MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A lawsuit seeking more than $2 million in damages by a man publicly named as a person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling case will be filed in federal court Wednesday.
Danny Heinrich confessed in September to Jacob’s 1989 abduction, sexual assault and murder ending a 27 year mystery. But in 2010, the Stearns County Sheriff’s office publicly named St. Joseph resident Dan Rassier as a person of interest in the case and served a search warrant, digging up Rassier’s farm.
Michael Padden the attorney for Rassier, says the suit is seeking damages from current Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner, former Stearns County Sheriff’s investigator Pam Jensen, BCA Agent Kenneth McDonald and Stearns County.
The lawsuit is expected to accuse the three law enforcement officers of botching the investigation and ruining an innocent man’s reputation.
The infamous abduction of Jacob Wetterling in October 1989 happened on a rural road at the end of a farmhouse driveway. The farmhouse belonged then and still does to the Rassier family. Dan Rassier, then a 33-year-old band teacher, was home alone the night of the abduction. In a May 2013 interview with WCCO-TV Rassier said,
“I want to clear my name,” Rassier said in a 2013 interview with WCCO.
As he did in that interview, Rassier has always denied any involvement in the case. In 2009, he even met with Patty Wetterling.
“Her big question to me was, ‘Did you do this?'” Rassier said in 2013.
Rassier told WCCO he told Patty Wetterling he had nothing to do with the abduction, but in 2004, 15 years after Jacob’s kidnapping, he became the focus of the investigation. That’s when investigators, led by Captain Pam Jensen and BCA Agent Kenneth McDonald, changed their theory of the case, deciding that Jacob’s abductor had been on foot and not in a car.
The lawsuit is expected to accuse Sheriff John Sanner, Agent McDonald and Captain Jensen of ignoring evidence that investigators knew about back in 1989 — that shoe prints and tire prints on the driveway were consistent with those of Danny Heinrich. Also expected: A claim that a report of boys being chased in the Wetterling neighborhood weeks before Jacob’s abduction were ignored.
The suit is expected to claim that in order to get a 2010 search warrant to dig up the Rassier farm, investigators presented misleading information to a judge, and that for a decade investigators publicly and repeatedly dismissed a key theory in the investigation. That theory was that Jacob’s case was linked to the January 1989 abduction and assault of Jared Scheierl.
New DNA testing in 2015 showed the cases — as Scheierel had long argued — were, in fact, connected. It proved to be the breakthrough in the case.
Last fall, Heinrich confessed in both Scheierl and Jacob’s cases, which finally cleared Dan Rassier in the most notorious missing person’s case in Minnesota history.
We reached out to the Stearns County sheriff’s and attorney’s offices. The Stearns County Attorney’s office gave us the name of the private Twin Cities attorney who will be representing the County. They sent the following response:
“While we are aware Daniel and Rita Rassier intend to file a lawsuit, we have not been served with a Complaint and therefore do not know what claims they intend to make. As such, we are unable to comment at this time.”
A BCA representative said they typically don’t respond to pending lawsuits, especially when the case hasn’t been filed yet.