On December 12 The Mille Lacs County Board approved con- tracts for attorneys who will defend Sheriff Brent Lindgren and County Attorney Joe Walsh in a federal lawsuit filed November 17 by the Mille Lacs Band, Chief of Police Sara Rice, and Sergeant Derrick Naumann.
After County Administrator Pat Oman read resolutions aloud in their entirety, the Board voted 4-0 to approve the contracts.
Walsh will be represented by Scott Knudson of Briggs and Morgan. A letter to Walsh from Knudson states, “it is likely that the County, the Sheriff, and you will enter into a joint defense agreement in connection with the lawsuit.” According to the letter, Knudson will charge $450 per hour, a 25 percent reduction from standard fees.
Lindgren will be represented by Doug Kelley of Kelley, Wolter, and Scott. The firm will be paid $400 per hour for Doug Kelley, $325 per hour for Wolter and Scott, $275 for Brett Kelley, $225 for investigators, and $190 for paralegals, which Kelley said in a letter is a reduction based on the fact that Lindgren is a public employee. The firm will also bill for expert witness fees, online research charges, court reporter charges, and other expenses.
According to Kelley’s letter, “The suit seeks a declaratory judgment from the federal court to recognize the authority of the Mille Lacs Band to apprehend suspects within the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation for detention and prosecution by county law enforcement, and that you be enjoined from taking any actions to interfere with the exercise of that authority. At this point, the Complaint does not seek damages, but the plaintiffs are seeking attorney fees.”
The County Board tabled the item on November 30 to allow Lindgren and Walsh time to find counsel and finalize contracts. Also at that meeting, the Board hired attorney Randy Thompson to represent the County.
The complaint alleges that the County, County Attorney Walsh, and Sheriff Lindgren have prevented Band police officers from exercising police powers within the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, violating federal law and contributing to an epidemic of drug-related overdoses and deaths.
Since July 2016, when Mille Lacs County revoked a Joint Powers Agreement under which Band police held authority to enforce state law on the Mille Lacs Reservation, County officials have threatened Band police with arrest if they attempt to carry out law enforcement duties outside of lands held in trust for the Band.
The County has exacerbated the public safety void created by those threats by refusing to arrest certain offenders, or prosecute certain cases against those arrested, in situations involving Band officers.