by Timothy Charles Holmseth
“Who is this little girl” the woman asked, as she gently flipped through the pages of my book, which was sitting on the counter of Fine Print Inc. in Grand Forks.
She was really just kind of talking to herself.
“HaLeigh Cummings,” see said inquisitively, turning some pages, as she read the title to herself, noting aloud with interest the child was from “Florida”.
The secretary at Fine Print, who had many chats with me during the development of the book, overheard her, and kindly sought to offer some insight.
“She’s a little girl from Florida that … she … she … well … she’s their Dru Sjodin,” she said.
I don’t remember the names of either of those two lovely ladies, but I have never forgotten that brief exchange. It reminded me of how important HaLeigh is to so many people, far away, and I felt a sense of humility at that moment that I have never been able to articulate.
Of course…there is not a heart in North Dakota or Northern Minnesota that does not still ache and stir with pain when Dru Sjodin’s name is spoken, or her photograph is seen.
Thankfully…on the justice side of that tragic story, we find our system spoke loud and clear to the value we still put on human life, and on August 30, 2006, Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. was convicted in federal court of murdering Dru Sjodin. On September 22, 2006, he was sentenced to death.
Thank the Lord that justice was served.
But I’d like to invite you to ponder a thought.
Try to imagine the public outrage that would have ensued if the Rodriquez case had been tainted, lost, or thrown out because law enforcement officers were caught engaging in misconduct.
The worst thing the public can do is turn their collective heads when police officers and government officials hijack the system, view themselves as above the law, start acting cute, and manipulate the law for their own selfish purposes.
Growing up in a small town in southern Minnesota, I recall a Faribault County criminal case where a young punk broke into an un-occupied home, stole a car from the garage, and seeking to cover all his tracks, he burned the house to the ground.
All the felony charges were subsequently dropped because the Prosecutor went on vacation and missed specific filing dates. The family stood in the proverbial, and literal, ashes, of their entire life, devastated that the guilty man was allowed to simply walk away.
I remember reading the letter to the editor the homeowner wrote to the newspaper as she talked about keepsakes and baby pictures they would never get back; she called for the Prosecutor’s resignation.
Indeed, public officials all too often develop a grossly exaggerated sense of themselves, and if it goes unchecked, it can literally become a public safety issue.
I’ll tell you why I say that.
In October, 2012 Attorney Michael LaCoursiere, public defender, 9th Minnesota District, casually told me he hoped East Grand Forks City Attorney Ronald Galstad wouldn’t have Detective Sgt. Chris Olson, EGFPD, lie on the witness stand against me.
He was half smiling when he said it.
LaCoursiere talked about Sgt. Olson lying on the witness stand like some people might chat about the weather. The moment he spoke those words to me I knew something was wrong – and I was trapped in a lion’s den. He had planted a seed – knowing it would take root and grow so he could exploit it later.
I wasn’t particularly worried at the time because the State did not have a case against me and I knew it. But I guess they didn’t need one.
On the day of my scheduled jury trial, LaCoursiere used coercion and high pressure techniques to force me into accepting an Alford plea. He told me Ronald Galstad had a couple of cops that would lie on the stand if I insisted on having a jury trial.
We all knew, however, that the true issue between me and the police department was information I had uncovered about Lt. Rod Hajicek. Sgt. Olson and others while working on my book.
When I submitted an Affidavit to the Minnesota Bar Association and FBI about the threat to use perjured testimony from police, the City of East Grand Forks obtained a Search and Seizure Warrant, violently entered my home-office and took my computer. As I recall, Sgt. Olson was the first one through the door.
Nothing illegal was found on my computer, I was subsequently charged with no crime, and the City agreed to give me my property back if I withdrew my formal complaint against them. When they returned the hard-drive to me it was ruined.
Why did they want a conviction so bad?
I’ll tell you.
Police incident reports at the East Grand Forks Police Department show the police received calls about me from out of state from people I had interviewed for my book. Some of the callers, at that very time, were under active investigation by the FBI and had been questioned by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office for their suspected involvement in the kidnapping of HaLeigh Cummings.
Kidnapping suspects were actually calling the East Grand Forks Police up on the phone and starting relationships – some that lasted years.
Of course we always hope an event at the level of Dru Sjodin will never happen again; and God knows we would be in serious trouble if it does. The stories of incompetence and blatant corruption in East Grand Forks and Polk County are many and ongoing.
It’s hard to imagine what a skilled defense attorney could do to police officers that think and act in criminal patterns and lie with great pride.
My outrage expressed for now, I’ll leave you with a small piece of irony that occurred to me today.
Local officials went to an extraordinary amount of effort to gain access to my home-office, so they could seize my hard-drive and ruin it.
Yet, everything I wrote here came from memory, except what came out of an envelope buried in a pile of documents from long ago.
It was something I had scribbled down in pencil on a Burger King napkin in my car in 2010 after someone said something about HaLeigh I thought was important.
“She’s their Dru Sjodin”