11-3-10 UPDATE: Jeanine Brand lost her bid for reelection to Richard Mollin by 24 points.
I came across a sad story recently that made me really, really angry. I’ve been stewing for a month or so on it since I didn’t want my post to be over-reactive.
In November, the Star Tribune, WCCO and others reported on the story of Jennings and Clarice Sunderland of Bagley, MN. I’ll let you read the story (The Strib has the well-written story and WCCO includes video, so take your pick of which media you prefer) of what the couple, married for 50 years, has been through.
To quickly summarize it, Clarice has Alzheimer’s disease and was wandering away from home. Jennings started draping a chain around her and her recliner when they would sit and watch TV since he often dozed off, that way he would hear her if she got up to wander off. She could lift the chain off of herself without a problem, but at least the rattling would wake him up.
Jennings’ nosy brother made a call for a welfare check on the family after learning of the chain. Two sheriff deputies and a social worker arrived and Jennings explained the purpose of the chain. They left and reported their findings to Clearwater County Attorney Jeanine Brand.
Thanks to Brand’s advice, Jennings was thrown in jail for felony false imprisonment. Clarice was sent to a nursing home and the two of them endured an awful 3-month ordeal of separation and battles with the local government.
According to the Star Tribune:
[T]he social worker refused to accept names of relatives willing to care for [Clarice]; the county got emergency guardianship without notifying [the Sutherlands' daughters], and only by luck did they stumble on a court hearing about their mother and get temporary co-guardianship.
If that isn’t damning enough, Brand still thinks the actions taken were appropriate.
Jennings Sunderland “did not try to hurt” his wife, Brand acknowledged in an interview before charges against him were dropped last month. But, she said, using the chain was “holding a vulnerable adult against her will. … He could have asked the county for help.” Charging him and not letting him see his wife for a time “ensured that he could not go to the nursing home and just take her home again.”
So, you file felony false imprisonment charges against a 78-year-old man caring for his disease-stricken wife, then drop those charges and refuse to apologize for the 3-month ordeal you put them through? And do you really think it was “her will” to be put in a nursing home where her care was apparently far worse than what her husband was providing?
WCCO’s report is just as damning:
[Sutherland's family is] asking for Brand to apologize, something she vows not to do.
“It’s the county’s responsibility to protect and investigate vulnerable adults. It was handled appropriately,” added Brand.
How Brand could know any of the details of this ordeal and insist that this was handled appropriately is absolutely beyond me. How wrapped up in bureaucracy and politics do you have to be to ignore how blatantly wrong you and your department were?
Back in October the Grand Forks Herald ran an excellent story on the case (it’s archived here and here) after the felony charges were dropped against Jennings and he was continuing his fight to get Clarice home.
Clearwater County Attorney Jeanine Brand said Friday the attention the case has received in the community did not influence her decision to drop the charge. It’s a call she made, she said, “in the interest of justice.”
All along, Brand said, her main concern was Clarice Sunderland and the need to protect her as a vulnerable adult.
“There’s many things to help address Alzheimer’s issues, and they’re all very short of chaining someone up in a chair,” she said.
First, draping a removable chain over someone as a sounding device is far different from locking someone to a wall. Second, there are many things that Brand could have done very short of locking up Jennings and packing Clarice up into a nursing home.
The Sunderlands’ daughter, Connie Krivich, summed it up well.
Krivich, 38, of Brainerd, Minn., said her dad was not able to see his wife for 20 days, and after that, couldn’t see her without a third party present.
“You take my mother from her home, you take her from her husband — the one person she still recognizes — and you throw her in a nursing home, and you think that’s good?”
This story made me wonder if there were any other questionable instances involving Brand. I didn’t go trekking up to Clearwater County or anything, but did run a few Google searches.
She’s only been the county attorney for Clearwater County since April 10, 2007, so there’s not a whole lot out there. Still, there are a few other cases that made me scratch my head based on the information available.
We have a letter from a May 2009 newsletter (PDF) that documents a case in which Brand pressed felony charges against a deputy. (A news story on this from the Bemidji Pioneer is archived here.) Since I have nothing to go on except what he wrote, I’ll let his thoughts speak for themselves.
[W]hy would a county attorney press charges when two sheriff’s departments stated that there was not enough evidence to proceed. Maybe we should ask the prosecuting attorney Jeanine Brand what her motives were in this matter.
[S]ome time after the charging of [Bob] Karbowski with this crime, the county attorney finally started to interview unbiased witnesses. She found that she was dealing with an ethical law enforcement officer, who for almost 40 years enforced the laws on the Leech Lake Reservation/ Cass County in a fair and colorblind manner, something that has not always occurred in the past and even in the present.
After hearing these glowing reports, and realizing that she had no evidence, does County Attorney Brand make the decision to ask for a dismissal. NO, instead she demeans Karbowski by offering him plea bargains for something that he did not do. In each successive plea bargain offered, the offense punishment was diminished. Instead the prosecutor now becomes the persecutor, and somewhere in the over zealous pursuit of a conviction, the idea of justice was lost. As Karbowski rejects each successive plea deal because he knows that he has done nothing wrong, the County Attorney Brand finally offers dismissal if Karbowski will pay Pike Bay costs they accrued in this mess, which included the disputed $75.06 for overlapping pay that occurred due to a unintentional clerical error, and an apology letter to the Pike Bay people that he chose to write. This was something that Karbowski was willing to do immediately when the errors were found. What happened to justice, was it lost because an over zealous county district attorney wanted to get a conviction no matter what the costs to an innocent individual. Ms. Brand, since the case was dismissed, it absolutely showed that your case was weak from the start, or you would have proceeded, even though the Pike Bay Board voted to settle the case.
[W]hat are we as citizens to think of our justice system when over-zealous prosecution results in a miscarriage of justice, where charges are eventually dismissed because of lack of evidence, and where the person has grave financial loss, not only for attorney costs but for lost wages.
Then there was a case from October 2009 in which a man was charged with murder for the drug overdose of someone who bought drugs from him.
Not to defend a drug dealer, but this seems a little odd to me:
Asked why Crabtree was charged with murder when Boe was an adult who presumably knew the dangers of hard drugs, Brand said Crabtree’s crime was disregarding Boe’s welfare when he gave him the drugs.
Call me crazy, but a murder charge seems just a bit excessive.
These 2 additional stories are by no means overwhelming, damning evidence against Brand. Sure, I question her actions, particularly in the first story (assuming everything in that letter is true, and based on all of the plea agreements that were offered I have no reason to doubt that it is). But I would guess that for the most part, Brand does a great job.
But, as with most jobs, we aren’t really graded on the 90% of issues that we handle on a day-to-day basis. We are judged on the 10% of issues that come across our desks that are really tough. They require a level of discernment and decision-making that is a step above the rest of the issues we deal with.
What happened to the Sunderlands is inexcusable. Brand’s actions in response are inexcusable. But the fact that she stubbornly refuses to issue an apology for what she did is asinine. She has no business being in her position after this debacle.