NEW ULM - The New Ulm Police Department officer involved in the double fatality crash on July 8, 2011 was suspended without pay in April 2012 because of the accident, and he had other issues in the department, according to his disciplinary file.
Officer Mathew Rasmussen was suspended without pay for April 5 to April 7 in 2012, which amounted to losing pay for three work days and holiday pay for Good Friday. He was also ordered to participate in a Performance Improvement Plan for one year, which is aimed at correcting his past department issues and his actions that resulted in the crash. It was unclear Thursday if the Plan is still ongoing.
NUPD Chief Myron Wieland declined to comment Thursday on Rasmussen's disciplinary report, citing the need to review the file before making any statements. However, he said he would be willing to answer questions today.
Mathew Rasmussen is shown in a file photo from The Journal in December 2010.
The 2011 crash that killed Myra Meyer, 82, and her son Brian Wichmann, 60, occurred while Rasmussen was pursuing a speeder on North Garden Street. He accelerated beyond 70 mph in a 30 mph zone without activating his emergency lights or his audible siren. He was unable to brake fast enough to avoid hitting Meyer's vehicle as it turned across his lane while entering a driveway. Wichmann died at the scene. Meyer died 10 days later in a hospital.
The Redwood County Attorney who was given the case to review convened a grand jury over the accident, but the jury declined to issue an indictment on any charges. Meyer's family subsequently filed a lawsuit, which the City of New Ulm settled in May for $570,000.
However, initial filings by the City's attorney tried to argue the accident was entirely Meyer's fault and Wieland denied the settlement represented an admission of guilt on the officer's part. The lawyer for Meyer's family has said the settlement is the City admitting fault.
Problems with "critical decision making" and "aggressive driving conduct"
The report on Rasmussen's discipline for the fatal crash said he was suspended for his excessive speed in a residential area over "a petty misdemeanor violator" and failure to use his lights or siren despite training. The report concluded he "demonstrated poor judgment" in his pursuit of a traffic stop and that the collision was the "result of those actions." However, the report does not directly state that Rasmussen was responsible for Meyer's and Wichmann's deaths.
The Performance Improvement Plan that Rasmussen was ordered to undergo for one year details prior issues. The plan states Rasmussen's "critical decision making was below an acceptable standard" in the fatal crash and also during a Dec. 31, 2011 arrest of a DWI suspect. The report cites Rasmussen for "deflecting," or shoving, the face of the suspect during the suspect's attempt to spit on him instead of "utilizing proper personal protection gear."
The plan also cites Rasmussen for reports of "aggressive driving conduct" and prioritizing traffic enforcement at a level out of sync with the department's priorities of police-community relations. It states that Rasmussen's views on parking violation enforcement "is contrary to the department's."
The report also notes Rasmussen had problems complying with orders from superior officers. He received an oral reprimand for failing to switch from his own jacket to a departmental rain jacket on a sergeant's orders. In another incident, he failed several times to further investigate a case on the order of the New Ulm City Attorney and his sergeant.
The plan orders Rasmussen to address his "behavioral and performance deficiencies." It requires him to keep a daily shift log all his activities detailed down to each 15-minute increments, which must be turned in to a supervisor each day. When no sergeant is on duty, he is required to video and audio record his patrolling activities. Finally, he is required to meet weekly with Police Commander Dave Borchert and Wieland to discuss his progress.
Additionally, he is prohibited from performing stationary R.A.D.A.R. enforcement during the course of his improvement plan.
Outside of the accident and the jacket incident, Rasmussen has no other disciplinary action in his file.
Wieland indicated he would provide further details on Rasmussen's discipline and the reasoning behind it today.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)