Victim's attorney believes tape is crucial to child's recovery
(Mille Lacs) The mother of a 3-year-old who was allegedly physically and sexually assaulted in January at the Kids Quest child care center located at Grand Casino Mille Lacs said her child is haunted by the experience and is seeking help.
Help, could come sooner, she and the child's therapists believe, if they had a better understanding of what happened to the toddler nearly one year ago – understanding they could gain by viewing the casino surveillance tape being held as evidence by the Band's Solicitor General, Rjay Brunkow.
The victim's attorney, Rich Ruohonen, said he was stunned that the tape has not been turned over when he requested it from Brunkow several times since July.
“In every jurisdiction in the state of Minnesota you have the right as a victim of a crime to get a copy of video tapes and other evidence that the police have obtained,” Ruohonen said. “Apparently with the exception of tribal land.”
The video tape was placed into evidence with the Mille Lacs Band tribal police who had investigated the incident. Brunkow now has the tape in a different secure location, he said.
Ruohonen said security reports written after the tape was reviewed say a 9-year-old boy kicked the toddler in the face, threw him to the floor, held him down, then carried him to the top of the gym into a tunnel.
The mother of the toddler victim said she was mortified when she picked her son up after dinner at the casino. “He was beaten head to toe,” she said. He had bruising on his cheeks and neck, a ruptured blood vessel in his eye and a scratch on the side of his eye.
Follow up care at a hospital revealed the child had been sexually assaulted.
Brunkow said he has viewed the tape. “It shows a little rough housing. The sexual assault allegedly took place in a tunnel. It is not a see through tunnel,” Brunkow said. “Nothing on that tape actually shows sexual assault.”
Ruohonen said there are no plans to name the Band in any lawsuit at this time. He is currently pursuing a civil case against Kids Quest/New Horizons. New Horizons is the parent company of Kids Quest, which operated drop-off day care centers at Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Hinckley. Their vendor license has since been revoked at both casinos.
Ruohonen said he sent a letter to Brunkow in February requesting the surveillance tape and other evidence. Brunkow told him he could have it. By July, the tape had not been turned over to Ruohonen. On July 3, Ruohonen said Brunkow told him it was in the mail.
But Ruohonen did not receive it. Ruohonen said Brunkow later told him he could have the tape if he agreed in writing to release the Band of any liability in the case prior to viewing the tape.
“It would be irresponsible of me as an attorney in representing my clients, to sign anything of that matter before viewing the tape,” Ruohonen said.
Brunkow denied agreeing to turn the tape over to Ruohonen without signing a statement.
Mille Lacs Band statutes state tribal court has the authority to review and determine the benefit of any evidence involving juvenile cases, according to Brunkow.
“He (Ruohonen) should have taken the time to learn tribal law and file a motion in tribal court to try to gain the tape as evidence through the court,” Brunkow said. “But he chose to remain ignorant.”
Brunkow maintains he will turn the tape over to Ruohonen if he agrees in writing not to use the tape as evidence in any law suit naming the Band as a defendant.
Ruohonen said he will explore his options.
“The sad part – the frustrating part – is that tape can possibly help this child in his therapy,” Ruohonen said. “It can help his mother and his doctors better understand what happened to the child so they can move forward. Not having that tape is detrimental to his care and treatment.”
by Vivian Clark
Messenger Staff Writer