Mankato mother charged with murder in child’s death

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Prosecutors have charged a Mankato woman accused of physically abusing her young son with murder after the boy died.
Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott said Monday that charges against 27-year-old Chelsea Rae Olinger were amended to include second- and third-degree murder and malicious punishment of a child, all felonies.
Olinger initially was charged with felony assault after she brought her unresponsive 16-month-old child to a hospital. The child also had bruises, rib fractures, broken vertebrae and a lacerated liver. Tests indicated the boy had no brain activity.
The Mankato Free Press reports the boy died Feb. 12. A preliminary autopsy report listed the cause of death as “complications of multiple blunt force injuries” and the manner of death as homicide.
Olinger told investigators the toddler fell down a flight of stairs. Officials said she also told investigators she might have hit her child’s head on the side of a crib and that she put her hand over the child’s month in an attempt to get the toddler to stop crying.
Olinger remains jailed with bail set at $1 million. Her public defender did not immediately return a phone call for comment on her behalf.

Minnesota task force offers steps to reduce police shootings

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Law enforcement officers should get better training in de-escalation skills and in dealing with people experiencing mental health crises, a working group on reducing police-involved deadly force encounters recommended Monday.
Minnesota’s two highest-ranking black law enforcement officials — Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington — formed the working group last summer in the wake of several high-profile fatal shootings of black men by police officers, including those of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark. Despite their often conflicting points of view, the members came back with 28 recommendations plus additional steps for achieving them.
Harrington said at a news conference that they believe the measures, “if implemented, will prevent and reduce officer-involved shootings in the state of Minnesota.”
Minnesota has had more than 100 officer-involved shootings over the last five years, Harrington said, adding that many members were surprised to learn that 60% happened outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area, affecting nearly every county in the state. Last year alone, 14 civilians and one officer died in such encounters, while an officer in Waseca was gravely wounded last month.
Ellison said the group also learned that between 30% and 50% of the people killed in encounters with police were having mental health crises.
“We can do better and preserve life if we have a stronger grip on how to handle people who find themselves in a mental health crisis,” Ellison said.
The working group members came from a range of backgrounds, ranging from law enforcement and lawmakers to community activists including Clarence Castile, the uncle of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights in 2016.
Clarence Castile said he was particularly excited about the recommendation that the state prepare educational materials for officers and the public on how to handle police stops involving people who are legally carrying concealed weapons, as his nephew was.
One of the key recommendations was creating an independent, specialized unit within the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate all officer-involved shootings and other uses of force that result in death or severe bodily injury. The group also recommended creating a liaison position in the BCA to work with families of those involved in deadly encounters with police to ensure that they’re treated with dignity and respect, kept informed and referred to any services they might need.
The group also called for training all officers in de-escalation skills and tactics to reduce the need to resort to force, especially when responding to people in mental health crises, and adoption of the “co-responder model,” with pairs selected officers with mental health professionals on police calls.
And the group recommended evaluating the use of body-worn cameras at law enforcement agencies that now use them, reporting the results by 2022, and funding their use statewide if they’re found to be effective.
And there were recommendations to promote the well-being and safety of police. The group called for expanding and promoting increased awareness of existing resources to improve the mental health and wellness of first responders.
Harrington said his agency will take the lead in working to implement the recommendations, some of which will require changes in laws or more money.
“Minnesota is not going only to make itself, this will be a model for many states to follow,” said Ron Davis, a consultant who served as executive director of of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Davis, who was brought in to help guide the working group’s deliberations, sent on to say. “I’m going to take this around to every state that calls me, and even those that don’t.”

Minnesota prosecutor defends Burrell conviction

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota prosecutor said Monday his office has spent weeks reviewing a murder conviction raised by Amy Klobuchar on the presidential debate stage, saying he believes the evidence that sent a black teenager to prison for life was “quite strong.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he would meet soon with attorneys for Myon Burrell, who was 16 when he was arrested in the 2002 shooting that killed an 11-year-old girl, and with representatives of the Innocence Project.
His statement came just before Burrell was scheduled to appear on ABC-TV to discuss a yearlong Associated Press investigationthat found serious flaws in his case, which relied heavily on a single eyewitness, who offered contradictory accounts about the shooter.
The AP also uncovered questionable police tactics, including a detective who was seen on videotape offering a man in custody cash for “hearsay,” and then only paying for Burrell’s name. Reporters also interviewed Burrell’s two co-defendants, both of whom say Burrell was not even at the scene when Tyesha Edwards was shot and killed. One of them — Ike Tyson — has long been saying he was in fact the triggerman.
Klobuchar was county attorney when the case was first prosecuted, and has cited it during her political career as an example of finding justice for victims of violence. Since the AP published its findings, she has said any new information in the case should be reviewed by Freeman’s office.
“The evidence is quite strong which is why he was convicted twice,”Freemansaid in his statement.
Freeman took aim at several of the points raised in the AP’s investigation. He said at trial, Burrell offered two different alibis in the case — alibis the state did not find credible. He also said that Burrell confessed to a cousin about his involvement in Edwards’ death —though there is no recording of that call, which allegedly took place while Burrell was locked in a cell in segregation 23 hours a day. And Freeman also said Burrell told a jailhouse informant — a paranoid schizophrenic who testified he “sometimes hears voices” — that he shot the little girl.
Freeman said shifting statements by Burrell’s “accomplices” were found “not credible” by a judge at Burrell’s second trial.
Though he acknowledged there was no gun, fingerprints, DNA or hard evidence, the prosecutor noted many convictions “do not have those elements.”
Though Klobuchar raised the case during the Houston Democratic debate this fall, Freeman noted that the conviction that landed Burrell in prison for life happened under his watch. He said the case”should not be treated like a political football.”
Burrell, however, told ABC News that he feels the senator “is the source of everything that happened.”

Declawing ban bill introduced

LANSING (AP) — A Michigan legislator has introduced a bill that, if eventually passed and signed, would prohibit the declawing of cats unless it is for a clear medical or therapeutic reason.
The Detroit News reported Friday that House Bill No. 5508 could make Michigan the second state to ban declawing cats, following New York.
State Rep. Nate Shannon, a Sterling Heights Democrat, introduced the proposal on Thursday with the backing of at least 20 other lawmakers. It’s been referred to the Committee on Agriculture. Under the proposed bill, those who break the declawing law could be fined up to $1,000.
Some pet owners declaw their cats in hopes of preventing unwanted scratching inside a home. But the Humane Society of the United States says declawing for a cat is akin to cutting off part of a person’s finger.

Survey suggests trade deal signings buoyed bankers’ hopes

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states suggests they’re optimistic about the economy over the next few months, thanks to the signings of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and the China trade agreement.
The finding was one of several in the latest Rural Mainstreet Survey. The overall index for February declined to 51.6 from 55.9 in January. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 indicates a shrinking economy, organizers say.
“Due to weak farm income, 40.6% of bankers reported that their banks had restructured loans while only 3.1% indicated that their banks had rejected a higher percentage of farmland loans,” said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.
The survey’s confidence index increased to a healthy 58.1 from January’s weak 50.0, the survey report said.
“The signing of the Phase 1 trade agreement with China and the USMCA boosted economic confidence across the region with expectations of higher international agriculture sales,” Goss said.
Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

Ellison: Mille Lacs band still has 61K-acre reservation

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison asserted this week in a legal filing that the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation still exists, a statement that seeks to reverse more than a century of state policy and could have deep implications for people who live around one of Minnesota’s destination fishing areas.
In court papers filed Wednesday, Ellison backed the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s assertion that the band has 61,000 acres across the south shore of Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota.
Gov. Tim Walz supports fellow Democrat Ellison’s move, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. Ellison’s position aligns with a relatively new federal policy that is friendlier to grievances long held by American Indians. His stance marks a 180-degree change from his Democratic predecessors, Attorneys General Lori Swanson and Mike Hatch, while Walz’s endorsement reverses the positions of previous governors of both parties.
The boundaries of the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation and whether it even exists have been contentious issues since the borders were created in an 1855 treaty between Chippewa Indians and the United States. The borders encompass several small towns and three islands in the lake. The band contends that part of the reservation still exists.
Mille Lacs County officials believe the band has only about 4,000 acres of scattered lands held in trust by the federal government. The county maintains that subsequent treaties and acts of Congress diminished and eventually ended the official reservation.
Ellison’s arguments are included in a motion filed in Ramsey County seeking to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Mille Lacs County attorney and sheriff. That case is just about legal fees. But that lawsuit and a related federal case revolve around the boundaries of the Mille Lacs Reservation, if one still exists.
If the reservation exists, and is in fact 61,000 acres, that could mean thousands of non-tribal residents and businesses, including the communities of Isle, Wahkon, Vineland and part of Onamia, will be subject to the authority not of local elected officials, but the federal government, which has jurisdiction over such tribal lands, along with tribal authorities.
Mille Lacs County leaders warn that a host of governmental functions, from business licenses to taxes to environmental regulations to perhaps southern shore access to some of the lake’s prized walleye-fishing waters, could be subject to sweeping changes outside of their or residents’ control.
The Mille Lacs band contends its only interest in legally solidifying the 61,000-acre boundary is to allow tribal and county police to better work together as they combat crime.
After decades of cooperation, in 2016 the Mille Lacs County Board voted to end a law enforcement agreement with the band. After a two-year standoff, the county and the band reached an agreement in 2018 but without clarifying the boundary dispute.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Interior under President Barack Obama undertook a review and concluded that the 61,000-acre reservation remains intact.
Ellison acknowledged the change in position in a statement to the Pioneer Press.
“Some State officers have in the past expressed different positions, but those positions did not take into account recent legal developments,” Ellision said. “The State’s current position is consistent with the federal government’s interpretation.”
The federal litigation involves the band asking a judge to declare that the 61,000-acre reservation still exists. The ruling likely will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1999 ruled in favor of Mille Lacs band tribal members’ treaty rights to fish Mille Lacs Lake.
Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said the governor agrees with Ellison’s legal analysis.
After serving in Congress, both Walz and Ellison were elected to their state offices in 2018, a year that saw Native Americans elected to prominent roles across the country, including in Minnesota, where Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who is a citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, was elected with Walz. Both Walz and Flanagan have said they want a new era of cooperation between the state and Native Americans.
Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh said Thursday that Ellison’s office never consulted with him.
“It is surprising and disappointing that a filing from the Attorney General’s office would disregard more than 100 years of policy and precedent by Minnesota governors and attorneys general,” Walsh said.
Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin praised Ellison’s position.
“The Mille Lacs Band welcomes the State’s acknowledgement that our reservation continues to exist,” Benjamin said Thursday.

Minnesota caucuses lose big magnet, but key business remains

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s precinct caucuses are likely to be less raucous this year — and less crowded than in the past. That’s because the state has shifted its presidential preference process away from caucuses and into a primary election that’s part of Super Tuesday next month.
But Democrats and Republicans say important business will still happen at the neighborhood meetups across the state on Tuesday evening. Participants can help shape platforms and elect delegates and alternates to future conventions that will endorse candidates in the state’s U.S. Senate, congressional and legislative races. Sometimes candidates drop by.
The easiest way for voters to find the locations for their caucuses is via the secretary of state’s website at caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us. The caucuses all start at 7 p.m.
The caucuses offer a chance for residents to become involved in the political process at the grassroots level, party leaders say. Resolutions that get passed up the chain from the caucuses can become part of the parties’ platforms. Even political novices can become delegates or alternates to the next level of conventions.
Caucuses are also important to the parties’ organizing efforts for the 2020 elections. They use them to recruit volunteers and compile lists that they can use for fundraising and get-out-the-vote drives.
Minnesota’s two big parties decided to switch to primaries after the 2016 caucuses, which were marred by long lines, confusion and ballot shortages after the presidential race drew huge crowds. Minnesota’s winners were Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Marco Rubio.
Even with the change, Becky Alery, executive director of the Minnesota GOP, said caucuses are still “a really important part of our party process, where some of our most dedicated volunteers and supporters show up. … Starting at the most basic precinct level is a great place for people to get involved, make their voices heard in their communities.”
And they can be social events, too.
“Since caucuses happen at the local level, they are a tremendous opportunity for Minnesotans to get to know like-minded neighbors, make new friends, and build deeper connections with their communities,” said Ken Martin, state chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
And it won’t just be Republicans and Democrats who caucus on Tuesday night. Two other parties with major-party status in Minnesota will each hold statewide meetings. The Legal Marijuana Now Party will meet at the Brookdale Library in Brooklyn Center, while the Grassroots-Legalize Marijuana Now party will gather at the Ridgedale Library in Minnetonka.

Klobuchar heads to Midwest after Nevada caucuses

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Amy Klobuchar is heading to Middle America in a four-state swing as soon as the Nevada caucuses wrap up.
Klobuchar has a Saturday evening event in Minneapolis to meet with volunteers. She heads to Fargo, North Dakota, on Sunday morning for an appearance at North Dakota State University.
Then it’s on to Arkansas and Oklahoma later in the day.
Minnesota, Arkansas and Oklahoma are all part of Super Tuesday on March 3, when more than a dozen states weigh in on the presidential race. North Dakota holds its caucuses a week later.

Minnesota shuts down recycling plant, site of massive fire

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The state of Minnesota on Friday shut down a metal recycling company where a fire burned for days and sent up plumes of smoke.
The state cited “imminent and substantial danger” to the public, the Star Tribune reported. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an administrative order prohibiting Northern MetalRecyclingfrom accepting any scrap metal at its plant in Becker, site of the fire. The order also prohibits the company from accepting scrap metal at its previous facility in north Minneapolis, where it still has many junked cars stored.
On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz said he is considering placing a30-dayhold on Northern Metal’s recycling permit. Speaking at a forum organized by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Walz said he is looking at ways to hold Northern Metal responsible for pollution caused by this week’s fire at its plant in Becker, in central Minnesota.
Walz told the audience that he does not trust Northern Metal “to do the right thing,” KMSP-TV reported. The Democratic governor said state regulators would make the decision on a 30-day hold.
On Feb. 11, a week before the Becker fire erupted, fire inspectors cited Northern Metal’s former facility in north Minneapolis for a variety of code violations related to its outdoor storage practices, the Star Tribune reported, citing inspection records.
The Becker Police Department reported in a Facebook post that initial air tests have found no hazardous chemicals. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency took additional air samples Thursday; results released Friday found nothing unusual in the types and levels of volatile organic compounds that are released in gases.Air sampling also did not detect metals, the agency said.Additional monitors set up Friday for particulate matter found nothing that raised concern, with levels similar to those in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
In a statement, Northern Metal chief operating officer Scott Helberg said the company “strongly objects to today’s contentions from the MPCA. The company worked closely with the MPCA to obtain all necessary permitting approvals.”
Helberg also pointed out that the facility in Becker has never been operational. “Nevertheless, the facility is otherwise in strict compliance with all applicable requirements,” Helberg said, adding that all the recyclable metal was stored on impervious surfaces and all water from firefighting was contained on-site as part of the plant’s newly constructed storm water containment system.
Republican state Sen. Andrew Mathews of Milaca, whose district includes Becker, said in a statement Friday that Northern Metal “is fully cooperating” with the state fire investigation, the MPCA and local public health officials.
“To suggest an arbitrary 30-day hold on permitting from the state is irresponsible and an overreaction,” Mathews said.
A state fire marshal investigator was at the scene Friday. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Police said Thursday that firefighters had the blaze under control, but the fire flared late Thursday, sending more smoke over Becker. Classes in Becker were canceled Thursday but resumed Friday.
On Friday, police said firefighting efforts have been turned over to a private company hired by Northern Metal. The fire has been reduced to a few smoldering areas and could be extinguished by the end of the weekend, police said.
Residents of the city of 4,500 people have not been asked to evacuate, but should stay away from the immediate area of the fire, police have said. Becker is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis.
Northern Metal moved its shredding operation from Minneapolis to Becker last year after the Pollution Control Agency ordered it shut down because of high levels of air pollution and inaccurately recorded pollution.
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This story has been corrected to correct name of company to Northern Metal instead of Northern Metals andto correct ’30-year hold’ to ’30-day hold.”.

National team activated to join St. Cloud bar fire probe

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — The National Response Team of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been activated to join the investigation into the cause of a fire that destroyed a historic bar in downtown St. Cloud.
The team arrived Friday at the scene of the Press Bar fire to join local and state investigators.
The fire broke out Monday morning, but by afternoon the two-story building had been leveled, resulting in over $1 million in damage.
The St. Cloud Fire Department and the ATF’s St. Paul Division asked for help from the National Response Team, because of the size of the building and the amount of damage.
The ATF developed the National Response Team to bring its expertise to federal, state and local investigators faced with the challenges of significant explosions and arson fires.
The building was more than 100 years old. The Press Bar dated back to 1942.