WASHINGTON, May 16, 2017 – Upon being found on a horse farm in November 2015, the Rucki girls were placed in foster care. They had gone into hiding after being placed in their father’s custody and they said they would run from his home again according to a previously unreleased Lakeville Police Department report:
“Samantha and Gianna came down, and immediately told us that they would not go back to their father. We told them that our first concern was their safety. I did ask them about the last time that they had heard from their mother, and they told me that they would not say anything without a lawyer.”
The police report in questions was prepared as part of the search and eventual apprehension of the Rucki girls on November 17, 2015.
The timeline has the two girls first disappearing on April 19, 2013, hours after their parent’s divorce judge, Judge David Knutson, ordered them to live with their paternal aunt, Tammy Love. At the time, Judge Knutson ordered all five Rucki children out of the custody of both their parents. The girls had been living with their maternal aunt since September 2012 after the same judge forcibly removed their mother from her home and their lives.
David Rucki, their father, would eventually gain sole custody in a trial where Knutson ordered their mother’s attorney, Michelle MacDonald, to proceed with part of the trial handcuffed to a wheelchair. Judge Knutson did this even though all five children at one time said their father was physically and mentally abusive. The girls ran away and were hidden on a horse farm for abused children run by Doug and Gina Dahlen.
The girls ran away and were hidden on a horse farm for abused children run by Doug and Gina Dahlen. An email to David Rucki’s attorney, Lisa Elliott, was left unreturned.
Because the two girls refused to return to their father, the police placed them in foster care, according to the police report.
“On 11/19/15, Detective Coughlin and I met with Dakota County Social Services and David Rucki. Arrangements were made for the girls to be placed into foster care, as they continued to express that they would run away again if they were brought home.”
Because they threatened to run, the girls were then placed into reunification therapy before being forced back into the custody of their father.
An email to Beau Berentson, public affairs officer for the Minnesota courts, was left unreturned.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom
This newly revealed police report stating that the Rucki girls would not stay in their father’s care raises new questions regarding the divorce and custody of the children. According to Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, this is the first time she has seen this report. Grazzini-Rucki was charged with parental deprivation for her role in hiding the girls.
However, the girls’ safety may have been best served by her actions. “I would have remembered seeing my girls say they’d run again if being placed with their father,” she said.
Grazzini-Rucki said her attorney gave her a stack of papers which he got in the discovery process. This police report was not included among them.
If the Dakota County Prosecutor, whose office prosecuted the case, failed to provide this police report, this would be a “Brady violation” named after the U.S. Supreme Court Case Brady V Maryland, in which a conviction was overturned after prosecutors failed to provide exculpatory evidence, meaning, in this case, evidence favorable to the defense.
In order for a legal proceeding to be just, all evidence must be shared with both sides. Unlike the sometimes fanciful plots of television courtroom dramas, the late introduction of a surprise piece of evidence or a previously hidden piece of evidence is generally unlikely.
Ignoring Brady is not only an egregious violation of prosecutorial ethics. It has been called an epidemic in a 2013 American Bar Association (ABA) article:
“The chief judge of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is taking a stand against failure to disclose exculpatory evidence in a case involving a ricin suspect and a lab analyst who was later fired for alleged incompetence.
“Chief Judge Alex Kozinski highlighted the issue in a Dec. 10 dissent (PDF) to the denial of an en banc rehearing. He begins this way: ‘There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.’ His dissent was joined by four other 9th Circuit judges.”
Samantha Rucki, when she testified at her mother’s trial, was not questioned about her statements to the police, nor was Detective Jim Dronen, who was present when the girls were found.
If Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney, Steve Grigsby, had received this police report but did not provide it to his client and didn’t use it, this would constitute “ineffective counsel.” (It should be noted at this point that Grigsby has moved out of the country and could not be reached for comment.)
Given this issue, under normal circumstances, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s conviction would have been thrown out. But nothing has been normal in this case.
In any event, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s defense was that she hid the girls for their safety and the aforementioned police report provides compelling evidence of this defense. An email to Dakota Country Attorney Backstrom was left unreturned, however, as was a call left on Monica Jensen’s answering device. Jensen is the public affairs officer for the Dakota County Prosecutor.
Brandon Stahl/Minneapolis Star Tribune
Reporter Brandon Stahl was parked outside the Dahlens’ residence at the facility for abused children when the police raided it and found the girls. How Stahl knew to be there is unclear and raises the question of leaks, since the warrant to search the Dahlens’ home was sealed, noted Stahl:
“Both advised that they have had contact with Doug Dahlen and believed that he would be cooperative. The search warrant and sealing order were signed by the Honorable Judge Glasrud. Sheriff Walvatne and Sgt. Cooks stated that they would assist with the warrant at the residence.”
Since the warrant was sealed, whoever leaked it to Stahl committed a crime, though Stahl himself did nothing illegal by receiving it. This was not the first time, however, that Stahl received a sealed warrant. The arrest warrant for Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was also sealed in August 2015 and leaked again to Stahl, who wrote articles based on both warrants.
Stahl’s coverage was singled out by the Lakeville Police during their questioning of Gina Dahlen, according to the police report:
“I also asked Gina if she ever read the Star Tribune, or watched the news shows from the Twin Cities, as there had been several stories about the girls on both.”
Stahl did not respond to an email for comment explaining how he could get his hands on two sealed warrants. His coverage has ignored David Rucki’s lengthy history of criminal history and frequent acts of violence, and his coverage of the search of the girls has been largely biased in favor of the police actions that were undertaken against Sandra Grazzini-Rucki.
According to the previously noted police report, U.S. Marshals were also involved in the search for the Rucki girls:
“Detective Helmueller, Detective Coughlin, and Detective Hakanson also responded to the area and were waiting in Herman, MN. Inspector Matt Moran from the US Marshal’s Service also responded to the area. It was determined that Sheriff Walvatne, Sgt. Cooks, Inspector Moran, and I would respond to the residence and attempt to interview Doug Dahlen, and if necessary, the rest of the team would respond to assist with the warrant.”
Dave Oney, public affairs officer for the U.S. Marshals, said the U.S. Marshals Service helps in searches for missing persons. Indeed, their public web site has references to ongoing searches.
But when Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was arrested by the U.S. Marshals, who deployed their version of the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) in Florida for that action, she was arrested her for child trafficking, gun running and kidnapping.
Upon returning to Minnesota, Grazzini-Rucki learned that the charges against her were replaced by the far lesser charge of parental deprivation, a charge which presumably carries a period of probation for punishment. This brings into question how the U.S. Marshalls could have been “fooled” into serving an arrest warrant on extremely serious charges like gun trafficking, leading to conclusions of either incompetence or collusion on their part. Oney had no explanation for how the U.S. Marshals could have been fooled into serving such a serious warrant if they had already been deeply involved in the case.
Dave Oney and the U.S. Marshals are under fire because Oney previously claimed that the U.S. Marshals were carrying out a fugitive warrant when they arrested Grazzini-Rucki even though, as previously stated, the warrant for her arrest was sealed and she should not know about it. Arrest warrants are often sealed to keep the individual arrested from fleeing the jurisdiction before they are served.
Dave Oney claims the U.S. Marshals were involved in October 2016 because Sandra Grazzini-Rucki failed to appear for a court date in their jurisdiction, though there had been no court date scheduled at the time.
This most recently revealed police report provides even more evidence that the two Rucki girls ran away to escape their abusive father. An April 2016 episode of ABC’s “20/20” suggested any evidence of abuse was uncorroborated despite David Rucki’s past involvements in documented confrontations that included a bar fight, a road rage incident, incidents of stalking, multiple violations of restraining orders and choking his wife.
Recently, “20/20” went so far as to tweet out misleading information on this case, claiming that Samantha Rucki told an investigator her father didn’t physically abuse her when, in fact, Samantha Rucki said exactly the opposite.
“Did he ever push you, kick you, anything physical?” asked Detective Kelli Coughlin, who participated in the raid of the Dahlen’s home. “Mm, hmm,” Samantha Rucki responded.
Emails requesting clarification sent to Beth Mullen and Sean Dooley, producers of “20/20,” and Elizabeth Vargas, host of the program, were unreturned.