Judge Karen Asphaug: 6 Years for Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, 60 Days for MMA Fighter Who Brutally Beat Wife

Dakota Co. Courthouse

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.

County Attorney James Backstrom

County Attorney James Backstrom

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.

Public Domain: https://pixabay.com

Public Domain: https://pixabay.com

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.

Brett Rogers Booking Photo

Brett Rogers Booking Photo – 2011

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.

asphaug-1

Judge Karen Asphaug

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?

Sources:

Brett Rogers –

Brett Rogers Hit With Restraining Order After Menacing St Paul Neighbor

MMA fighter Brett Rogers gets 60 days in jail for beating wife at Apple Valley home

MMA fighter sentenced to 60 days after beating wife in Apple Valley home

MMA fighter Brett Rogers again arrested for violating parole

 

Sandra Grazzini-Rucki-

Minnesota: 609.26 DEPRIVING ANOTHER OF CUSTODIAL OR PARENTAL RIGHTS.

Pressured, Threatened S Rucki Bravely Speaks Out Against “Horrendous” Family Court

Sandra Grazzini-Rucki Sentenced in Domestic Case

Shocking Interview from Grazzini-Rucki Case – Brodkorb Goes Rogue, Dronen Wants to Make Rucki Girls Wards of the State, More…

I honestly believe Judge Knutson is psychotic, that I have no doubt. I’ve sat in his courtroom, the guy is absolutely crazy. I believe there needs to be a lot of changes in family court as well….

If David Rucki is as crazy as these Girls say he is, then I don’t know what he is capable of...” ~ Lori Musolf, prosecution witness

Lawless Lakeville, Dakota County, Minn:  Lion News has released a shocking audio of the Lakeville police interview between Detective Dronen and Lori Musolf, witness for the Prosecution in the Grazzini-Rucki case. This interview covers a variety of subjects including abuse allegations, family court failures, and interference in the investigation of the runaway Rucki girls by Michael Brodkorb.

During the interview Detective Dronen admits that confidential information about the open investigation into the disappearance of the Rucki girls had been obtained by Brodkorb. Dronen was concerned because Brodkorb was contacting witnesses without the knowledge or consent of the Lakeville police, who were handling the investigation. Lakeville’s investigation into the missing Rucki girls became contaminated as Brodkorb contacted witnesses before the police could secure the information and then leaked sensitive details in his articles, which were widely distributed. 

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Additional testimony from Doug Dahlen reveals that the Star Tribune reporters, Brandon Stahl and Michael Brodkorb, knew ahead of time that police would raid the ranch to take the Girls. Dahlen states that reporters from the Star Tribune were calling the Grant County Courthouse a day ahead of time, and were asking when a warrant would be served.  This leak of information, and the inappropriate involvement of the Star Tribune has created an unsafe environment for the Rucki girls, whose safety and well-being came second to the media sensation their “recovery” would generate.

Doug and Gina Dahlen cared for the runaway Rucki sisters, who refused to return to father David Rucki because he abused them. Source, ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/minnesota-sisters-missing-years-lived-plain-sight-time/story?id=38190862

Doug and Gina Dahlen cared for the runaway Rucki sisters, who refused to return to father David Rucki because he abused them. Source, ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/minnesota-sisters-missing-years-lived-plain-sight-time/story?id=38190862

Ironically, Brodkorb blasted all the adults who “did nothing” while the Rucki girls were missing – and now he qualifies as one of those adults, seeing that he had knowledge of where the Girls were staying for at least 24 hours and did nothing to notify local police or intervene. This happening while Brodkorb admits father, David Rucki, was an emotional wreck over the disappearance of his daughters. So Brodkorb also lied to Rucki and did not disclose to him that he knew where the Girls were, and let him suffer. All of this so Brodkorb could break the the story that would make his comeback after an adulterous affair, and a drinking problem destroyed his political career and nearly ended his life.

Michael Brodkorb, source: startribune.com

Michael Brodkorb, source: startribune.com

Also in the interview, Musolf discloses that Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was afraid of ex-husband David Rucki, and specifically stated “she acted like she was terrified of this man” and “she thought he would kill her if he had the chance. Musolf comments that Sandra used burner phones because she was afraid Rucki would track her down (a tracking device was placed in the wheel well of a friend’s vehicle. Police traced that device back to Rucki’s house). The behaviors Musolf describe in Sandra are common in women who have suffered abuse. In the criminal trial, it was portrayed that Sandra used burner phones to avoid arrest for the disappearance of her daughters. Evidence suggests otherwise, yet Prosecuting Attorney Kathryn M. Keena  promotes a lie. This is prosecutorial misconduct.

Musolf candidly expressed fear of Rucki and stated she “did not trust David Rucki” and was concerned that he would harm her because she assisted his daughters in running away, and was a friend of Sandra. This is coming from a prosecution witness who testified against Sandra, yet is also building her case. Sandra plead the affirmative defense in charges that she hid her daughters from Rucki, meaning she took action to protect her children from imminent harm or abuse. Sandra was found guilty of felony deprivation of parental rights; critics argue she could not prove abuse happened yet evidence that abuse did happen continues to mount even after Sandra’s conviction.

David Rucki

David Rucki

In a bizarre twist. Musolf tells Detective Dronen that she believes that the Rucki girls have “alot of psychological” and should not be placed with either parent when they are found. What is so unbelievable is that Musolf is a self-proclaimed victim advocate. Musolf’s attitude and actions could pose a risk of harm to an abuse victim or other vulnerable person because she shows no understanding about abuse, and its effects on children. Also troubling is that Musolf is basically stating that Sandra, the victim, has said or done something that is comparable to the horrific abuse Rucki inflicted on his family. NO victim of abuse could ever do anything to justify the abuse inflicted on them. If a so-called “advocate” does not understand that, what is she really advocating for? Detective Dronen agrees with Musolf, and says he thinks the Rucki girls should become wards of the state to get the help they need. 

Wards of the state? The “help” the county offered has done nothing but bring pain and upheaval to the Grazzini-Rucki family. How much more damage will Dakota County inflict on Sandra and her children? .

Help raise awareness, and fight for a worthy cause – please comment, like, repost and share.

Public Domain: http://chainimage.com/

Public Domain: http://chainimage.com/

 

Note: Musolf is the only person who has not been criminally charged for her role in assisting the runaway Rucki girls. Musolf remained in contact with the Rucki girls in the days after they ran away and arranged their interview with Fox 9. During the Fox 9 interview, both Girls disclosed allegations of abuse committed by their father and expressed fear of him. Musolf was listed as a witness for the Prosecution in the Sandra Grazzini-Rucki criminal trial but did not testify in court.

Special thanks to Lion News for posting this video 🙂

David Rucki “Paper Divorce” Scam

Dakota County, Minn, August 2016: Trucking contractor, David Rucki’s false statements and refusal to provide information about his finances in legal proceedings suggest an ongoing pattern of  fraud and financial abuse.

crackedrucki

David Rucki (Fox 9)

False statements include: Rucki lied during the criminal trial of ex-wife Sandra Grazzini-Rucki when making claims that he was duped into signing a divorce settlement in 2011, claiming that he had no knowledge of what was happening. In truth, Rucki signed over a dozen documents, in front of numerous witnesses, and willingly entered into the original divorce settlement.

Rucki lied when stating that Sandra masterminded a “paper divorce” scam that stripped him of everything he owned. What did Rucki lose? He retained a multi-million dollar company and its assets, retained numerous vehicles and property and eventually won sole custody of all five children. The truth is that Sandra was forcibly separated from her children, left homeless and destitute, and stripped of her portion of the family trust (a non-marital asset) as a result of an unjust family court order. The entire proceeds of Sandra’s portion of the trust were turned over to Rucki. Rucki is also the beneficiary of his own, separate family trust; which has remained intact.

Assistant Dakota County Attorney, Kathryn Keena

Assistant Dakota County Attorney, Kathryn Keena

During the criminal trial, Rucki’s lies about the financial aspects of the divorce were repeated by Prosecuting Attorney, Kathryn M. Keena. Keena had possession of the Grazzini-Rucki family court file, and either ignored or suppressed evidence to endorse Rucki’s sob story. Rucki’s lies about the “paper divorce” were used by Keena to discredit Sandra during the criminal trial. Keena portrayed Sandra as a vindictive ex-wife who would do anything to destroy poor Rucki, including financially wipe him out. Rucki is now claiming he suffered extreme emotional distress, and that Sandra should be given the harshest penalty possible. Keena attempted to impose an aggravated sentence against Sandra but was unsuccessful because the case does not meet the legal standard for aggravating circumstances. Keena Drops Aggravated Sentence Against Sandra Grazzini-Rucki/

Claims of Rucki’s victimization are not supported by fact. Court documents, and testimony from Rucki himself, reveal a much different story that what he has recently portrayed to the jury, and to the public about the “paper divorce”. Unmasked, Rucki’s claims are that of an abuser projecting his own heinous deeds onto a victim. David Rucki is a man who is willing to destroy his own family, and put his children through the pain of divorce, in order to benefit financially from a scam he alone concocted. Rucki calls this scam the “paper divorce”.

Rucki’s Sob Story: Fact or Fiction?

Prevailing themes in the Grazzini-Rucki divorce and custody dispute, and its aftermath, involve allegations of domestic violence, and financial fraud. What is lost in the court, and following media controversy is that abuse has impacted the Grazzini-Rucki family at every level, even financially.

David Rucki’s divorce sob story, and alleged financial ruin, was prominently featured in an article published by Laura Adelmann, reporter with the Sun This Week at the end of July 2016: Revealing testimony highlights Grazzini-Rucki trial  Adelmann offered “revealing testimony” from Sandra’s criminal trial, including testimony from Rucki who claimed he was victimized in divorce proceedings.

Testifying in the criminal trial, Rucki accuses Sandra of pushing for an “on paper only” divorce. However, in family court, Rucki admits the “on paper only” divorce was his idea. Rucki stated during a deposition on August 8, 2011 that a “paper divorce” was needed “to get the business going” and he “didn’t think it would be the end of his marriage (abuse involves the exploitation of the victim). Findings from Judge Knutson (Re-Opening of the Judgement and Decree) also state that Sandra did not know about the “on paper” divorce and there was “no meeting of the minds”. In other words, Rucki conned Sandra during divorce proceedings.

Rucki lied during the criminal trial when testifying about the “paper only divorce” and assigned blame to Sandra. Rucki’s comments are significant because these false statements were used to paint Sandra as a vindictive ex-wife, which contributed to her being charged with 6 felonies. Prosecuting Attorney Keena had the Grazzini-Rucki family court file available to her, and referred to it during trial. Instead of presenting facts, Keena chose to present a lie in order to build her case and secure a win.

The Paper Divorce Scam

spam clip art

The “Paper Divorce” began with a mutually agreed upon divorce settlement and resulted in Rucki successfully contesting the divorce, claiming he did not read or see the documents and was tricked into signing by Sandra. At the same time as he claiming to be a victim, Rucki admits divorce had financial advantages for him, that it would benefit his business.

According to court documents, “Respondent (Rucki) alleged that the parties agreed to a ‘paper divorce’, which would allow Petitioner (Sandra) to access some funds from a trust while parties continued living as husband and wife.” Sandra’s portion of the family trust is a non-marital asset, Rucki is not entitled to it – there is not any stipulation in the trust documents that would allow Rucki to access funds as he described. Rucki not only felt entitled to the trust, but ruthlessly pursued it.

Is it plausible that David had no idea what was going on with the divorce, as he claims? Laura Adelmann reports: “Rucki also testified that he arrived home one day in 2011 to discover he was divorced, and Grazzini-Rucki called police who removed him from their Lakeville home. I never went to a court proceeding or saw anything,’ David Rucki said. ‘I couldn’t figure it out.’ Adelmann also reports: “David Rucki testified he returned later that night and took photos of the divorce decree that awarded sole custody of their children to Grazzini-Rucki and severed his rights to the house, property and everything they owned.”  Rucki, a successful businessman and trucking contractor, has signed countless contracts and other legal documents throughout his career, and now is unable to understand his own divorce settlement? 

Source: Movato.com – David Rucki retained ownership of this home after the original divorce settlement. He has claimed the divorce left him with nothing – yet retained ownership of a business, and other assets.

A paper trail of court documents, and other evidence, indicate that Rucki was aware, and actively participating in the divorce proceedings that he now claims he knew nothing about. Rucki met with Sandra to discuss the terms of the divorce, he signed multiple documents and agreed to settlement on April 19, 2011. Rucki also signed a waiver of counsel and declined his right to legal representation. Dissolution was granted on May 12, 2011, Judge Wermager approved of the settlement.

Further, Rucki admits in court proceedings that he wanted the divorce to provide additional revenue for his business: “Respondent (Rucki) testified that Petitioner and Respondent had discussed getting a divorce ‘in paper only’ for financial purposes…” 

While Rucki’s story has changed numerous times about the “paper divorce”, Sandra’s has remained the same, “Petitioner (Sandra) testified that she did not know what Respondent was talking about when he referred to an ‘in paper only’ divorce.”(Findings of Fact, Order Dated 9/21/2011, Judge Knutson). Adelmann reports the same, “In court, Grazzini-Rucki denied she suggested getting a divorce on paper so she could access the trust funds.

The only person who benefited from the “paper divorce” is Rucki. When it was no longer beneficial to be associated with this scam, he shifted the blame onto the victim, Sandra.

Adelmann reports: “The order also required David Rucki to pay $3,673 per month in child support and $10,000 per month in spousal maintenance, according to court documents.It left me with zero,’ Rucki said. He said Grazzini-Rucki had earlier proposed they divorce ‘on paper only’  so she could access $1.5 million from a family trust.” Question – how does Rucki go from not knowing anything about the divorce, to reciting specific details that indicate he is aware of the terms of settlement? Once again, Rucki cannot keep his story straight!

Also notice that Rucki’s focus during his testimony about the “paper divorce”is on himself, and completely ignores the impact this would have on the children. In another example, taken from the August 8, 2011 deposition, Rucki says the fair way to handle the property division after the divorce is to “sell it all”. When asked where the children would live (if the house were sold), Rucki replies, “That is something we will have to figure out when the courts figure it out.” Rucki is totally unconcerned that his actions could cause the children to become homeless, and yet he portrays himself as the victim.

Rucki bankrolled his business on Sandra’s misfortune. Rucki’s own words, recorded in a transcript from August 8, 2011  “In order for me to get working again and to get a credit line back, right, was to get rid of the existing credit line that was there two hundred some – I don’t remember what the exact number is – hundred dollars, I don’t know what… She (Sandra) told me she can get the money, and I kept asking where; she never told me, and that she would pay off the credit line. Now that allows me to work and go after re-establishing getting a new credit line okay?

The kicker to this story was, she didn’t tell me that she was going to take the house (Ireland Place) that we used as collateral against the loan; so on May 12 that whole thing unraveled for me. Now she pays off, she is my godsend and paying off this terrible loan, and all of a sudden, she pulls the carpet from under me and takes the house; now I have nothing to back the loan, okay? That’s one of the problems I have with the bank right now, I have no collateralization.”. Rucki states later in the same transcript that Rucki Trucking “is almost defunct”.  Adelmann reports, He also stated Grazzini-Rucki told him the trust has a provision that if she or other siblings were divorced and struggling financially, they could access some of its money and get some financial relief.” There is no provision in the trust documents that states what Rucki claims. Rucki was scrambling to establish another credit line, and preyed upon Sandra to do it. The same house, Ireland Place, is also connected to allegations of mortgage fraud.

Judge David L Knutson

Judge David L Knutson

Also concerning, is the response of the court. In the Re-Opening of the Judgement and Decree Judge Knutson found that: “Even if Respondent (Rucki) did have the opportunity to review the Judgement and Decree, Respondent (Rucki) testified that he thought parties were agreeing to a ‘paper divorce’. The mismatch between the parties’ intentions provides sufficient evidence of mistake to vacate the Judgement and Decree on these grounds alone. clearly, there was no meeting of the minds with respect to the Stipulated Judgement and Decree.” In his own words, and in front of Judge Knutson, Rucki admits he devised the “paper divorce” scam and used the courts to swindle Sandra out of her portion of the family trust. Rucki’s “intention” clearly involved fraud, and manipulaton. Judge Knutson ignores that a criminal act is taking place right under his nose, and then extends preferential treatment towards Rucki. The result has been disastrous for Sandra, the children, and now even the public is at risk. The term “the Rucki Divorce” is now being used to describe the legal precedent this case has created. 

Aftermath

Rucki is expected to make a victim impact statement at Sandra’s sentencing on September 21st – his words will weigh heavily on the sentence imposed against Sandra. Prosecuting Attorney Keena has already attempted to give Sandra an aggravated sentence, imposing a harsh penalty because, she claims, Rucki has suffered so much. Will society be safer with Sandra in prison? Or does the true danger exist in a court system that is willing to put an abuse victim, who sought to protect her children, in jail in order to protect a dangerous abuser?

TearsDakotaCounty

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

wantedposter2a

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.

Brandon Stahl of the Star Tribune broke news of the arrest warrant on August 18th: Mother sought in case of two missing Lakeville girls

Brandon Stahl of the Star Tribune

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.

Michael Brodkorb~ terminated reporter, Star Tribune

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