GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - The Minnesota Sheriffs' Association is backing a local council member who is being sued for reporting a theft to law enforcement.
MSA filed an amicus brief in support of Grant City councilman Steve Bohnen, who has been in a legal battle for more than two years.
"First time out of the gate and I got sued even before I took office," said Bohnen.
He tells KARE 11 it all started when he got a phone call from campaign supporter, Keith Mueller in 2010 telling him he saw someone driving down the road with Bohnen's campaign signs on the top of the vehicle.
"They were going up and down like they were going to blow off," he said.
So he called the Washington County Sheriff's office.
According to court records, the driver was Jeffrey Nielsen, who allegedly admitted to stealing signs when confronted and was later convicted of disorderly conduct.
But days after the incident, he sued Bohnen for, among others things, conspiring against him. He also claims the signs were placed in improper locations under city ordinances, something Bohnen denies.
The case has now reached the court of appeals.
"It could have a significant public safety impact," said Richard Hodsdon, MSA's attorney.
Hodsdon believes Bohnen should be granted immunity under the law because he was assisting police. For only the third time in its history, MSA filed an amicus brief recently, also known as "friend of the court" advisory.
"Not only did that citizen not do anything wrong, the person he reported actually got convicted of a crime," said Hodsdon. "Citizens should be encouraged to dial 911 if they believe there is some need for law enforcement intervention."
He fears if this case moves forward it will make people think twice before calling 911.
KARE 11 reached out to Nielsen's attorneys Tuesday. Attorney Dale Wagner said he could not comment on the case, but said they would be filing a brief next week in response to MSA's filing.
Bohnen, who says this case has cost more than $600,000 in court fees, has made him think twice about calling 911.
"'See something, say something.' That's supposed to be our Homeland Security motto," he said. "In this case, it's 'See something, say something, get sued.'"
The original lawsuit also included Washington County and Mueller, but a judge later dismissed them from the suit, granting both immunity in the case.
According to the MSA brief, "Washington County has expended to date $93,772.58 in defending against Nielsen's claims.
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