Public defender accuses prosecutors of withholding information in state trooper investigation
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has now dropped charges in three cases where Minnesota State Trooper Albert Kuehne was a key witness, but the public defender said prosecutors withheld critical information and still pressed for a guilty plea from one defendant just days before the trooper was formally charged with felony stalking in June.
A search warrant filed earlier that month revealed agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were investigating allegations that Kuehne illegally searched a woman’s iPhone during a drunk driving arrest in March and then sent nude photos of the woman to his personal cellphone.
Before the Minnesota State Patrol placed Kuehne on leave, defense attorneys were already challenging another search the trooper conducted involving the passenger in a car stopped for DWI in Brooklyn Center in December.
“My passenger was not a target of that (DWI) investigation, so therefore free to leave and no officer should search him at that point,” said defense attorney Greg Renden.
That search, conducted by Trooper Kuehne, turned up a gun and led to a felony charge against Steven Deontae Reese, 33, of Minneapolis.
The prosecutor in the case later informed Renden that Kuehne had been placed on investigatory leave, but she wrote in an email that the trooper’s conduct was “not relevant” and that County Attorney’s Office was still seeking a guilty plea from Reese on the gun charge that would include a four-year prison sentence.
When Renden asked the prosecutor to turn over all material about the “nature and details” of the investigation into Kuehne, the prosecutor responded, “our office does not have any information” and instead emailed a link to an earlier report about the trooper by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
Just one day later, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Kuehne, prompting Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty to accuse the county attorney of violating the Constitution and Supreme Court rulings that require prosecutors to share information that could be helpful to the defense.
“Their office was in possession of information that they should have disclosed to us,” Moriarty said. “Here you have a situation where (the prosecutor’s) own colleagues were looking at that trooper’s case at the very time she was prosecuting our client and saying she knew nothing about the situation. She may have known nothing about it, but she had an obligation to find out.”
Chief Deputy County Attorney Andy LeFevour confirmed BCA agents presented their case on Trooper Kuehne two business days before charges were filed but said the prosecutor on the gun case would not have known about it.
“What we can do is lock down information in these files so no one can look at it besides the people who were assigned the case,” LeFevour said. “There was nothing we could turn over at that time because it was still an active criminal investigation… We work with the Public Defender’s Office on a daily basis. This isn’t the first officer we’ve charged, so they’re keenly aware of what our practice and protocol is.”
LeFevour also noted that his prosecutor dropped the gun charge against Reese on the same day Kuehne was formally charged with felony stalking.
Former federal prosecutor and University of St. Thomas professor Rachel Paulose said dropping the charges in the gun case may have mitigated the impact on the defendant, but she noted that the attorney’s policy on sharing information with the defense should not conflict with what the law requires.
“That raises a real question about the integrity of the system,” Paulose said. “Part of the difficulty here is that the prosecutor didn’t speak for just herself, she spoke for the office. So, I’m struggling to come up with an innocent explanation for why she would have said ‘my office does not have information.’”
Defense attorneys Moriarty and Renden insist the lack of disclosure from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is not an isolated incident.
“We continue to see this pattern of not disclosing what the law says the need to disclose to us,” Moriarty said.
LeFevour disagreed and said the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has a “high volume of cases” where it has dropped charges or allowed defendants to withdraw their pleas when an officer has been accused of misconduct.
The Minnesota State Patrol says Albert Kuehne remains on investigatory leave. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance at the end of July.