ST. JOSEPH, Minn. (KMSP) - Dan Rassier is suing the Stearns County investigators, including the sheriff, who once named him a person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling case.
According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday morning, Rassier and his mom, Rita, are seeking more than $2 million in damages, claiming the law enforcement agencies botched the investigation into Jacob’s disappearance.
“The thing you have to understand is people in Stearns County, we didn’t do any research, but people really thought he was guilty,” Mike Padden, Rassier’s attorney, told Fox 9. People really believed it. That’s the problem when law enforcement runs amok like that.”
Eleven-year-old Jacob was kidnapped at the end of Rassier’s driveway on October 22, 1989. During the initial investigation, Rassier told authorities he saw two cars drive onto the farm property the day of the abduction.
But in the years that followed, Rassier went from being a key witness to the focus of investigators.
In 2004, Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension zeroed in on Rassier. He was formally named a person of interest in the Wetterling case in 2010 after investigators executed a search warrant was executed on his farm and took his personal property and some of his land.
The court documents describe a malicious, reckless and fraudulent effort on the part of the three investigators named in the lawsuit to obtain the search warrant. Rassier and his lawyers claim the investigators did not disclose certain details to the judge regarding the case because it would have kept them from getting the warrant.
The personal property that was taken in the search was not returned to Rassier until last November, two months after Heinrich admitted to the kidnapping and killing Jacob, the lawsuit says. The topsoil that was taken by investigators has still not been returned.
Rassier was finally cleared after Heinrich confessed to the crime last September. His claims in the lawsuit include defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unlawful entry, search and destruction of his home and property on the part of law enforcement.
In addition to Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner, Rassier also named Pam Jensen who worked for Sanner as well as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Ken McDonald as co-conspirators against him.
“One reason he brought this lawsuit. These people, who did this to him, have never made any effort to apologize for what they did to him. Nothing.”
The lawsuit cites a similar case in which Sanner and other Stearns County investigators wrongly accused Ryan Larson of the 2012 murder of a Cold Spring police officer. Larson’s name has not yet been cleared.
Response from Stearns County defendants
The following statement was submitted to Fox 9 from the lawyers representing all the Stearns County defendants named in the lawsuit:
“We understand Daniel and Rita Rassier filed a lawsuit in federal court. Once Stearns County and its employees have been properly served with the Summons and Complaint, we will file an Answer setting forth our legal defenses to the Rassiers’ allegations. We will not be commenting further on this pending litigation except to say the actions of the Sheriff’s Department Investigators were reasonable and we believe this case will ultimately be resolved in their favor.”