Dakota County Judge Karen Asphaug, along with County Attorney Jim Backstrom, endorsed a much harsher sentence for Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, a domestic violence survivor who assisted her children from running away from an environment they felt was unsafe, than a sentence (previously) issued to Brett Rogers, a MMA Fighter who brutally beat his wife in front of their two terrified children.
Cruel & Unusual Punishment: Grazzini-Rucki Case
Ironically, the escalation of the Grazzini-Rucki divorce, and the Brett Rogers assault both occurred in June 2011. However, the way these two cases were handled by Judge Asphaug, and Jim Backstrom couldn’t be more different.
In 2011, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki divorced an abusive husband, David Rucki, and sought to rebuild her life, and that of her children. In family court, she entered a legal minefield that would leave her homeless, without children, and financially devastated. Even worse, Judge David Knutson, and the court professionals, refused to listen to abuse allegations raised by Sandra and the children; even as Rucki continued to stalk and terrorize the family. The failures of the court system, Judge Knutson specifically, and the mishandling of abuse allegations created a crisis that resulted in Sandra being in jail today, convicted of felony deprivation of parental rights.
By all counts, the interventions of Judge Knutson, and the family court professionals, had a traumatic and disastrous effect on the Grazzini-Rucki family, especially the children. Judge Knutson dismissed concerns of abuse and pushed for reunification even as David Rucki was violating protective orders, and his children expressed fear of him due to his violent behavior. It was the opinion of court-appointed therapist Dr. Gilbertson that the children needed to be “desensitized” to the “object of their fear, father” and that by forcing a face-to-face visit, and forcing the children to sit in during court hearings would facilitate a better relationship with their father. Instead, the Court’s actions increased the children’s fear, especially when Rucki was not held accountable for his abuse – such as violating a no-contact order with the children, and chasing one of the children (and her friends) down the street.In September 2012, Sandra was forcibly removed from her home, and from her children’s lives – the children begged to live with their mother, their cries went unheard.
In April 2o13, the situation had escalated to a crisis, when Judge Knutson ruled that the children would be placed in the temporary custody of David Rucki’s sister (and by extension, the children would be under his control, as the aunt maintained frequent contact, and followed his direction). The children expressed they did not feel safe with the aunt, and raised allegations that she mistreated them. In April 2013; after the courts failed to protect them from abuse, two of the Rucki girls ran away. In a panic, the girls called Sandra, begging for help. Sandra admits to helping them, stating, “I did what any parent would do… protect them from harm“. The runaway Rucki girls went missing for two years before being found in November 2015, living on a therapeutic horse ranch with a couple who specializes in working with vulnerable, at-risk children. Criminal charges against those involved in their disappearance, including Sandra, followed.
In July 2016, Sandra’s criminal trial was held before Judge Asphaug at the Dakota County Judicial Center. During trial, Sandra raised the affirmative defense, meaning her actions were taken to protect her children from physical or substantial emotional harm. Judge Asphaug suppressed 75% of defense evidence, meaning the jury did not hear a majority of evidence proving abuse, and did not hear from several witnesses, and a domestic violence expert who would have been called. Further, to raise the affirmative defense, Sandra had to prove, “the person reasonably believed the action taken was necessary to protect the child from physical or sexual assault or substantial emotional harm..” Withholding evidence, and limiting what the defense could present, did not allow the Defense to present context in which Sandra acted, and her state of mind or “reasonable belief” could to the jury. Allegations of prosecutorial misconduct have also been raised as contributing to Sandra’s conviction. Critics argue Sandra’s trial was “rigged” and set up to fail.
Subsequently, Sandra was found guilty on six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights, and sentenced in September 2016. With time served, Sandra was expected to serve no more than one year and one day in jail.
However, Prosecutor Kathryn M. Keena wanted to give Sandra an aggravated sentence, meaning harsher than the law allowed. Aggravated sentences are usually reserved for the most severe crimes – drug smuggling, repeat offenders, serial killers etc. Since Sandra’s case did not meet the standards necessary to impose an aggravated sentence, Judge Asphaug manipulated the legal system to stretch out the sentence to involve short jail stays stretching over 6 years. The sentence also includes yearly stints in sentence to serve and 6 years of probation as well as hefty fines. Failure to meet the conditions of probation could result in additional jail time. Sandra filed a motion to execute her sentence, meaning spend all of her time in jail up front, and avoid probation. That motion was denied by Judge Asphaug in October 2016. What is being done to Sandra is clearly is cruel and unusual punishment – the punishment is more severe than the crime merits, and will cause undue hardship that will challenge Sandra’s ability to re-enter society (for example – it is difficult enough for a felon to gain employment, let alone a person with 6 felonies, and who is required to return to jail every year AND if she fails to perform sentence to serve, additional jail time will be issued).
The unusual harshness of Sandra’s punishment, is more clearly seen when comparing this case to another criminal case, involving domestic violence, that was also presided over by Judge Asphaug. This case differs in that it involves a perpetrator, found guilty of a violent crime, who received a plea deal and even after re-offending, avoided the wrath Judge Asphaug has inflicted on Sandra.
Brett Rogers: “Night of Horror”
Compare Judge Asphaug’s harsh treatment of Sandra Grazini-Rucki to the sentence imposed on Brett Rogers for domestic assault, and you will see a man who brutally beat his wife was given a more lenient sentence than a mother who sought to protect her children from abuse.
In November 2011, Brett “Da Grim” Rogers, a heavyweight mixed martial artist, was sentenced to 60 days in jail after brutally beating his wife, T.R., in front of his two daughters. Judge Asphaug described the incident as a “night of horror“. With time served, Rogers would serve no more than 2 weeks in jail.
The incident happened on June 28th, a neighbor called police after witnessing Rogers punch his wife, T.R., as she lay on the ground outside their house. The neighbor noticed blood was streaming down her face. During the attack, T.R. lost consciousness. T.R. sustained multiple injuries including a broken jaw, a tooth was knocked out, a “golf ball size lump” above her eyebrow, among other injuries. Rogers said the assault was just a “misunderstanding“.
The two children reported that they were afraid to go home, and that their father had previously choked them. One of the children attempted to intervene, but was helpless to save her mother. The children spent the night at a neighbor’s home while their mother was rushed to the hospital.
Rogers plead guilty to felony third-degree assault. As part of a plea deal, two felonies of domestic assault by strangulation and stalking were dismissed, as well as a gross misdemeanor charge of endangering a child. Rogers was also ordered to 3 years probation, and to complete a domestic abuse program. Jim Backstrom was instrumental in the deal offered to Rogers.
Rogers violated the conditions of his probation just a few weeks after release by contacting T.R., and by pushing a man at a local restaurant. Several other charges were to follow over the following years… probation violations, violations to a no-contact order, felony domestic assault and DWI. Rogers has struggled to rebuild his life, though he claims he will be a better man.
Both of these cases were presided by Judge Asphaug, and both involve incidents related to domestic violence. Domestic violence has significantly affected both families, and their children in different ways. The resulting criminal charges against is indicative of Judge Asphaug’s personal views of their circumstances (including her knowledge or understanding of domestic violence), and perception of the offender – and suggests her sentencing of Sandra may be motivated by a political agenda, because it is so radically beyond the usual sentence imposed. And so beyond even the sentence given to a domestic abuse offender.
After convicted of a violent assault, even after re-offending, and continued legal troubles, Brett Rogers has served minimal jail time. He continues to fight professionally. And is allowed to have contact with his children. He is moving on with his life.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki has no previous criminal history, and was given extensive jail time and probation (with no possibility of early release) though her crime was not violent in nature, and she poses no harm to anyone. What makes the jail time extensive, and the punishment unusual is that Judge Asphaug has manipulated the legal system to extend the sentence far beyond what the law normally allows. Some speculate that Judge Asphaug, and Dakota County, will continue to find ways to punish Sandra, even find reasons to jail her long after her time has been served.
Brett Rogers, found guilty of felony assault, who is alleged to have abused his own children, and has a lengthy criminal history has been given a lesser sentence, even after re-offending than Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, an abuse victim who fought to protect her children legally. When the court system failed, Sandra was forced to make an agonizing choice that ultimately resulted in complete estrangement from her children, and now a felony conviction resulting in jail time.
How is this justice?
Brett Rogers –