Did 20/20 manipulate the Rucki story to hide abuse?

"20/20" ran a program entitled "Footprints in the Snow" about the disappearance in April 2013 of Samantha and Gianna Rucki; Did they tell the whole story.


WASHINGTON, April 14, 2016 – A recent ABC “20/20” report on a bitter custody battle that led to the disappearance of two Lakeville, Minnesota girls for more than two years may have ignored critical facts.

On April 8, 2016, “20/20” ran a program entitled “Footprints in the Snow” about the disappearance in April 2013 of Samantha and Gianna Rucki, who ran away from home during a bitter custody dispute, leaving nothing but footprints in the snow.

The show hinged on claims by the parents. The mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, said she was abused by her ex-husband, David Rucki. David Rucki, on the other hand, said she made up the allegations and brainwashed their children into believing her, which he called parental alienation.

In the critical scene of the program, Elizabeth Vargas, the show’s host, asked Sandra to provide proof of abuse during their marriage saying: “I’m asking for any of the documentation you assured us existed and we can find none of it.”

Sandra’s attorney, Michelle MacDonald, went back to her office, where producers rummaged through several thousand papers and then proclaimed, “In more than 20 boxes we didn’t find a single piece of paper or photo to provide that any physical abuse existed.”

But this appears to twist what MacDonald provided them.

According to a 42-page document provided by MacDonald to “20/20,” there was a litany of evidence of abuse including an affidavit, criminal charges and convictions, and numerous incident reports made by Sandra.

“This letter is to validate that this family has heard David Victor Rucki,” according to an affidavit by their neighbor Randy Martin, “yelling and cursing at my family, police officers, and also his own wife and children.”

Martin said in the affidavit that things became so dangerous that his family took out a restraining order in 2009. The Ruckis divorced in 2011.

Martin told CDN that “20/20” did reach out to the family, but they declined to do an interview.

When reached for comment, producer Sean Dooley provided CDN a near 700-word statement stating reasons why the other reports were not included.

“As you know, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki specifically told us in our interview that she went to Lakeville PD several times during her marriage.  She was specific about what she told them regarding the physical abuse she suffered.”

But Sandra Grazzini-Rucki said that this was merely a matter of misunderstanding the question. “All I heard was police report,” Sandra told CDN, saying she didn’t process that the police reports had to be during the marriage.

Sandra did those interviews from the prison where she was being held at the time.

Grazzini-Rucki also told “20/20” that she gave the photos documenting the abuse to her original attorney, Kathryn Graves, and doesn’t know what happened to them since. Graves did not respond to a message at her office.

Grazzini-Rucki said that when she went to Lakeville Police during her marriage she was advised against filing a report until she filed for divorce because her husband would be released soon after he was picked up and the abuse would be even worse after he returned.

“20/20″ took things a step further and contacted the Lakeville Police Department, “We reached out to the Lakeville Police and they have no record of Sandra contacting them about abuse during their marriage.” However contained in the 42 pages of documentation, there are numerous incident reports filed after the marriage ended.

According to Jason Polinsky of the Lakeville Police Department these incidents weren’t provided because “20/20” asked for incident reports that occurred during their marriage; Polinsky said it was his understanding “20/20” was in possession of incident reports from after their marriage.

An incident report from July 11, 2011, detailed a phone call Sandra received from a mutual friend:

“(The witness) had told her (Sandra Grazzini-Rucki) that Rucki had spoken with him while he was at Beer, Brats and Bingo in Lakeville, Minnesota. During this conversation David told Rick that the Hells Angels (motorcycle gang) were going to do him a favor by harming Sandra while she was at her cabin.”

Rucki’s attorney, Lisa Elliott, contradicted this report,

“She’s a liar, she’s a liar, I’m done talking to you good luck with your report,” Elliott responded forcefully before hanging up abruptly after the second question of the interview.

The witness, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed the incident. “I remember the chair I was sitting in.”

The witness said “20/20” never called to verify the veracity of the story.

David Rucki was also accused of stalking Sandra a number of times, both in Dakota County and in Scott County, where the Elko New Market Police Department took an incident report when she was visiting a friend, Michael Rhedin,

“I spoke with (Sandra) Grazzini-Rucki, who told me the suspect vehicle had driven up and down Wexford Lane and had also stopped in front of the residence. She told me her ex-husband, David Rucki, was the driver.”

David Rucki did not respond to a message on his phone.

Rhedin, a former police officer, said he first met Sandra in 2011. A police report records where Rhedin discovered a surreptitious global positioning system tracking device hidden underneath his car in 2014.

That GPS was later traced to David Rucki.

“When I walked up the sidewalk and approached David outside of his residence, he immediately began speaking to me and became defensive,” the police report stated of the encounter after David’s residence was identified. “I explained to David that I just wanted to get his side of the story; however, he refused to talk about the GPS unit and only spoke about his divorce with his wife and his missing children and how he believes he is a victim in everything since 2011 that has happened since he divorced his wife, Sandra.”

At the time David Rucki claimed that he was a victim, he had sole custody of their children and sole possession of their home, he was no longer required to pay alimony or child support, and, though “20/20” identified him as making millions in trucking, his ex-wife was paying him child support.

The Lakeville Police Department did not report on a fifth degree assault complaint against Rucki that occurred in 2008, according to records from the Minnesota courts. “20/20” producer Sean Dooley said the incident involved an altercation with a family member arising from a financial dispute; it was disposed after Rucki agreed to stay away from the victim.

“It should also be noted that in the police reports regarding this incident the officer writes that when he called to speak with David, Sandra began yelling at him and said that nothing happened between her brother-in-law and David,” Dooley told CDN in his statement.

This conviction is part of a rap sheet that includes 10 arrests and/or convictions, starting with a conviction for failure to restrain a child under 4 in 2005. The rap sheet includes low-level crimes like driving with a suspended license and one involving his dog but stretches to 2014, including the assault in 2008.

Rucki’s last conviction was in 2014 for disorderly conduct.

None of the criminal charges were revealed, let alone used to challenge David Rucki, during the program.

After proclaiming the Lakeville Police Department had no evidence of abuse, “20/20” next went to a shot of David Rucki’s attorney, Lisa Elliot, who said, “And Sandra’s not afraid to go to the police,” presumably alluding to these numerous reports that were never revealed on the program.

Next Page: David Rucki’s criminal history →

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