NEW ULM - Police Chief Myron Wieland said Monday the timing and extent of the disciplinary action taken against the NUPD officer involved in the July 2011 double fatality crash were based on an effort to be fair and objective while staying in line with the City's discipline policies.
Officer Mathew Rasmussen was involved in a two-fatality crash on July 8, 2011 while pursuing a traffic violation on North Garden Street at 70 mph in a 30-mph zone without activating his lights or siren. He collided with a vehicle driven by Myra Meyer, 82, as it turned across his lane. Meyer's son Brian Wichmann, 60, was in the passenger seat and died at the scene. Meyer died on July 18 at a hospital.
A grand jury, which was convened in late January 2012, did not indict Rasmussen on any criminal charges. Grand jury proceedings are not made public.
Meyer's survivors brought a civil suit that the City of New Ulm settled for $570,000 in May.
Rasmussen was not disciplined until April 2012. He was suspended for three days without pay and required to submit daily reports on his activities on the job. He was also required to work under an improvement plan for one year, which he has now completed without incident.
Wieland said the disciplinary action was delayed to prevent conflict with any potential criminal proceedings. He said the goal was to be objective and fair as possible in determining consequences.
Wieland said Rasmussen's incident with shoving the face of a Driving While Intoxicated suspect on Dec. 31, 2011 was not addressed separately because it was included in the April 2012 disciplinary action. In that incident, the suspect attempted to spit on Rasmussen and remove a spit guard. Wieland said Rasmussen acted improperly and should have kept working on keeping the spit guard on the suspect.
Wieland said the biggest issues were with Rasmussen intentionally prioritizing traffic enforcement over calls for service and over department priorities of good police-community relations.
Because Rasmussen completed his improvement plan to satisfaction, no further discipline is planned, Wieland said.
on city system
New Ulm City Manager Brian Gramentz and Wieland said the final decision on what punishment Rasmussen received for the crash was based on trying to keep within the requirements of the City's progressive discipline system for employees.
The system calls for corrective actions by emphasizing lesser discipline like oral or written reprimands before advancing to demotion or termination. The discipline can be customized or increased based on the severity of the incident or if it's a repeat offense.
Gramentz said Rasmussen's history, police policy and the grand jury's decision to not bring any criminal charges were among the factors in determining Rasmussen's discipline. He said the scope of Rasmussen's improvement plan was not unusual because it had been previously used for other employees.
If city officials had chosen a response like termination, it would have been challenging to find justification for it because the grand jury failed to indict Rasmussen and there were only minimal infractions in his file, Gramentz said.
According to Gramentz, the decision to suspend without pay was based on the conclusion that it was proportionally appropriate compared to the offense, and because it emphasized uniform fairness of discipline response for all city departments.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)