search warrants, seized over 35 grams of heroin, over 100 grams of methamphetamine and 71 doses of prescription pills all with a combined total street value of $21,615. This resulted in over 50 arrests with the majority of them landing in the Mille Lacs County Jail.
The task force disbanded shortly after the revocation of the law enforcement agreement after being in operation for slightly over one year.
The sensitized cases
Prior to the revocation however, investigators from the tribal task force were working on several drug cases involving confidential informants and witnesses while building the case files. “We noticed some county guys were looking at our cases on the LETG, [the computer information program Law Enforcement Technology Group],” Tribal officer A said. “Due to the sensitive nature of the cases we were working on and in light of the Richardson case, we were concerned that some of the officers who were involved in the Richardson case were going through our drug cases. We wanted to distance ourselves from those officers. We did not want anything to jeopardize our cases.”
The Richardson case to which the officer referred was a case dismissed in Mille Lacs County District Court based on the questionable actions of certain Mille Lacs County deputies who, according to Seventh District Court Judge Sarah Hennesy, violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights by performing a search without a proper warrant. See side bar for a review of the Richardson case.
The tribal officers had witnessed first hand, “a couple of the officers involved in the Richardson case were driving around the reservation in unmarked squads and plain clothes and not telling us they were here. This puts officer safety into view and could end up badly,” Tribal officer B said.
Two tribal officers met with county attorney Joe Walsh in a face-to-face meeting and explained the situation to Walsh. According to the tribal officers, Walsh told them as long as Walsh had access to the cases he was OK with sensitizing information from other law enforcement officers, deputies and the sheriff.
However, in an email, Walsh replied, “I had a couple of meetings with tribal investigators. I never agreed that drug cases could be sensitized or sealed in any meeting.”
The tribal officers remain confident of the conversation they had with Walsh, however.
Walsh wrote via email he was aware of certain information being hidden but did not demand the information be reviewed immediately. In an email Walsh sent to the former Chief of Tribal Police Jared Rosati, Walsh wrote, “I am aware that there has been a marked increase in sealed cases in LETG that are being protected from view and not submitted to my office....At some point, those cases will have to be unsealed and reviewed.”
Mille Lacs County did, at one time, have a drug task force of their own – the North Central Drug Task Force. It is common practice in law enforcement to sensitize drug cases, Tribal officer B said. The North Central Drug Task Force had their own section on the LETG that no one outside of that particular task force had access to, according to the Tribal officer A.
Walsh continued, “Hiding evidence temporarily while a case is investigated is one thing. Destroying and/or permanently hiding it so that no one can see it is quite another.” Walsh did not elaborate on his reference to destroying information.
“For many years tribal police have worked harmoniously with Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s deputies. There are only a few that have caused concern – due to court testimony issues,” Tribal officer A said. “Strained relationships have been magnified by the sheriff’s and county attorney’s directives. The majority of the deputies are good cops and good people.”
Tribal officer A continued, “But how can you not look at [the Richardson case] and not see a problem? It’s guys like these guys that make cops look bad. The general public doesn’t always know. But other cops know. Lindgren knows. Walsh knows. And Judge Hennesy knows.”
In a memo dated Sept. 23, 2014 from the then County Attorney Jan Jude to Sheriff Brent Lindgren Jude wrote, “the Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office will be unable to prosecute cases referred to us in which Deputies Pat Broberg and Terry Boltjes are necessary witnesses due to serious credibility issues arising in [the Richardson case] and to a lesser extent [the Davis case].”
The Davis case included material omissions by both Boltjes and Broberg and was also dismissed due to the omissions coupled with the credibility issues of the Richardson hearing, according to the Jude memo.
More recently, in February of this year, two drug possession cases, John Michael Duffy and Michelle Marie Panken also involving Broberg, were both also dismissed from the court, according to court documents dated Feb. 15, 2017. The documents said “Panken submitted to the deputies’ show of force ,” she consented to a search. However, the court determined, “the defendant’s consent was ineffective to justify the search when it was tainted by his illegal detention,” according to court transcripts. The court document also states that even though methamphetamine was found, the search and warrant were, “invalid and these matters must be dismissed.”
Walsh said he was aware of the Jude memo. He did not comment on the Duffy/Panken case.
Sensitizing, hiding or shielding information during an active investigation is nothing new to law enforcement, according to the tribal officers. “It is common practice across the board and is nothing new to the sheriff’s office either,” Tribal officer B said.
The cases the tribal officer spoke to Walsh about yielded three fugitive arrests and another drug arrest. The defendants are currently still in prison and are all considered violent offenders, according to the tribal officers. The officers of Tribal PD say that they remain steadfast to their priorities of public safety and staying within the scope of the law. They remain confident they are following proper procedure.
The names of the tribal officers interviewed for this article were intentionally withheld for fear of community retaliation they said. “Walsh, Lindgren and most of the cops know who we are,” Tribal officer A said.
The Richardson case
Domanic Derek Richardson was charged with felony fifth-degree controlled substance possession and petty misdemeanor drug paraphernalia possession on April 9, 2014. The case was dismissed by Judge Sarah Hennesy of the Seventh District Court in Milaca (Mille Lacs County) on May 8, 2014 on the basis that “law enforcement violated Mr. Richardson’s Fourth Amendment rights in searching the vehicle without a search warrant,” Judge Hennesy said, according to the court transcripts.
The case was brought before the court following the arrest of Richardson involving seven experienced Mille Lacs County deputies and investigators. Statements made by the officers involved during a contested omnibus hearing before Judge Hennesy revealed testimony by some officers involved was “inconsistent and lacking in credibility,” Judge Hennesy said, according to the transcripts.
Among the officers who testified in court were investigator Pat Broberg, investigator Terry Boltjes and deputy Greg Brown.
From the court transcripts of the hearing, Judge Hennesy said the “how and why the search was initiated” and “the alleged paraphernalia found on the floor of the car was not credible testimony.”
Deputy Brown testified on the stand that he wasn’t very comfortable with what had taken place” and “I believe the defendant’s civil rights were – had been violated,” according to the court transcript. Brown continued, “This was not sittin’ well with me in my stomach, and I spoke to senior deputies and investigators about this,” according to the court transcripts. Brown also testified other officers within the sheriff’s office had discussed the case among themselves finding the “search was not justified,” according to the transcripts.
Judge Hennesy reacted to the testimony of all of the officers. According to the court transcripts, she said, “The testimony that the court heard from other officers indicates that there are either additional officers who are hiding what happened or this was a ridiculously incompetent investigation.” She continued stating, “it does seem like there was concealing of information in addition to the testimony that I have already not found credible.”
The defense attorney, Ethan Allen, Milaca, also stated to the court, according to the transcripts, the testimony heard in the case was “...one of the most appalling things I have ever in my life seen practicing criminal law” and also stated, “They flat-out lied on the stand,” according to court transcripts.
The Mille Lacs County deputies involved in the Richardson case were not charged with any offenses. It is uncertain if any disciplinary action towards the officers involved was ever taken by Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren. As of Press time, Sheriff Lindgren has not replied to requests for comment.
Deputy Boltjes is no longer with the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office. Deputy Broberg remains on active patrol.