Pursuing a police report in Wayzata
By Mike Kaszuba
More than a year ago, Wayzata police received information that a possible sexual assault involving juveniles took place at a home in the city.
Though the case has since been closed without charges being filed, police have still not released much information on the incident – and have not made the initial police report available, nor the case file. For most of the past year, Wayzata police and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office have instead provided varying legal reasons for why the data is not considered public in response to data requests from Public Record Media (PRM), a non-profit based in Saint Paul.
The police actions have drawn the ire of Don Gemberling, a longtime expert on public data in Minnesota. He said the police have been too restrictive under the law in releasing data and said that, with few exceptions, most of the information is clearly public. Gemberling said that only data accusing a juvenile of a crime, or data suggesting a person is the victim of criminal sexual conduct, would be considered private in a closed case.
“Everything else is public,” said Gemberling, the former director of the state Information Policy Analysis Division, which is now the state Data Practices Office.
The police actions have come as a group of influential parents – including the chief executive and founder of Lifetime Fitness – have sued Providence Academy, an affluent private Catholic school in nearby Plymouth that some of the juveniles attended. One of the lawsuits, which does not directly mention the police investigation but instead focuses on the actions of school officials, claimed that there was no evidence of a sexual assault.
A month after the incident, according to the lawsuit, the school in November 2022 expelled five boys and suspended several girls who were reportedly at the house. “Providence [Academy] perpetuated a false rumor that these boys were involved in a sexual assault.. No sexual assault occurred,” one of the parents’ lawsuits stated. The lawsuit added that the school “did no investigation into the validity of the rumor.”
The lawsuit instead described a chaotic and stressful situation in which innocent students were expelled against a backdrop of “news helicopters and other press vehicles descending upon the school.”
Sitting along Lake Minnetonka, in the Twin Cities’ far-western suburbs, Wayzata is one of the state’s most desirable locations. In the 1860s, the town was transformed when railroad baron James J. Hill built a train depot in the city, and the city’s website today describes Wayzata as the “picturesque focal point of lake life for Minneapolis-St. Paul.” Douglas Dayton, the first president of Target Inc., the successful chain of stores created by the Minnesota-based Dayton family, lived there. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic U.S. senator from Minnesota and a former presidential candidate, was the valedictorian at the local high school.
For nine months, beginning last March, PRM attempted to get information regarding the case through a series of unsuccessful public data requests to both Wayzata police and the county attorney’s office.
In Minnesota, investigative data involving a closed police investigation is generally viewed as public information – especially when the case does not lead to criminal charges.
Yet the case illustrates how difficult, despite state law, obtaining basic information from police can be.
Gemberling said he based his criticisms of the police actions on the sections of the state Data Practices Act that make law enforcement data public and additional state law – which he said he helped to amend – that clarifies when data on juveniles is public in police files.
He added that he questioned why Wayzata police were so quick to turn the case over to the county attorney, and wondered how much of an investigation the police department ever did. “That’s just peculiar to me,” he said.
Gemberling said that he also wondered whether the prominence of the juvenile’s families factored into what happened. “I think that’s what this is about,” he said. “If these were all black kids on the Northside [of Minneapolis], it would have been out 12 months ago.”
The case has taken on added notoriety because of the families of the students who were involved.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune, in detailing the filing of the lawsuits, said several of the families whose children were disciplined by the school agreed to be named for its story. The families included Bahram Akradi, the Lifetime Fitness executive, and Michael Reger, the former chief executive of Northern Oil.
In response to PRM’s latest inquiry, a Wayzata police spokesperson stated last month – 13 months after the incident occurred, and after the case was closed – that “due to the nature of the case, we have determined that there is no additional public data responsive to your renewed request.”
Police: “The incident address is private”
The police spokesperson added that “the incident address is private” under state law and that “there is a police report/file but it is private data” under state law.
In April of this year, shortly after PRM initially asked for information related to the case, Wayzata police did not release any information – but at the time cited other reasons for its stance. “This case has been submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office,” a police spokesperson told PRM. “All request[s] for access to this data should go through them at this time.”
A month later, after PRM submitted a data request to the county attorney’s office, the county attorney’s office also declined to release information. The office denied the data request, telling PRM on May 16 that the data was not public because of state law related to data then being collected, stored or disseminated by an attorney.
Later that same month, PRM again pressed Wayzata police for more information regarding the case, including the initial police report.
In that request to the police department, PRM stated that it believed “the police report, and other materials, are public under the law and should be released regardless of what other jurisdiction is now reviewing the case.” PRM asked for 14 specific pieces of information regarding the case, including the “date, time and place of the action”, names and addresses of witnesses and “a brief factual reconstruction of events associated with the action.”
On June 5, the Wayzata police responded to PRM – but, again, did not directly state that it was withholding the police report because juveniles were involved. In responding to PRM’s specific questions, the police department used short, and in some cases, one-word answers.
The police department, in its response, did not disclose an address for the incident but said it first learned of the situation on November 10, 2022 – several weeks after it allegedly occurred – when it received a phone call. (A civil lawsuit filed by the parents of one of the expelled students listed the incident date as Oct. 14, 2022).
While the police department again released a police incident number for the event, it did not release a police report.
The police department also did not release the names of any witnesses to the incident, saying only that there was “no public data responsive to your request.”
But that response came even though, in one of the civil lawsuits filed by parents Michael and Brittany Reger, the couple indicated they were home when the incident took place.
“The Regers were home and unaware that some of the high schoolers were drinking alcohol,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit added that the Regers were also unaware that a girlfriend of one of the boys who came to the house had remained at their home to “spend more time with her boyfriend” after others had left. The lawsuit then added that “the girlfriend and boyfriend engaged in consensual physical contact. The two remained a couple after the gathering.”
(Following the lawsuits from the families against the school, PRM made a separate public data request to Wayzata police for any correspondence between the police department and any interested parties, or their legal representatives, concerning the incident. The police department likewise said there was no data available regarding that request).
The Regers’ lawsuit did not refer to the police report, or focus on any investigation by Wayzata police.
In its June 5 response to PRM, the police department meanwhile did provide a brief summary of the incident.
“On November 10, 2022, at approximately 1711 hours, an officer of the Wayzata Police Department responded to a phone call report concerning an alleged criminal sexual assault that was reported to have occurred at a residence in the city of Wayzata approximately one month prior,” the police said in a statement to PRM. “All of the alleged parties involved are juveniles.
“The case has been submitted to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office for charging consideration,” the statement added.
In concluding its response, the Wayzata police again added that “all further inquiries will need to be directed to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office at this time.”
Police: Case now closed
In November 2023, PRM asked Wayzata police about the status of the case and renewed its request for the police report.
“This case has been closed,” a city police spokesperson said in a Nov. 15 email.
Five days later, Wayzata police denied PRM’s renewed request for information, including the police report on the now-closed case.
In support of its denial, the police department cited a state law that pertains to how juvenile records are kept – though the statute being cited largely deals with juveniles who have been charged with a crime and have had their cases completed. No charges have been filed in the Providence Academy case.
The Regers’ lawsuit, in the meantime, did mention the Wayzata police investigation, albeit indirectly.
In the lawsuit, the Regers focused on statements and decisions made by Todd Flanders, the headmaster at Providence Academy. The lawsuit said Flanders, at one point, gave a statement to a TV station in which he said that the “specifics of school discipline of individual students, minors in this case, is not a matter I can elaborate on – especially given that the matter is being additionally and independently investigated by the Wayzata Police Department. I am confident in the school’s approach with each individual student.”
But the lawsuit added that Flanders, in a separate statement sent internally “to the entire ‘Providence Academy Community’ “, made comments that were more damaging to the students. According to the lawsuit, Flanders’ statement said that several students “were involved in serious violations of [Providence Academy’s] policies and Code of Conduct.” The statement, according to the lawsuit, “was intended to, and did in fact, create the inference by a reasonable reader or viewer that [the male students] were involved in a sexual assault.”
The Regers, in the lawsuit, added that their son was forced “to leave the school and friends he knew and to find a new school in the middle of the quarter.” The school’s conduct, the lawsuit added, caused their son “to be labeled a ‘rapist’, ridiculed, and ostracized by his peers.”
(Supporting documents for this article can be accessed by contacting Public Record Media at email@example.com , or at 651-556-1381)