MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two Minnesota men will file civil rights lawsuits against the sheriff's office that led the investigation into Jacob Wetterling's kidnapping. They claim the failings of investigators ruined their reputations, after accusing both of them of murders they did not commit.
Dan Rassier was the first publicly named person of interest in Jacob's case. He wasn't cleared until Danny Heinrich's courtroom confession. Ryan Larson was arrested for the killing of a Cold Spring police officer. Another man who killed himself was later named as the killer in that case.
In the time they've spent reviewing the Stearns County Sheriff's office, attorneys Michael Padden and Devon Jacob paint a picture of what they consider clumsy police work that dates back decades.
"This agency had a history of messing up cases," Padden said.
In 1978, the Sheriff's Office investigated the murder of a mother and her three children in Clearwater. Stearns County had the killer, Joseph Ture, in custody that same year. He wasn't charged and when released went on to rape and murder more Minnesota women.
"The Ture case is a perfect example," Padden said. "I think every citizen of this state should be outraged by what happened here."
In January of 1989, it was the abduction and sexual assault of Jared Schierel that Padden says wasn't properly investigated by the same agency. He says it led to Jacob Wetterling's murder by the same man nine months later along with an attempt to pin the state's highest profile crime on his client, a neighbor and witness, Dan Rassier.
It's the same man in charge of the sheriff's office when Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker was shot in 2012.
"It's Sheriff Sanner which refuses to clear Mr. Larson's name," Larson's attorney Devon M. Jacob said.
Jacob is a former police officer himself with a national civil rights practice in Pennsylvania.
Decker died from a shotgun blast when he went to perform a welfare check on Ryan Larson. Hours later, Larson was arrested. His attorney points to the document investigators used to arrest Larson that doesn't mention how handguns were found in his possession.
"The probable cause warrant submitted to the court is false and that's really scary," Jacob said. "They never talk about that the gun they seize clearly had nothing to do with the crime that had been committed."
Jacob also brings up crime clearance rate in Stearns County, which he says is in the bottom third of the state of Minnesota.
The officer's murder case has never been closed, despite Stearns County officials saying another man would have been arrested had he not killed himself. Larson's attorney believes it's because closing the case would make the files public, and only make what happened to his client look worse.
"If it's subject to public review, chances are the sheriff is going to have a lot of atoning to do," Jacob said.
Ryan Larson also wants his personal property back from Stearns County. Dan Rassier only received his last week after the Sheriff's Office kept it for six years. Attorneys plan to publicly announce the lawsuits on Tuesday but, they won't be filed until the first of the year. Both the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Stearns County Sheriff's Office told WCCO they would not comment on pending litigation.
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