In 2010, numerous individuals were indicted for “child sex trafficking” based on an investigation that stretched from St. Paul to Tennessee. The lead agent working the case was Heather Weyker. An appeals judge found that Heather Weyker “likely exaggerated or fabricated important aspects of this story” and that the “district court caught Weyker lying to the grand jury and later lying during a detention hearing.” Yet, many of the individuals indicted by these lies and fabrications spent years in jail and/or on home detention with GPS ankle monitoring and continue to be labeled child sex traffickers. Eventually, the individuals were acquitted or the cases against them were thrown out. Last month, five GBBS attorneys, Robert Bennett, Andrew Birrell, Andrew Noel, Paul Dworak and Katie Bennett, began filing federal civil rights lawsuits against Heather Weyker, other St. Paul Police Department officers and the City of St. Paul on behalf of some of the individuals wrongfully indicted, arrested, detained and/or prosecuted based upon Weyker’s lies. The firm anticipates filing at least six more similar lawsuits. For more coverage on the story, visit Fox 9 News.
In December 2015, Robert Bennett, Andrew Noel and Katie Bennett petitioned the Hennepin County District Court for the disclosure of grand jury materials relating to the deaths of Dawn Pfister and Matthew Serbus. Shortly thereafter, in a December 29, 2015 Order, Judge Daniel Mabley authorized the release of the grand jury testimony from six officers who were at the scene of the February 7, 2014 shooting of Pfister and Serbus on Highway 212 in Eden Prairie, MN. Judge Mabley ruled that the GBBS attorneys had produced sufficient evidence of collusion to satisfy the particularized need standard from Douglas Oil. In part, this evidence was based upon texts and a phone call log depicting communication between the involved officers. This rare victory is believed to be the first time that Hennepin County grand jury transcripts have been released. For more coverage on this and other issues relating to grand juries check out the coverage by Minnesota Lawyer and Fox 9.
Robert Bennett and Paul Dworak filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Reid Sagehorn, the former honor student and two-sport varsity captain who was suspended, expelled, and forced to withdraw from Rogers High School because of a two-word, sarcastic tweet he posted outside of school hours, off school grounds, and without using any school property. Robert Bennett and Paul Dworak sued the school district, superintendent, assistant superintendent, and the principal for violating Reid’s First Amendment right to free speech, and they also sued the Rogers Police Chief for defaming Reid by falsely and continuously reporting to the media that Reid, a minor at the time, committed a crime punishable by up to a felony.
The lawsuit received attention from news outlets, law professors, and school administrators around the country, and around the world, because of the hot-button legal and social media issues involved.
The defendants each filed motions asking the Court to dismiss the lawsuit. In a 45-page opinion, U.S. District Chief Judge Tunheim rejected all of the school defendants’ arguments and held that Reid’s constitutional claims against the school defendants and his defamation claim against the police chief were supported by the law and were to proceed. Defendants subsequently settled the matter for a total of $425,000. For more information on this case, visit the StarTrib, the SPLC, and City Pages.
Robert Bennett and Ryan Vettleson recently settled an excessive force case against Minneapolis Police Officer Tyrone Barze on behalf of Madelyn Milton. Ms. Milton and three friends, all of whom are in professional or graduate school, got in a dispute with a cab driver. Officer Barze responded to the scene and ended up macing one of Milton’s friends, detaining the other two, and then taking Milton’s cell phone while she attempted to record the incident. Milton told the officer he could not take her phone and began to walk after him when he turned and struck her in the head. Milton fell backwards and struck the back of her head on the pavement, causing a significant injury. Officer Barze initially left Milton unconscious and bleeding in the street while he detained the woman that he had previously maced. Barze then called an ambulance for Milton.
Milton was charged with obstructing justice with force, but all charges were continued for dismissal and ultimately dismissed. This suit allowed Milton to vindicate her civil rights and prove she did nothing wrong. The defendants’ settlement early on in the litigation, prior to engaging in discovery, confirms that Milton was wronged. The case settled for a total of $82,000.
If you would like to know more about police misconduct or any of the issues in this blog, you can contact Ryan Vettleson, Partner at Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp LLP with any questions: bio, linkedIn.
Recently, Minnesota Lawyer analyzed free speech within the context of schools and the time of “social media panic.” The article highlighted one ongoing case in Minnesota – the Reid Sagehorn matter. Robert Bennett and Paul Dworak of GBBS, the attorneys for Sagehorn, provided their take on the status of the law and the recent ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Tunheim, which was issued last month. Click here for the entire Minnesota Lawyer article
Robert Bennett and Paul Dworak filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Reid Sagehorn, the former honor student who was suspended, expelled, and forced to withdraw from Rogers High School for a two-word sarcastic tweet he posted on the internet outside of school hours, off school grounds, not at a school-sponsored event, and without using any school property. On Tuesday, a federal judge rejected the school defendants motion to dismiss the case. U.S. District Chief Judge John Tunheim issued a 45-page memorandum and order (available here) holding that Sagehorn’s constitutional claims against the school defendants and his defamation claim against the police chief are to go forward. In the Order, Chief Judge Tunheim stated: “The law is sufficiently clear that on the facts such as the complaint alleges in this case – a student using personal property to make non-threatening speech off-campus, that in no way impacts or disrupts the school environment – a student would have a clearly established right to free speech.”
News outlets from around the country have been following this case closely. Here are links to what a few news sources had to say about the recent order: Star Tribune; Student Press Law Center; and the Fargo Forum.
Recently, in Baxter-Knutson v. Brandt, et al, a case where the Plaintiff alleges that jail and medical staff at the Stearns County Jail were deliberately indifferent to inmate Kyle Baxter-Jensen’s medical needs, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery denied the medical staff defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The defendants had moved for dismissal claiming the case was governed by a three-year statute of limitation. However, in the 11 page opinion, Judge Montgomery cited federal law and Supreme Court and 8th Circuit opinions, when she held the actions alleged by Baxter-Knutson are governed by a six-year statute of limitation. Further, Judge Montgomery explained that the claims against the jail and medical staff defendants are § 1983 federal law claims that are not subject to state statutes such as the affidavit requirement for medical malpractice claims. For more coverage on the Order, visit the StarTribune.
The City of Brooklyn Park agreed to pay $2.85 million in a settlement reached Wednesday in a police brutality lawsuit brought by 23-year-old Shoua Yang. The case stemmed from the January 25, 2014 incident where Brooklyn Park police officer Jason Chadbourne panicked and fired his service weapon six times into a snow-covered car as it backed slowly out of its parking space in the parking lot of a banquet hall, hitting Yang three times. At the time of the incident, Chadbourne was a probationary officer and had been on the force for less than one year.
Yang, along with his cousin and friend, were at the banquet hall for a Valentine’s day party and had decided to leave after a fight had broken out. Chadbourne arrived on the scene and followed the men to determine if they were involved in the fight – they were not. Chadbourne did not issue any commands to Yang and had no information that Yang had committed any crime. Yet, Chadbourne positioned himself behind the snow-covered vehicle and fired – later claiming the vehicle was speeding in reverse at him – a claim unsupported and refuted by the evidence. Yang was hit in the back, neck and shoulder and one of the bullets almost killed him. Notably, Chadbourne’s squad-car camera and body microphone had been switched off during the critical moments, including the time leading up to and during the shooting.
Yang was rushed to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery for severe, life-threatening and permanent injures. One of Chadbourne’s bullets severed the renal artery and devascularized Yang’s left kidney, necessitating its removal.
Subsequently, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged Yang with second-degree assault. The charge was later amended to first degree assault. If Shoua had been convicted of the amended charge he would have been sent to prison for a minimum of ten years without parole.
During Yang’s criminal trial, Chadbourne lied to the judge about discussing the case with his partner before his partner had testified.
GBBS attorney Paul Dworak handled the criminal case and in January of 2015 Yang was acquitted by a Hennepin County District Court jury of both charges. The acquittal obtained by Dworak was the springboard for the civil lawsuit, which was filed shortly thereafter, and the settlement obtained Wednesday.
Earlier this week Paul Dworak won an acquittal in Scott County on serious felony charges where his client was facing a mandatory minimum 12 years in prison if convicted.
GBBS is pleased to announce that the following attorneys have been selected as “Super Lawyers” for 2015: Steve Gaskins, Robert Bennett, Andrew Birrell and Timothy Schupp. Additionally, GBBS attorneys Andrew Noel, Ryan Vettleson and Katie Bennett have been listed as “Rising Stars” for 2015.
Super Lawyers, a Thompson Reuters business, selects a list of outstanding attorneys in over 70 practice areas in order to be used as a resource for attorneys and clients searching for legal counsel. The Super Lawyers list is comprised of those who have obtained a high degree of peer recognition and professional competence. The selections are made using a multi-phased process, which includes a statewide survey, an independent research evaluation by Super Lawyers and a peer evaluation by practice area. The final list represents no more than 5% of the lawyers in the state of Minnesota.
The Rising Star List is intended to identify the best lawyers 40 years old or younger or in practice for 10 years or less. No more than 2.5% of the lawyers in Minnesota are named to the Rising Star list.