In August 2015, a sealed warrant for the arrest of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was “accidentally” posted on the public webpage of the Dakota County Sheriff’s office leading to the warrant being widely published, and shared, in news media outlets. Sensitive information about the sealed warrant was also given to abusive ex-husband, David Rucki, from The Star Tribune. Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie claims the leak was just a “glitch”.
The original warrant was then pulled down from the public website then re-sealed again, as if nothing had ever happened. The original warrant was put under a 2nd seal (re-sealed) and never served to Sandra but instead sent U.S. Marshalls after her, claiming she was a “fugitive”. How can you be a “fugitive” when you were never informed of proceedings, and never served with a warrant?
Could that “glitch” cost Dakota County their case against Sandra? A recent court ruling states that improper service is grounds for dismissal; certainly in this case, there was not only improper service but outright negligence to protect information so sensitive that the judge ordered the warrant to be sealed.
Signed, Sealed, but NOT Delivered
When someone is suspected of a crime, law enforcement obtains a warrant of arrest which is a document signed by a judge authorizing the detention of an individual, or authorizing the search and seizure of an individual’s property.
In the case of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, a nation wide warrant for arrest was submitted by Prosecuting Attorney Kathryn M. Keena before a judge, and put under a seal on August 12, 2015. Sandra was charged with 3 counts of felony deprivation of parental rights. According to Keena a seal was needed “because disclosure could cause defendant to flee, hide, or otherwise prevent execution of the warrant”. The seal was to last until Sandra is arrested, and returned to the state. What evidence did Keena have to substantiate a sealed warrant? To date, no evidence has been presented that would justify such an extraordinary measure.
Was a Sealed Warrant Necessary?
A seal means that the warrant is filed in secret, and its existence will not be made public. The subject of the warrant has no idea that they are wanted on charges until they are apprehended. A sealed warrant is usually reserved for special circumstances where public knowledge may jeopardize the investigation and/or issuance of the warrant.
Putting a seal on an arrest warrant is NOT a common procedure; and is even more extraordinary when used against an ordinary Minnesota Mom. Sandra has no prior criminal history, and has attended all scheduled court dates (related to ongoing custody issues, she has NO prior criminal history) – even travelling from out of state to do so. Sandra has also worked at the same job for 28 years, and maintains a stable lifestyle. She posed absolutely no risk of danger to anyone, and was certainly not a flight risk.
Further, the police knew exactly where to find Sandra – according to the police report, the Lakeville police had previously issued search warrants for the airline she worked for, and had no problem finding out her address, phone number, and employment information. Sandra was being monitored before the warrant was issued. While this was happening, Sandra maintained her normal routine, and did not display any signs that she would evade any legal process.
A summons to appear at a court date would have been sufficient, rather than going to these unnecessary and costly, efforts used by Dakota County.
Sealed Warrant Goes Public Due to a “Glitch”
Despite the exhaustive efforts of Dakota County to seal the arrest warrant, there was a glitch (or perhaps a leak?) and out of all the warrants entered in the system…somehow only the sealed warrant belonging to Sandra was “accidentally” posted publicly on the Dakota County Sheriff website. Dakota County continued to issue a fugitive warrant on a woman who did not even know a warrant had been issue. Sandra had never been served, nor had her attorney been served (in fact the attorney was only notified of the existence of a warrant after a call from the Star Tribune!)
And if that was not bad enough (gasp!) the Star Tribune, who had been in contact with Lakeville police for months, was alerted and went public, announcing an arrest warrant had been issued for Sandra.
Brandon Stahl of the Star Tribune broke news of the arrest warrant on August 18th: Mother sought in case of two missing Lakeville girls
Follwed by Michael Brodkorb, also of the Star Tribune, posting an update on August 21st on his Twitter feed, mentioning the arrest supposedly sealed warrant: https://twitter.com/mbrodkorb/status/634764171125592064
The Star Tribune then informed Sandra’s attorney, Michelle MacDonald, about the sealed warrant…and gleefully spread the news across multiple social media venues. The seal had been broken on the warrant as the news spread nationwide thanks to the special efforts made by Stahl and Brodkorb at the Star Tribune. Keep in mind one of the common reasons that a warrant is sealed is to prevent news of the warrant from reaching the media, who could compromise the case with disclosure.
By “coincidence” a local news outlet reports on the close relationship between Lt. Jason Polinski of the Lakeville Police Department and the Star Tribune,“A Star Tribune story in April provided new information that helped police build a case for an arrest warrant for Grazzini-Rucki, who previously was considered a “person of interest,” in the case, Polinski said. ” Police looking for mother in disappearance of daughters in Minnesota
Even David Rucki himself acknowledged the connection,”..Rucki added he was “very grateful” for the assistance of law enforcement and media attention..” David had alot to be “grateful” for considering Michael Brodkorb of The Star Tribune tipped him off about the sealed warrant. Father of missing Lakeville sisters ‘relieved’ by warrant for ex-wife’s arrest/
At that point there is no reason for the warrant to remain sealed, instead providing Sandra with a notice to appear in court would have been appropriate. Instead, Dakota County relentlessly pursued Sandra. At great cost to tax payers, Dakota County had the warrant removed from the public website and then re-sealed. Sandra was apprehended by U.S. Marshalls, in Florida, and she endured a brutal journey being transported across the country, chained up in the back of a van for over 8 days. Keep in mind that Sandra works as a flight attendant, and she could have easily arranged her own transportation back to Minnesota – as she had done numerous times in the past to answer to proceedings related to her custody dispute.
Recent Case Presents Compelling Reason for Dismissal
The common law and the Constitution afford the public a qualified right of access to judicial records and proceedings.
The significance of the sealed warrant being publicly posted, and then making the news outlets, is that information about the sealed warrant was not only improperly released but also improperly served. Even more important, every individual is protected by laws designed to uphold personal liberty. These laws are in place to limit the government’s ability to take our freedom or property without due process.
In the 2011 case of Jones v. Brown County (Civil No. 11-CV-568, SRN/FLN) the District Court found that, “ Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5), improper service of process may be grounds for dismissal. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(5). In this case, none of the defendants have been properly served. “
The Court then dismissed a claim made against Brown County because, “It is clear that process was not properly served in this case. “ And, “With regard to the individual defendants, under Minnesota Law service may be effectuated “by delivering a copy [of the summons and complaint] to the individual personally or by leaving a copy at the individual’s usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 4.03(a). The only attempt at service upon the individual defendants in this case was by mailing a copy of the summons and complaint to the county offices in which these defendants work. These mailings did not constitute service by mail, as the mailings did not include two copies of Form 22, or a substantially similar notice and acknowledgment form, as required by Minnesota law. Minn. R. Civ. P. 4.05. Plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements for service upon an individual. Plaintiffs claims should be dismissed for insufficient service of process…
“And because Plaintiffs improperly served the original Complaint, this action was never properly commenced. See R. 3.01. “ Source: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCOURTS-mnd-0_11-cv-00568/pdf/USCOURTS-mnd-0_11-cv-00568-1.pdf
Given that the sealed warrant was improperly served, the Prosecutor’s Office should promptly dismiss all charges. Plz stay tuned to Red Herring Alert for news and updates!
“An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. “ ~ Mahatma Gandhi