After Mille Lacs boy was cuffed, policy flawed 5-4-07

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - In an effort to beef up courthouse security three years ago, two Mille Lacs County judges created a policy requiring that everyone taken into custody by county officers be secured with handcuffs, waist restraints and leg irons.

But experts say the policy is flawed, after an 11-year-old assault victim was restrained and detained overnight for failing to appear in court.

Kristie Lee Davis-Deyhle, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, is shown with her husband George on Monday, May 7, 2007 in Vineland, Minn., where she talked about their 11-year-old son, who missed a court date where he was to be a witness, was then arrested, jailed and hauled to court the next day in shackles and a prison jump suit. The treatment of the boy has ignited racial tensions between the tribe and the surrounding county officials.
(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
“I've never heard of a policy like that,” said Richard Frase, a University of Minnesota law professor. “It's so incredibly overbroad, it's bound to produce problems like this. Anything you do that treats a witness or victim with the identical severity to what you do to a defendant has got to be questionable.”

The boy, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, was picked up recently on a warrant for failing to appear in court. He was not charged with a crime, but the judges' order says the policy applies to all “custodial defendants.”

Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Kolb said the boy “was most certainly in custody.”

Mille Lacs County Judge Steven Ruble, who approved the policy in 2004 along with Judge Michael Jesse, said: “I think anybody can initiate further review of the policy.” Ruble wouldn't comment on the recent incident.

On Thursday, two lawyers from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office traveled to Mille Lacs County to look into the case. Brian Bergson, spokesman for Attorney General Lori Swanson, said the attorneys were interviewing witnesses and would determine whether the state has jurisdiction in the matter.

Rjay Brunkow, an attorney for the tribe, said Thursday that the boy's parents did not want to speak to the media.

The ACLU of Minnesota also jumped into the fray, sending letters to several state officials including Gov. Tim Pawlenty, asking them to intervene and “ensure that no other child should go through what this child was forced to go through.”

The ACLU also sent a letter to Kolb demanding all documents pertaining to the boy's arrest and detention.

Bergson said that if the state attorneys determine they don't have jurisdiction, the information gathered will be turned over to “the proper government agencies.”

Melanie Benjamin, the chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, had a day earlier sent Swanson a letter alleging that the boy had been mistreated.

Benjamin said the boy was held overnight, and went to court the next morning shackled, handcuffed and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. She also suggested he was treated rougher than other prisoners because he's American Indian.

“When we first heard of this, we thought: 'How could this be?”' said Brunkow. “We started calling around to county attorneys ... and, to a person, every county we talked with said, 'Are you kidding me?”'

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said prosecuting cases where victims or witnesses are uncooperative can be difficult.

“Somebody comes in and complains about an assault, the sheriff investigates and the county attorney gets involved and we talk with the victims,” he said. “And if they don't show up for trial, you have to dismiss the case, and that gets real frustrating.”

However, Freeman added, “I don't think the answer is arresting kids and holding kids in a juvenile facility overnight and fitting them in a jumpsuit. I think these things can be handled a little bit better, frankly.”

Ruble, the Mille Lacs County judge, said the policy was implemented after a number of people fled the courthouse in Milaca - an aging facility - while being transported to and from the jail.

In 2004, Ruble said a defendant pushed his attorney and ran from the courthouse into a nearby alley. He was found hiding about a block away.

Ruble said he believes the policy has made a difference.

Cass County Attorney Earl Maus said rural communities often have a harder time with security, partly because courthouses and jails are small, and staff is limited.

“I know there are some problems there,” Maus said. “It's a question of 'Where's the line with the force?' Certainly you don't want to do anything that is excessive to anybody. You want to use what's least restrictive, but still keep people safe.”

Frase, the law professor, said in some cases juveniles are more vulnerable than adults and more likely to be traumatized by being restrained.

“It did seem pretty excessive,” he said of the Mille Lacs case. “ ... But you can see where they are coming from. They just want to say there is no discretion here, no picking and choosing, everybody gets treated the same way.”