NEW ULM - The family of the two people killed in last summer's crash involving a New Ulm police officer will file a civil suit against the officer and the City of New Ulm.
The accident occurred on July 8, 2011, when New Ulm Patrol Officer Mathew Rasmussen collided with a vehicle driven by Myra Meyers. Her son, Brian Wichmann, was a passenger. Meyers and Wichmann died as a result of the accident.
Schwebel, Goetz and Sieben attorney James Schwebel is representing the victims' family. He said he can provide only limited information on the lawsuit until he reviews the Minnesota State Patrol report on the accident.
A Brown County grand jury returned a "no-bill," or no indictments, decision for any potential criminal charges related to the Minnesota State Patrol's investigation of the matter. Redwood County Attorney Steven Collins, who acted as special prosecutor on the case, said the grand jury reviewed all potential felonies or misdemeanors that could have applied to the case and found no probable cause for any of them.
Grand juries, which only determine if there is evidence to bring about charges, are legally sworn to secrecy. Their proceedings cannot be disclosed to the public.
Potential Case Focus
Schwebel said that considering what he knows about the accident, Rasmussen's flashing police lights not being on may be a focus for the case.
The State Patrol report states that, prior to the accident, Rasmussen was following a vehicle suspected of speeding. Rasmussen had several cars between him and the suspect. The report indicated that Rasmussen turned on his flashing lights to move the other cars out of the way, but once he passed the other cars, witnesses reported the squad car's flashing lights were off.
In his interview with the investigator, Rasmussen stated he didn't remember turning off the lights and he didn't know why they wouldn't be on.
Schwebel claims that once the flashing lights were off, Rasmussen was subject to traffic laws like a regular citizen.
New Ulm Police Chief Myron Wieland also said he believes the special status is lost when the lights are turned off. But, he said he needed to research it further.
Minnesota State Statute 169.03, subdivision 5 says that no emergency vehicle driver shall assume any special privileges, except when responding to an emergency call or when in immediate pursuit of actual or suspected violator of the law.
Minnesota State Statute 169.17 states that speed limits do not apply to emergency vehicles responding to an emergency call. Law enforcement vehicles are required to have an audible signal siren or display at least one lighted red light. The statute states that emergency vehicles are not relieved of driving with due regard for the safety of others on the street nor are the drivers protected from reckless disregard for the safety of others.
The report estimates Rasmussen was traveling 72 mph when he applied the brakes and that he was traveling 60 mph when he hit the Meyers car.
Further criminal action is not expected against Rasmussen because the Brown County grand jury covered all possible or applicable criminal charges.
The New Ulm Police Department may still take disciplinary actions against Rasmussen if it wishes. Wieland said no decision has been made on whether any action will be taken. He said he is waiting to receive and review the State Patrol report.
Grand jury decision
Following the Brown County grand jury's "no-bill" decision, many New Ulm residents have expressed displeasure over the decision both online and in public. Common sentiments among those vocalizing their anger has been frustration with legally required secrecy of the grand jury, which doesn't allow the jury to provide an explanation for its decision, and claims that the police officer received unequal treatment.
Other voices have argued that the police officer was not at fault and that Meyers cut out in front of him.
The most dramatic display occurred Saturday when a resident dissatisfied with the grand jury's decision posted a sign along Broadway Street reading "72 mph = NUPD, 2 DOA."
Mike Kalz, who made the sign and placed it near the busy street, said he felt it was a most effective way to express his frustration. He said he felt it was more appropriate for people to view in their cars than in a letter to the editor.
"If it was you or I, there would have been charges of some kind. If it was a civilian, something more would have been done," said Kalz.
He said that he personally felt many laws were broken in the accident and that he felt the police were getting special treatment.
Kalz said he was not concerned whether Rasmussen or a New Ulm Police officer saw the sign. He said he felt it only stated what was in the report. He also said he wasn't concerned if family of the two victims saw the sign.
"If it was me, I'd take it as a sign of support," said Kalz.
The sign was removed by the end of the weekend.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)