Protests, Wetterling put Minnesota in headlines

Published 9:58 am Thursday, December 31, 2015

A protester knelt in front of others on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis on Nov. 16, 2015, refusing to leave after police declared the gathering illegal. Judy Griesedieck/For MPR News

A protester knelt in front of others on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis on Nov. 16, 2015, refusing to leave after police declared the gathering illegal. Judy Griesedieck/For MPR News

MINNEAPOLIS — Protests against police treatment of African-Americans, a sudden twist in the unsolved kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling, a dentist condemned for killing a famed African lion, and a deadly new form of bird flu were just some of the stories that put Minnesota in the headlines in 2015.

Here’s a look back at the some of the state’s top stories this year:

Protests against police

The nationwide debate over killings by police erupted in Minnesota in November. Protesters led by the Black Lives Matter movement laid siege to a north Minneapolis police station after Jamar Clark was fatally shot in what police said was a struggle, though some witnesses said Clark was handcuffed at the time. Protesters camped outside the 4th Precinct for more than two weeks before police cleared the encampment, citing safety issues, including a shooting that wounded five protesters. State and federal investigations are ongoing into Clark’s death, and four men are charged in the attack on the protesters.

Jacob Wetterling

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The mystery over the 1989 kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling took a turn in October, when federal authorities announced the arrest of a “person of interest” in the case on unrelated child pornography charges. Danny James Heinrich, 52, of Annadale, has denied involvement in the disappearance of Jacob, who was 11 when he was kidnapped near his home in St. Joseph. Authorities haven’t called Heinrich a suspect, but said they found the images that led to the child porn charges while investigating Jacob’s kidnapping.

Cecil the lion

Bloomington dentist Walter Palmer became vilified worldwide in July, after he shot a lion named Cecil during a bow hunt in Zimbabwe. The lion was well-known to tourists and researchers for his distinctive black mane. Zimbabwean authorities said Cecil was lured out of a national park with an animal carcass. They charged Palmer’s guide but not Palmer, who said he thought the hunt was legal and was stunned to find out his party had killed a treasured animal.

Sex offenders

A federal judge declared Minnesota’s program for treating sex offenders unconstitutional in June, noting that only a handful of people have ever been provisionally released but no one fully discharged. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank ordered changes in October aimed at determining which of the more than 700 offenders confined in the program should be put on a pathway for release. His order is on hold while the state appeals.

Clerical sexual abuse

Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned in June after prosecutors filed criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for failing to protect children from a pedophile priest. The archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy six months earlier because of numerous lawsuits filed by people alleging sexual abuse by priests. The Diocese of Duluth also filed for bankruptcy, in December, after a jury found it responsible for $4.8 million in one abuse case.

Countering violent extremism

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger formally launched a pilot program in March aimed at shutting off recruiting pipelines that have sent fighters from the U.S. to Somalia and Syria. Luger joined leaders from Minnesota’s Somali community at a White House summit on countering violent extremism in February. In April, his office charged six Minnesota men of Somali descent with terrorism-related counts, accusing them of plotting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group. Others have also been charged.

Chickens were under quarantine on a farm in eastern Swift County on May 6, 2015.  Mark Zdechlik/MPR News

Chickens were under quarantine on a farm in eastern Swift County on May 6, 2015.
Mark Zdechlik/MPR News

Bird flu

Animal health officials confirmed the arrival of a deadly new form of bird flu in Minnesota in March. By the time the outbreak subsided in June, 108 farms in the country’s top turkey-producing state had been infected. More than 9 million turkeys and egg-laying chickens in Minnesota either died from the virus or had to be destroyed to stop it from spreading. The State Fair canceled its poultry exhibitions. Nationwide, more than 48 million chickens and turkeys were lost.

Minnesota politics

The Minnesota Capitol closed in June for renovations, so lawmakers met elsewhere for a special session to pass the final pieces of the state’s budget and avert a government shutdown. By November, Gov. Mark Dayton was trying to drum up support for another special session, this time to help the Iron Range, where taconite operations have laid off more than 1,500 workers. A new state law allowed medical marijuana to be sold in Minnesota starting in July, but prices were so high and rules so restrictive that some patients returned to the black market. Republican U.S. Rep John Kline announced in September that he wouldn’t seek re-election in the 2nd District, touching off a scramble for the rare open seat that includes several southern Twin Cities suburbs and a rural chunk of southeastern Minnesota.

Minnesota sports

University of Minnesota sports were thrown into turmoil in August, when athletic director Norwood Teague resigned after two high-ranking administrators reported he sexually harassed them. Head football coach Jerry Kill abruptly resigned midseason in October, saying the toll of his epilepsy had become too much. Timberwolves team president, coach and part-owner Flip Saunders died in October at age 60, after a battle with Hodgkin lymphoma. Adrian Peterson was reinstated with the Vikings following a suspension for nearly all of the 2014 season over a child abuse charge he faced for disciplining his son with a wooden switch. The Timberwolves got Karl-Anthony Towns with the first overall draft pick; the Lynx won another WNBA title; and the Twins returned to playoff contention. However, the Wild lost to the Blackhawks in the NHL playoffs for third straight year.