Monday, December 2, 2019

What happened to the over $3 million raised by Tara Houska & the Freshet Collective Non-Profit for the Legal Defense of the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters?

In 2016, thousands of protesters convened in North Dakota in the vicinity of Bismarck and Mandan to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in that area.  I do not write this post as a piece of advocacy for or against this project.  Rather, I write about this from the perspective of a private citizen of the state of Minnesota with ties to North Dakota (I am a graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Law '03) who has done a lot of criminal defense work.

I came across the podcast "A Mexican Crossing Lines - Scandalous Accusations" that discusses vast sums of money that was raised by the non-profit "The Freshet Collective" and raises questions about what happened to all of this money.  Specifically, on this podcast, an activist named Duke Gomez-Schempp claimed publicly that this organization was failing to pay its legal bills and was instead "getting everyone to plead guilty and keeping the money."  Freshet was registered as a Minnesota Non-Profit Corporation on August 30, 2016.  This Non-Profit appears to be closely affiliated with Attorney Tara Houska, who has ties to Honor the Earth, a Minnesota Non-Profit, and is a "Native American Adviser" to  US Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders.

As a lawyer and a citizen, I expect money raised for a specific purpose to be used for that purpose.  In this case, the pitch to people to donate was for legal defense of Dakota Pipeline protesters.  I firmly believe that people accused of crimes - whatever the crimes may be - should be provided competent legal counsel.  I did some research into this matter via publicly available sources and the laws that relate to non-profits in Minnesota.  As a result of my research, I determined that there appears to be significant merit to the concerns raised by Mr. Gomez-Schempp.  It appears that millions of dollars that was raised to pay for lawyers and assist with the defense of protesters charged with crimes was not spent for that purpose.  The office that is responsible for regulation of non-profits in Minnesota is the Minnesota Attorney General.  Last week, I wrote a letter to Keith Ellison summarizing my concerns.

In this letter, I ask Attorney General Ellison to investigate the Freshet Collective's use of the money it raised.  This money should have been spent on lawyers for the accused.  This money could have given some North Dakota lawyers some good money for fees and some solid representation in their criminal cases.  I sent this letter last week to Attorney General Ellison via certified mail - return receipt requested.  I have received the return receipt that confirms that the Minnesota Attorney General's Office has received this letter.  The people from whom this money was raised, those to whom it was intended to benefit, responsible government authorities, the bench and bar of North Dakota, the public, and the media should be concerned about what happened to this money.  As of the writing of this post I have not heard anything from Attorney General Ellison, but that is not surprising in that last week was the Thanksgiving Holiday.  I will update this blog if I hear anything further.  My email address is at the top of this blog.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Minnesota Vikings & U.S. Bank Stadium: Why hasn't Michele Kelm-Helgen been charged with Misconduct of a Public Official?

I am the only attorney that I know of that has successfully defended a Misconduct of a Public Official criminal case brought pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 609.43.  There are probably others, but I do not know them or of them.  The case I handled went all the way through jury trial and ended with an acquittal on all counts.

The case I defended was that of Edward Hansen in Dakota County, a West St. Paul City Councilman who was charged under this statute.  Edward Hansen is of no relation to me, we just have the same last name.  In that case, the complaint contained allegations that he had flown a Confederate Flag in a window in his home and that he had disliked a city project near his home.  Here is the complaint and the amended complaint in that case.  Motions to dismiss, memorandums opposing the motions and the order denying the motions and other correspondence are located here if you are interested in taking a look at them.  After this trial, several of the jurors wished to speak with me.  We had a jury of six with one alternate.  They spoke with me as a group in the parking lot of the court house in Hastings.  They said they had spoken to the Judge.  I asked them what she had said to them and they said they had asked her why this case even went to trial, and she had indicated that whether or not it went to trial was "up to the prosecutor."  I indicated to them that what the judge had told them was incorrect, as we had filed and argued motions to dismiss and they were denied.  The jurors did not understand what conduct alleged had constituted a crime - the same argument I had been making throughout the case.  They felt like a lot of their time had been wasted listening to this case, and several of them asked for my business card.

When I read about the matter of Michele Kelm-Helgen, Chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission, a government job, getting season tickets for herself ahead of even former Vikings team owner Wheelock Whitney, I wondered if she would ever be charged under this statute.

 According to the Star Tribune of March 4, 2017:

"Michele Kelm-Helgen, as chair of the government agency overseeing U.S. Bank Stadium, jumped to the head of the line to buy front-row season tickets for Minnesota Vikings games.
She also helped friends and family members buy the rights to nearby seats, before longtime Vikings season-ticket holders could claim them, records show."

After the extensive and arduous pre-trial and trial of Edward Hansen and reading the Star Tribune article, I thought the case against Kelm-Helgen was pretty clear cut.  Here is the text of the Minnesota Statute:


A public officer or employee who does any of the following, for which no other sentence is specifically provided by law, may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both:
(1) intentionally fails or refuses to perform a known mandatory, nondiscretionary, ministerial duty of the office or employment within the time or in the manner required by law; or
(2) in the capacity of such officer or employee, does an act knowing it is in excess of lawful authority or knowing it is forbidden by law to be done in that capacity; or
(3) under pretense or color of official authority intentionally and unlawfully injures another in the other's person, property, or rights; or
(4) in the capacity of such officer or employee, makes a return, certificate, official report, or other like document having knowledge it is false in any material respect."

I added emphasis to (3) of this statute because it appears that this is the part of the law that is most on point with these facts.  When she got season tickets for herself (and it looks like she may have assisted some of her friends and family) that were better than the tickets that members of the public (in this case Vikings' season ticket holders) received, then Kelm-Helgen injured the property of another, specifically, their place in line for tickets.  This is not a complicated case to present to a jury and I cannot think of any legal reason why it should not be charged.  The undisputed fact is that but for her public government position, Michele Kelm-Helgen would have never gotten these prime season tickets.

It appears to me that the reason that this has not been charged may well be a matter of politics.  The next step for the public would be to call the Minneapolis Police and make a report about this conduct.  The Minneapolis City Attorneys' Office would be responsible for the decision whether or not to bring charges.  If there was some sort of conflict, they could refer the matter to a prosecutor in another jurisdiction for review of the charges.  At a minimum, these steps should be taken in the interest of integrity of Minnesota government.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Summary Judgment Entered by US District Court Judge John R. Tunheim in Minnesota Drug Recognition Evaluator Case

A few hours ago, a decision by U.S. District Court Judge John R. Tunheim issued an order granting summary judgment this morning, April 1, 2016 in the Minnesota Drug Recognition Evaluator case that has been pending in US District Court since 2013.  I am one of the attorneys for the Plaintiffs in this case.  This case involves law enforcement officers who picked up Occupy Protestors and vulnerable people, drove them to the airport, and gave them drugs.  After giving them drugs, the officers ran clinical tests on the Plaintiffs to learn about the effects of the drugs that they had given to them.

This matter was referred late last year by US District Court Judge Tunheim to US Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel for a Report & Recommendation.  After briefing and oral argument, Magistrate Judge Noel recommended that only Plaintiff Wia Day remain in the case.  The Plaintiffs objected to the other Plaintiffs not remaining in the case and the Defendant remaining in the case as to Wia Day objected to her remaining in the case.  Judge Tunheim adopted all of the arguments of the Defendants and ruled that they were entitled to immunity.  In other words, picking people up and giving them Schedule 1 drugs and running tests on them and then releasing them on the streets of a major metropolitan area falls perfectly within protected immune conduct of the police.  The police were also assisted by the systematic filing of false police reports with fake names and fake birthdays of their test subjects, thus destroying any paper trail of their activities.  This is spoliation of evidence.

Some of the the relevant documents relating to this decision are as follows:

Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Franklin Noel
Plaintiffs' Objection to Report and Recommendation
City and County Defendants' Objection to Report and Recommendation
Dakota County's Response to Plaintiffs' Objection to Report and Recommendation
City and County Defendants' Response to Plaintiffs' Objection to Report and Recommendation
Plaintiffs' Omnibus Response to Defendants' Objections to Report and Recommendation
Order of US District Judge John R. Tunheim Granting Summary Judgment for Defendants

No decision has been made at this time as to whether this matter will be appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, but it is certainly something that will be considered.

Nathan Hansen

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Motion for Summary Judgment in Minnesota Drug Recognition Evaluator Case set for October 23, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. at Minneapolis Federal Courthouse

For the past several years, I have been representing people who were picked up by various law enforcement officials in the state of Minnesota in downtown Minneapolis, driven to the Minneapolis airport and given Schedule A narcotics.  After law enforcement administered these drugs to their test subjects, law enforcement ran completely unscientific tests on these people, purportedly to train them to detect if other people are under the influence.  As discussed in previous posts in this blog, the police obtained the drugs to give to these people by stealing them from people in a park in Dakota County.

No one has apologized for this conduct at any level of law enforcement; to the contrary, law enforcement has steadfastly maintained that this conduct is perfectly legitimate and that they are immune from suit.  Officers trained with this preposterous methodology remain on the streets and use their "training" to help convict people of driving crimes every day in this state.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to charge any of these suspects with a crime, even with filing false police reports, which each and every one of them did as part of these experiments.

The remaining Defendants have brought another round of motions to have the case summarily resolved in their favor, meaning that there would not be a trial.  These motions are set for oral argument before the Honorable United States Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel on October 23, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. at the Minneapolis Federal Courthouse, 300 South Fourth Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota.  My co-counsel, the distinguished Alan Milstein (follow him on twitter here), will be flying in from Philadelphia to make the oral argument.  I will appear as local counsel with Mr. Milstein.

The Defendants' motions and supporting documents are as follows:

"City & County" Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment

Dakota County Motion for Summary Judgment

Olmsted County Motion for Summary Judgment

The response of the Plaintiffs is located here.  I suggest reading the response of the Plaintiffs first, as it is really a nicely written brief.

This motion hearing is open to the public, and I encourage the media and anyone else interested to attend this hearing.  This hearing will decide whether or not law enforcement will finally face a trial for this egregious conduct.

My e-mail address is at the top of my blog if anyone wants to contact me about this.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

SHOCK AUDIO: Mary Jo Copeland of "Mary's Place" kicks out family for calling the police after their 8 year old girl is punched in the face 4 times by 11 year old boy.

I have been provided an audio clip that shocked me. In this audio clip, which was recorded very recently, Mary Jo Copeland of “Mary's Place,” a homeless shelter in Minneapolis, kicks a woman and her young children out of the shelter for calling the police as a result of an assault on her 8 year old daughter.

In this audio clip, Mary Jo Copeland clearly tells a tenant at her “place” that she and her small children are being kicked out because she called the police as a result of an assault by an 11 year old boy on her 8 year old girl. In the recording, Ms. Copeland states that the boy who perpetrated the assault was 9 years old. According to my information, the boy was 11 years old. In the audio recording, Ms. Copeland states that “there is a lot of racism” at Mary's Place. It is not clear to me why she said this except that according to what I have been told the boy is Somali and the girl is white. The 8 year old girl was punched in the face four times by the 11 year old boy. This was not “pushing and shoving” as Ms. Copeland states. I do not know whether Ms. Copeland actually examined the injuries on the girl, but she did indicate that she spoke to the boy, who she said “felt bad” about his assault.  In my almost 20 years in the criminal justice system in Minnesota, it is my experience that perpetrators of crimes often "feel bad" about what they have done, usually because they got caught.  Here is the recording, I have two links for two different formats here:

A picture of injuries as a result of the assault by the assailant is below, I am posting this picture with the approval of the child's mother.  I am not identifying her or the child by name at this time.

Before I heard this audio and saw this picture I had a very positive view of Mary Jo Copeland, who is scheduled to have a private audience with Pope Francis for his upcoming visit to the United States in the next few days.  I am not Catholic, but I send my children to Catholic School and respect Catholicism. I state this because my post about this has nothing to do with any bias against Catholicism.  One of the things I really admire about Catholicism is its teachings about being humane to people and helping people in need.  I take these concepts seriously.

After calling the police, my sources have informed me that the Minneapolis Police stated the assailant and his family should be removed from the shelter.  Instead, Mary Jo Copeland protected the assailant and kicked out the girl who had been assaulted and her entire family, consisting of other minor children.

The child who was assaulted was a tenant of "Mary's Place." Minnesota law is perfectly clear that retaliation against tenants for calling the police is explicitly prohibited.  Ms. Copeland explicitly states in this recording that this is the reason that she is kicking out this family, a direct violation of Minnesota law as far as I can tell.  Here is the law of Minnesota on this issue:

Subdivision 1.Definitions. In this section, "domestic abuse" has the meaning given in section 518B.01, subdivision 2.
Subd. 2.Emergency calls permitted. (a) A landlord may not:
(1) bar or limit a residential tenant's right to call for police or emergency assistance in response to domestic abuse or any other conduct; or
(2) impose a penalty on a residential tenant for calling for police or emergency assistance in response to domestic abuse or any other conduct.
(b) A residential tenant may not waive and a landlord may not require the residential tenant to waive the residential tenant's right to call for police or emergency assistance.
Subd. 3.Local preemption. This section preempts any inconsistent local ordinance or rule including, without limitation, any ordinance or rule that:
(1) requires an eviction after a specified number of calls by a residential tenant for police or emergency assistance in response to domestic abuse or any other conduct; or
(2) provides that calls by a residential tenant for police or emergency assistance in response to domestic abuse or any other conduct may be used to penalize or charge a fee to a landlord.
This subdivision shall not otherwise preempt any local ordinance or rule that penalizes a landlord for, or requires a landlord to abate, conduct on the premises that constitutes a nuisance or other disorderly conduct as defined by local ordinance or rule.
Subd. 4.Residential tenant responsibility. This section shall not be construed to condone or permit any breach of a lease or of law by a residential tenant including, but not limited to, disturbing the peace and quiet of other tenants, damage to property, and disorderly conduct.
Subd. 5.Residential tenant remedies. A residential tenant may bring a civil action for a violation of this section and recover from the landlord $250 or actual damages, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney's fees.
Subd. 6.Attorney general authority. The attorney general has authority under section 8.31 to investigate and prosecute violations of this section."

My investigation and gathering of information of this continues, however, the recording of Ms. Copeland speaks for itself, and I am not impressed with her conduct.

I have received some other information about "Mary's Place" that I have not been able to examine entirely, but there are apparently other conditions at this facility that may be running afoul of the law.  However, at this time, I do not have enough information about these other allegations to write about them.

Based upon the information I have right now, I personally do not believe that "Mary's Place" is a safe place for families and children.  The punishment for seeking assistance from law enforcement, prohibited by Minnesota Law, leads me to this opinion.  If an 8 year old girl is not safe from being assaulted and her assailant is protected in this way, then this is most certainly a dangerous place for children and other vulnerable people.

Please feel free to email me about this story.  If you are a media outlet, I would be happy to put you in touch with this family, and I would be happy to speak with you.

Nathan Hansen

Friday, July 31, 2015

The substance of HF 652 becomes law tomorrow. Bankruptcy debtors finally get a break on fees for removing discharged judgments.

On August 1, 2015, the substance of HF 652 introduced by Rep. Mary Franson becomes law in Minnesota.

I have blogged about this issue before when the bill was first introduced, and I explained the issue:

"The issue is debtors having to pay exorbitant filing fees to state court administrators to remove state court money judgments entered on debts that were already discharged in bankruptcy.  While Minnesota Statute 548.181 Subd. 1 states that this removal of judgments should only cost $5.00 payable to the court administrator, the Minnesota State Court Administrator has taken the position that debtors with "default judgments" against them need to pay the full filing fee for an answer to a lawsuit in addition to the $5.00.  In my home County of Ramsey, this extra fee is $327.00, for a total of $332.00 per judgment to be removed.  If a debtor had several judgments, they could easily be forced to pay $1,000 to $2,000 or more to remove their judgments for debts that have already been discharged by the bankruptcy court."

This bill enjoyed broad-based bi-partisan support from the very beginning.  In the Senate, Sen. John Marty supported the bill and Sen. Warren Limmer introduced the Senate companion bill.  I appeared at a hearing in the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee and before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the bill, along with some of my fellow Minnesota NACBA (National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys) members.  While the state court administrator had opposed not charging this extra filing fee, even he came around to support the bill.

The new language that was needed to fix this issue reads as follows:

"The defendant or other adverse or intervening party, or any one or more of several defendants or other adverse or intervening parties appearing separately from the others, shall pay, when the first paper is filed for that party in said action, a fee of $310, except in marriage dissolution actions the fee is $ text begin This subdivision does not apply to the filing of an Application for Discharge of Judgment. Section 548.181 applies to an Application for Discharge of Judgment"

I give special thanks to Rep. Mary Franson for introducing this common-sense bill that will benefit so many Minnesotans.  It will mean a lot to a lot of people who can spend their money on their families rather than on more bureaucracy.  Myself and my colleagues have clients who have been waiting for this law to take effect to get their judgments removed so they can fully take advantage of the fresh start that United States Bankruptcy law affords to honest debtors.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Minnesota Drug Recognition Evaluation Program Defendant Fillmore County Deputy Sheriff Michael Hadland Testifies that if a K9 Officer (a cop dog) Ingested Illicit Drugs, He would take it to a Veterinarian

A few days ago I posted the depositions of the Defendants in the Minnesota Drug Recognition Evaluator Program lawsuit.  In this program, the Plaintiffs were picked up in downtown Minneapolis, taken to a building near the Minneapolis - St. Paul Airport and given powerful marijuana that other police had stolen from kids in a park in Dakota County.

One of the important aspects of this case is the human aspect.  I have wondered where we are at in society where people could be treated this way and the perpetrators of the treatment could be so vigorously defended by the government.  Also, I have wondered if the perpetrators ever thought for a bit about their conduct.  If people are homeless, vulnerable, or have other issues, is it really right or fair to give them drugs and run tests on them?  If people are under the influence of illicit drugs, shouldn't they receive some care or medical attention?  Have the people in the government given any thought about how they would feel if they had a family member or loved one who was homeless, had mental health, or other medical issues and were picked up and given street drugs by the police and had tests run on them?  Given what I have seen so far, no remorse has been shown by anyone in the government for any of this conduct.  Actually, these people have asserted they are immune from any of these claims for this conduct.

Since 9/11, there has been a large increase in the number of law enforcement staff.  I am not citing any specific numbers, but I have worked in the criminal justice system in one way or another for over 15 years, so I am relying on my own observation.  This increase in officials has brought on what I can only describe as a near worship of K9 officers (cop dogs).  For example, Minnesota has a special law regarding the killing of a "public safety dog".  I have also noticed that many K9 officers win a lot of awards, such as this one in Roseville, Minnesota:

I love dogs and own one I bring to my office nearly every day, and I do not advocate for their mistreatment.  However, all of this seems pretty excessive.  As a taxpayer, I have some concern about all of these public resources being applied to awards for dogs.

It seems to me that the law enforcement defendants in the Drug Recognition Evaluator lawsuit likely cared much more about their dogs than they did my clients, the test subjects of the DRE training program.  My hunch about the feelings of law enforcement that K9 officers are more important and valuable than real people, for example, the test subjects in the DRE training program, was correct, as evidenced by the following exchange on pages 36 to 37 of the sworn deposition of Deputy Michael Hadland of the Fillmore County Sheriff's Department, who is also presently a Minnesota Drug Recognition Evaluator:

Q (by me): "Do you know, what's a canine officer?"

A (Hadland): "An officer that has a patrol dog."

Q (by me): "So if a patrol dog -- if you learned that a patrol dog had
 ingested illicit drugs, what procedures would you

A (Hadland): "I couldn't answer that. I'm not a veterinarian. I was
never trained in anything to deal with animals like that."

Q (by me): "Would you bring the dog to a veterinarian?"

A (Hadland): "Oh, you bet."

It is not disputed that there were no medical personnel present for the DRE training experiments.  Also, no medical attention was sought for the test subjects, who were given marijuana by the police.  However, if a K9 officer ingests marijuana, by all means, seek medical attention immediately.