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No. 4 Story of the Year: MH Police Chief Investigated for Ethics Violations; No Charges Filed

An investigation did not turn up probable cause or a likelihood of conviction, according to Carver County assistant attorney.

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As the end of the year approaches, Patch recaps the biggest stories of 2012—both in terms of pageviews and impact on the Mendota Heights community. The original article posted on Feb. 10, 2012. The followup posted on April 30, 2012.

Other Story of the Year posts:
• No. 5 Story of the Year: MH Man Charged with Stabbing Former Friend's Grandfather
• No. 6 Story of the Year: MH Man with Alleged White Supremacist Connections Indicted on Drug Charges
• No. 7 Story of the Year: Tornado Touches Down in Mendota Heights
No. 8 Story of the Year: BC2 Artisan Bakery Rises Again in Mendota Heights
No. 9 Story of the Year: Mendota Heights Deer Hunter Finds 8-Foot Marijuana Plants in Valley Park
• No. 10 Story of the Year: Dodge Nature Center Says Goodbye to Bald Eagle

ORIGINAL ARTICLE (FEB. 10): Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener is being investigated by the Carver County Sheriff’s office after Mendota Heights police officers accused him of ethical and criminal violations.

A letter of complaint by Mendota Heights police officers claims Aschenbrener ignored or declined to investigate incidents of police misconduct involving the theft of a picnic table, a cell phone, and a Dakota County Drug Task Force bag, according to Fox 9 News.

City Administrator Justin Miller confirmed that he received the letter last Thursday, at which time he submitted the complaint to Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson for investigation.

Aschenbrener is still operating in his capacity as chief, according to Miller. The city administrator said he consulted with the city’s legal counsel and determined that a leave “was not needed at this time, though that is something that can always change.”

The letter of complaint had been submitted to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), who then forwarded the letter to Miller. Miller could not say how many officers filed the complaint.

Paul Monteen of POST said that they receive about 150 complaint letters a year, and operate as an impartial recipient.

 Sandra Krebsbach, the mayor of Mendota Heights, told Patch that the investigation will not affect public safety in the city.

Aschenbrener has been chief of police in Mendota Heights since 2003. He started his career with the police department in Forest Lake, where he achieved a rank of acting chief. He also worked as an instructor for Alexandria Technical College.  He holds a masters degree in Police Leadership and Education from the University of St. Thomas and holds a management certificate from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, according to his bio.

 

FOLLOWUP ARTICLE (APRIL 30): There will be no charges filed against Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener or Sgt. Eric Petersen regarding allegations of misconduct made last winter.

The findings of an investigation completed by the Carver County Sheriff's Office were released Monday morning. 

"It is tragic that the taxpayers time and money was wasted over what amounted to little more than false and unsubstantiated allegations," said attorney Ryan Kaess, who represented both Aschenbrener and Petersen.

Neither of his clients gave statements to investigators. 

The investigation began after a letter of complaint representing some Mendota Heights police officers was sent from the Law Enforcement Labor Services office to City Administrator Justin Miller in February. The names of the officers behind the letter were never made public.

The letter claimed that Aschenbrener ignored or declined to investigate three incidents of police misconduct involving the theft of a picnic table, a cell phone, and a Dakota County Drug Task Force bag. Petersen was also accused of being involved in the incidents.

Miller handed off the letter to Carver County for investigation.

Aschenbrener, who has been with the department since 2003, has continued as head of the department in the meantime.

The investigation found that, "The Mendota Heights Police Department has a demonstrable level of dissonance and conflict. Moreover, this discord has led to different individuals having different agendas, which in turn, caused considerable insinuations, gossip and recriminations," according to the prosecutorial review completed by Carver County Asst. Attorney Peter Ivy. "The law classifies such information as inadmissible hearsay."

In the case of the picnic table taken from the vacant Lilydale Tennis Club during the 2008 Republican National Convention, the table was returned to the property, possibly at the direction of Aschenbrener. Ivy states that the statute of limitations has passed regardless of whether a crime was committed.

The Dakota County Drug Task Force bag contained evidence-handling materials and information/forms for an investigation. It disappeared after a change of personnel in September of 2010. It was found in the trunk of a seized vehicle that had been sold at auction, and was returned, then passed through the possession of two officers, one being Petersen. Ivy attributed the mishandling to "inadvertent oversight" and said there was no legal basis for charges. 

The cell phone seized after a DWI stop in 2011 was never assigned a case number, and eventually ordered by Petersen to be destroyed, according to the investigation. The phone was not ultimately destroyed.

"Standard and routine evidentiary protocols for logging and tracking evidence were not employed with regard to this cell phone," according to the report, but no legal basis for charges was found. 

Mendota Heights Mayor Sandra Krebsbach released this statement:

“We take allegations of misconduct and unlawful behavior of our employees very seriously, as evidenced by the thorough investigation by an outside entity. We are pleased that charges are not going to be filed, as Carver County did not find any evidence of criminal behavior. We appreciate and fully support the hard work of our Police Chief, Sergeant Petersen, and the entire Mendota Heights Police Department. We know they do their jobs every day with the interests of our residents and businesses foremost in their minds. We look forward to putting this investigation behind us and moving forward, continuing to focus on best serving the Mendota Heights community.”

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