Office accepts #039;responsibility#039;

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Depending upon whom one believes, either the Austin Police Department or the Mower County Attorney "bungled" a recent criminal case.

The case involved Dean Aarsvold, who was accused of operating a methamphetamine lab in southeast Austin in October 2000.

Aarsvold was originally charged with multiple counts, including first degree controlled substance crimes.

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A co-defendant Brian Henderson entered a guilty plea to his crimes and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Aarsvold entered a guilty plea to one count of aiding and abetting a second degree controlled substance crime, according to court records.

Then, he changed his mind and asked for a jury trial in Mower County Third Judicial District Court.

Now, things get murky.

Mower County Attorney Patrick A. Oman told District Judge Donald E. Rysavy in court two weeks ago, the evidence collected against Aarsvold had been destroyed.

Thus, Oman said there could be no trial on the original, most serious charges. Instead, he would accept a guilty plea to lesser charges

Aarsvold's defense attorney said his client had a lesser role in the methamphetamine lab than co-defendant Henderson.

Both the defense attorney and the defendant said he (Aarsvold) has been rehabilitated since he was caught manufacturing drugs two years ago

The judge agreed.

The most serious first-degree charges were dropped and Aarsvold escaped a minimum four-year sentence, according to state sentencing guidelines, when he was convicted of the lesser third degree charges.

He received 150 days on electronic home monitoring and 10 years probation, according to court records.

The Austin Police Department maintains the chain of evidence from the crime scene to the evidence locker at the Austin-Mower County Law Enforcement Center was never broken. Also, the evidence in the Aarsvold case was stored properly and ready for use at trial, according to Police Chief Paul Philipp.

"I believe there was ample evidence to continue with the case," the police chief said.

However, Oman said he relied on a detective's words "that the evidence had been thrown in a barrel."

"When somebody tells you, something has been tossed in a barrel, what do you think that means?" Oman said.

The barrel in this instance is a container for items considering hazardous materials, according to Austin police.

The police chief said photos, lab reports by the Minnesota bureau of Criminal Apprehension and other evidence, as well as the hazardous materials collected from the meth lab, remained intact and ready for use at trial.

No matter what version of this latest example of apparent bungling one believes, the perception it creates is unmistakable: Something is wrong in the criminal justrice system and it needs fixing.

Witness the incriminating report by a state citizen's aide.

A 31-page report by the Office of the Crime Victims Ombudsman details the complaints of crime victims, who believe they were improperly treated by the local prosecutor, as well as the frustrations of public safety officials. A story on the report was detailed in Monday's Austin Daily Herald.

Oman responds

Concerning the allegations made in the OCVO report, Oman said,

"I accept full responsibility for everything that occurs in my office, whether it be positive or negative, and that it has never been my intention to make crime

victims feel that their concerns were unheeded, regardless of the decisions, that I felt had to be made regarding a case."

"Since the time of the report

from the Office of the Crime Victims Ombudsman, and at its recommendation, the Mower County Attorney’s Office has instituted guidelines for charging

and plea negotiations and have provided forms to Sheriff Simonson and Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp in December of 2001 to get law enforcement officer

input for cases in which they may show an interest.

Greater efforts have been made to maintain victim contact," he said.

Also, the Mower County Attorney noted, "As has been done for several years, I have again requested that the Mower County Board of Commissioners staff our

office with a full-time Victim/Witness Coordinator with the specialized training and experience to deal with crime victim concerns and issues."

"While many crime victims throughout the past years have been satisfied with the outcome of their cases, I still want all crime victims to see the County

Attorney’s Office as a place where their concerns are heard and seriously considered," he concluded.

Assistant prosecuting attorney Jonathon Olson did not join the Mower County Attorney's staff of prosecutors until long after the OCVO investigation was completed.

"The conclusions reached do not reflect work that I undertook as an assistant Mower County Attorney," he said.

"I am proud of the work that I have done for the victims of Mower County and continue in that work," Olson said. "The recommendations of the ombudsman are well-taken."

"We must work to better secure the rights of victims with additional staff"

"I have been working in attempts to secure additional personnel," Olson said. "This continues to be a problem and I will continue to work to bring the needed staff into the office. Until that happens,

we must work smarter to keep communications open between victims and the office." Olson concluded.

Assistant Mower County Attorney Patrick W. Flanagan joined the Mower County Attorney's prosecutorial ranks after the OCVO report was issued.

Flanagan said, "People want to see us, the lawyers and attorneys representing them in serious matters, and not office staff. That's one thing that caught my attention in the report."

Flanagan said, "They want to make sure the lawyers are aware of everything going on with their case and they want to hear that from their lawyer."

Flanagan added, he strives to build good relations with all clients and to make sure "I'm available when they need me."

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at