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Cook County sheriff seeks probe into chief prosecutor for possible inappropriate relationship with minor

DULUTH - Because Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell prosecutes people who commit sex crimes with minors, and because he is accused of having an inappropriate romantic relationship with a 17-year-old girl, Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk has asked the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate Scannell.

Jill Oliveira, public information officer for the BCA, said Tuesday that the agency wouldn’t comment on the nature or subject of the investigation.

Later Tuesday, Falk explained the reason he requested the investigation.

Falk said his office “didn’t understand the gravity” of the situation until a judge signed an order for Scannell to stay away from the teenager and her parents. The court found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Scannell had harassed the girl by following, pursuing or stalking her and by making harassing phone calls. The restraining order remains in effect until Dec. 4, 2014.

According to the petition that sought the restraining order, signed by both of the girl’s parents, Scannell, 46, is known to the victim and her family as a friend, coach, mentor and volunteer. He gave the girl guitar lessons and coached her in a summer tennis program.

On Dec. 15 of last year, Daniel Schlienz went to Scannell’s office in the Cook County Courthouse with a loaded handgun, minutes after he was convicted of criminal sexual conduct with a teenage girl. Schlienz shot and wounded Gregory Thompson of Grand Marais, a witness subpoenaed to testify in the trial, and then went for Scannell. The county attorney was shot once in the chest below his heart and twice in the right thigh.

“I just think that the public is going to perceive a correlation of the relationships; looking at what Dan Schlienz was accused of and convicted of,  rightfully so, and looking at the country attorney apparently being involved in a relationship with a 17-year-old, and when did that start?’’

Falk said it would have been a conflict of interest for his office to investigate the prosecutor with whom it works so closely. He consulted with a prosecutor and a sheriff from outside Cook County before deciding to ask for the

BCA investigation.

Scannell was described in a February Minnesota Public Radio story discussing the pattern of older men pursuing teenage girls that many residents say has occurred for decades in Grand Marais.

Scannell told reporter Dan Kraker that he only began to understand that historic pattern after he was shot. “Before the trial, he didn’t think Grand Marais was different than anywhere else,” Kraker wrote. “He thought older men targeted younger girls everywhere.”

He quoted Scannell as saying: “What I’ve learned is that Dan Schlienz was sort of brought into that approach with girls by some other adult males. So I think it is a longer-term problem than I realized on the front end.”

In the MPR story, Scannell discussed earlier Cook County attempts to prosecute Schlienz for violating a restraining order against a underage teen, but the girl backed out of testifying against Schlienz.

Scannell expressed sympathy toward the girl’s unwillingness to be a prosecution witness, Kraker said.

“You are shining a bright light on yourself, and you’re putting yourself in a position where you’re incredibly vulnerable, after already being victimized,” Scannell was quoted as saying. “So it’s no small thing.”

No petition filed

A woman in Scannell’s office said Tuesday that he is out of the office this week. Scannell’s Minneapolis attorney, Joe Tamburino, said last week that his client has not committed a crime or any act of harassment. He also said that the incident did not involve his position as the Cook County attorney, nor was he in any position of authority during any of the alleged events.

The 17-year-old girl’s mother said that Scannell came to her place of employment on Sept. 25 and told her he loved her daughter and that his relationship with her became physical over the summer with “kissing and touching, but nothing illegal.” The age of consent in Minnesota is 16.

There have been media reports this week that a petition has been filed to remove Scannell from office. No such petition had been filed as of late Tuesday.

Patricia Turgeon, assistant director of communications/press secretary for the Minnesota Secretary of State, provided a brief synopsis of the requirements to remove a county official from office:

- A petition must be submitted to the county auditor with the signatures of registered county voters equivalent to 25 percent of the vote for that office at the last election.

- The petition must allege facts that, if proven, constitute malfeasance or nonfeasance of official duties. If it fails to do so, the petition may be dismissed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

- Those facts must be proven by a special master to be appointed by the chief justice.

- Only if the factual allegations are proven by clear and convincing evidence at a public hearing and those facts constitute malfeasance or nonfeasance of official duties, or the named officials waive their rights, shall a removal election be held.

Cook County Auditor Braidy Powers said his office had not received such a petition as of late Tuesday afternoon. Powers attended the Cook County Board meeting earlier Tuesday and said a member of the public said they were considering filing such a petition against Scannell.

Cook County Board Chairwoman Janice Hall didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.