MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who claims his reputation was tarnished after he was wrongly named as a person of interest in the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling sued authorities Wednesday, alleging investigators went after him in retaliation and submitted false information to secure a search warrant for his property.
Dan Rassier, an elementary school music teacher, was publicly named as a person of interest in Jacob's abduction in 2010 after his central Minnesota farm was searched by authorities. Rassier, 61, maintained his innocence but wasn't cleared until last year after another man confessed and led authorities to Jacob's remains.
In his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Rassier claims investigators intentionally ruined his name and knowingly provided false information — or omitted evidence that might have led to other suspects — in order to obtain a warrant to dig up his family farm. He claims there was no probable cause for the search.
The lawsuit also alleges Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner "engaged in conduct for years to prevent the crime from being solved" and that he illegally conspired with others.
"They conspired to throw a man under the bus who was innocent," Rassier's attorney, Mike Padden, said. "It's just outrageous."
The lawsuit names Sanner, former Stearns County Capt. Pam Jensen and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Ken McDonald and Stearns County as defendants. Attorney Jason Hiveley, who is representing the Stearns County defendants, said the actions of the Sheriff's Department investigators were reasonable and "we believe this case will ultimately be resolved in their favor."
The BCA does not typically comment on pending litigation.
Jacob, his brother and a friend were bicycling down a rural road near Jacob's home in St. Joseph when a masked gunman confronted them on Oct. 22, 1989, grabbed Jacob and told the other two to run. The site of the abduction was at the end of Rassier's driveway.
Rassier was home alone at the time of the abduction and told authorities about two cars he saw turn around in his driveway that day. He was questioned many times over the years, and was subjected to lie detector tests and hypnosis.
The lawsuit alleges that local authorities did not share all the information they had about the vehicles Rassier saw, or evidence about other attempted abductions, with the FBI, which had almost immediately honed in on Jacob's true abductor.
In 2004, Sanner and others began pursuing a theory that Jacob was taken by someone on foot, and Rassier was treated like a suspect instead of a witness, the lawsuit said. It alleges that the FBI wasn't consulted on that theory and this course of action "would become the strangest, most embarrassing moment in the annals of Minnesota case criminal investigation."
The lawsuit also was brought by Rassier's mother, Rita, and seeks more than $2 million in damages.
Last year, Danny Heinrich, 54, of Annandale, confessed that he abducted, sexually assaulted and killed Jacob, and he led authorities to the boy's remains. Heinrich is serving a 20-year federal sentence on a separate child pornography charge.
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