Unwarranted: Was the Arrest Warrant Against Sandra Grazzini-Rucki Improperly Handled?

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In August 2015, a sealed warrant for the arrest of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was “accidentally” posted on the public webpage of the Dakota County Sheriff’s office leading to the warrant being widely published, and shared, in news media outlets across the country.

Sensitive information about the sealed warrant was also given to abusive ex-husband, David Rucki, from The Star Tribune. This means that David was given information, and knew about, the arrest warrant BEFORE Sandra did. 

Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie claims the leak was just a “glitch”. Dakota County’s mishanding of Sandra’s arrest warrant is NOT just a “glitch” – it is a serious error that has violated Sandra’s due process rights, and the questionable way the arrest warrant was handled may have greater legal implications.

Could this “glitch” cost Dakota County their case against Sandra? A recent court ruling states that improper service is grounds for dismissal; certainly in this case, there was not only improper service but outright negligence to protect information so sensitive that the judge ordered the warrant to be sealed. 

Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie (courtesy photo)

 

Signed, Sealed, but NOT Delivered

When someone is suspected of a crime, law enforcement obtains a warrant of arrest which is a document signed by a judge authorizing the detention of an individual, or authorizing the search and seizure of an individual’s property.

In the case of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, a nation wide warrant for arrest was submitted by Prosecuting Attorney Kathryn M. Keena before a judge, and put under a seal on August 12, 2015. Sandra was charged with 3 counts of felony deprivation of parental rights. According to Keena a seal was needed “because disclosure could cause defendant to flee, hide, or otherwise prevent execution of the warrant. The seal was to last until Sandra is arrested, and returned to the state.

Amended Warrant Against Sandra Grazzini-Rucki

NOTE: Sandra is a flight attendant with an impeccable service record; she works with the public in her job, and has never been a danger to anyone. Just the opposite, Sandra has a reputation for providing a high quality care to customers, and is known for her easy smile, and gentle approach. Sandra has been staying in Florida in between flights, she has a squeaky-clean background, and has no prior criminal history.  

Was a Sealed Warrant Necessary?

A seal means that the warrant is filed in secret, and its existence will not be made public. The subject of the warrant has no idea that they are wanted on charges until they are apprehended. A sealed warrant is usually reserved for special circumstances where public knowledge may jeopardize the investigation and/or issuance of the warrant.

Putting a seal on an arrest warrant is NOT a common procedure; and is even more extraordinary when used against an ordinary Minnesota Mom. Sandra has no prior criminal history, and has attended all scheduled court dates (related to ongoing custody issues) – even travelling from out of state to do so. Sandra has also worked at the same job for over 20 years, and maintains a stable lifestyle. She posed absolutely no risk of danger to anyone, and was certainly not a flight risk. 

Further, the police knew exactly where to find Sandra – according to the police report, the Lakeville police had previously issued search warrants for the airline she worked for, and had no problem finding out her address, phone number, bank account information and employment information. Sandra was being monitored before the warrant was issued. While this was happening, Sandra maintained her normal routine, and did not display any signs that she would evade any legal process.

A summons to appear at a court date would have been sufficient, rather than going to these unnecessary and costly, efforts used by Dakota County. Further, criminal charges are NOT evidence of guilt.  A defendant/suspect is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Somebody’s Watching Me… (Free Image: http://www.acclaimimages.com)

Sealed Warrant Goes Public Due to a “Glitch”

Despite the exhaustive efforts of Dakota County to seal the arrest warrant, there was a glitch (or perhaps a leak?) and out of all the warrants entered in the system…somehow only the sealed warrant belonging to Sandra was “accidentally” posted publicly on the Dakota County Sheriff’s website.

And if that was not bad enough (gasp!) the Star Tribune, who had been in contact with Lakeville police for months, was alerted and went public, announcing an arrest warrant had been issued for Sandra.

Michael Brodkorb, source: startribune.com

 

Brandon Stahl, Star Tribune, source: YouTube

Followed by Michael Brodkorb, a former reporter with Star Tribune, posting an update on August 21st on his Twitter feed, mentioning the supposedly sealed arrest warrant: https://twitter.com/mbrodkorb/status/634764171125592064

The Star Tribune then informed Sandra’s attorney, Michelle MacDonald, about the sealed warrant…and gleefully spread the news across multiple social media venues. The seal had been broken on the warrant as the news spread nationwide thanks to the special efforts made by Stahl and Brodkorb at the Star Tribune. Keep in mind one of the common reasons that a warrant is sealed is to prevent news of the warrant from reaching the media, who could compromise the case with disclosure.

By “coincidence” a local news outlet reports on the close relationship between Lt. Jason Polinski of the Lakeville Police Department and the Star Tribune, who was working on the Grazzini-Rucki case, “A Star Tribune story in April provided new information that helped police build a case for an arrest warrant for Grazzini-Rucki, who previously was considered a “person of interest,” in the case, Polinski said. ” Police looking for mother in disappearance of daughters in Minnesota

Even David Rucki himself acknowledged the connection,”..Rucki added he was “very grateful” for the assistance of law enforcement and media attention..” David had alot to be “grateful” for considering Michael Brodkorb of The Star Tribune tipped him off about the sealed warrant. Father of missing Lakeville sisters ‘relieved’ by warrant for ex-wife’s arrest

At that point there is no reason for the warrant to remain sealed. Instead, providing Sandra with a notice to appear in court would have been appropriate. Instead, Dakota County relentlessly pursued Sandra. At great cost to tax payers, Dakota County had the warrant removed from the public website and then re-sealed. Sandra was later apprehended by U.S. Marshalls, in Florida, and transported across the country to be brought back to Minnesota to answer to criminal charges. 

Keep in mind that Sandra works as a flight attendant, and she could have easily arranged her own transportation back to the state – as she had done numerous times in the past to answer to proceedings related to her custody dispute.

Recent Case Presents Compelling Reason for Dismissal

The significance of the sealed warrant being publicly posted, and then making the news outlets, is that information about the sealed warrant was not only improperly released but also improperly served. You can not “re-seal” a sealed warrant that has been this compromised; it serves no purpose. Even more important, every individual is protected by laws designed to uphold personal liberty. These laws are in place to limit the government’s ability to take our freedom or property without due process. 

In the 2011 case of Jones v. Brown County (Civil No. 11-CV-568, SRN/FLN) the District Court found that, “ Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5), improper service of process may be grounds for dismissal. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(5). In this case, none of the defendants have been properly served. “

The Court then dismissed a claim made against Brown County because, “It is clear that process was not properly served in this case. “ And, “With regard to the individual defendants, under Minnesota Law service may be effectuated “by delivering a copy [of the summons and complaint] to the individual personally or by leaving a copy at the individual’s usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 4.03(a). The only attempt at service upon the individual defendants in this case was by mailing a copy of the summons and complaint to the county offices in which these defendants work. These mailings did not constitute service by mail, as the mailings did not include two copies of Form 22, or a substantially similar notice and acknowledgment form, as required by Minnesota law. Minn. R. Civ. P. 4.05. Plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements for service upon an individual. Plaintiffs claims should be dismissed for insufficient service of process…

And because Plaintiffs improperly served the original Complaint, this action was never properly commenced. See R. 3.01. “ Source: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCOURTS-mnd-0_11-cv-00568/pdf/USCOURTS-mnd-0_11-cv-00568-1.pdf

Given that the sealed warrant was improperly served, the Prosecutor’s Office should promptly dismiss all charges. Plz stay tuned to the Justice 4 Grazzini-Rucki Family blog for news and updates!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalimages.net

 

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. “ ~ Mahatma Gandhi


 

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