MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –A multi-million dollar lawsuit has been filed against Stearns County and three investigators connected to the Jacob Wetterling case.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner, former investigator Pam Jensen, and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Agent Kenneth McDonald are being accused of misleading a judge in order to get a warrant to search a St. Joseph farm owned by the Rassier family back in 2010. Daniel Rassier and his mother, Rita, are the plaintiffs in the suit.
The suit outlines pages of evidence that all pointed toward Danny Heinrich as the prime suspect in Wetterling's abduction. Rassier's attorney said that evidence was left out when investigators applied for the 2010 search warrants. But the attorney for the investigators told WCCO his clients did nothing wrong.
In a 2013 interview with WCCO, Rassier talked of an encounter in 2009 with Patty Wetterling, the abducted boy's mother. He told her then he had nothing to do with her son's disappearance.
But that claim of innocence wasn't enough to keep investigators from digging up his property months later and calling him a "person of interest" in the case.
"His reputation is tarnished forever, especially in this day and age of Wikipedia and Google and whatnot," said Michael Padden, Rassier's attorney.
He believes his clients deserves $2 million in damages from Sanner, Jensen, and McDonald.
"Perhaps the most egregious circumstance was the fact that Mr. Rassier had identified two vehicles on his property on the date of (Jacob's) abduction. In fact, he actually saw the abduction of Jacob after Jacob had been secured in the vehicle by Heinrich," Padden said.
The lawsuit states Rassier's vehicle descriptions matched those mentioned in other attempted abduction cases before and after Wetterling disappeared, cases which were also tied to Heinrich.
Padden said all of that evidence was left out when the investigators applied for the 2010 search warrant.
"I would suggest that had the judge been aware of that...this never would have happened," Padden said.
The lawsuit also alleges that based on the information in the search warrants released in September 2016, the digging of the property was "payback for the Plaintiff's criticisms of law enforcement articulated to Patty Wetterling." The criticisms happened when Rassier talked with Patty in 2009. According to the search warrant, she was wearing a wire so that their conversation would be recorded for investigators to hear.
The attorney representing Stearns County in the lawsuit, Jason Hiveley, released a statement saying:
"We understand Daniel and Rita Rassier filed a lawsuit in federal court. Once Stearns County and its employees have been properly served with the Summons and Complaint, we will file an Answer setting forth our legal defenses to the Rassiers' allegations. We will not be commenting further on this pending litigation except to say the actions of the Sheriff's Department Investigators were reasonable and we believe this case will ultimately be resolved in their favor."
The BCA declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Stearns County plans to release the complete investigative files in the Wetterling case. Padden said once those files are made public it is possible the lawsuit will be amended.
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