I briefly spoke with [the suspect] who indicated that he did write the Facebook post… He initially indicated that it was a threat, but during the formal statement indicated that it was not a threat. – Stearns County Sheriff’s Report
Saint John’s Employee Admits to Threat / Stearns County Refuses to Pursue
On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, the Stearns County Sheriff and local FBI office were notified that a Saint John’s University employee, Johnny Gagliardi-Benson, had made a threatening remark on his Facebook page.
“If i … ever catch you in the wrong place that could be a situation for you… whatever is coming to you is most certainly deserve.”
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI were provided with a screen shot of the Facebook post, which clearly identified the suspect/writer/poster as an employee of Saint John’s University.
On Thursday, February, 2, 2012, officials at Saint John’s were made aware of the Facebook post. In an email regarding the matter sent at approximately 4pm the same day, Fr. Douglas Mullin wrote:
“A personal threat to the safety of anyone is not acceptable behavior at SJU.”
By this time, other personnel at Saint John’s had been notified. Abbot John Klassen, Ms. BernaDette Suwareh, Mike Connolly, and Rev. Robert Koopmann were all aware.
At some point during the day, a deputy with Stearns County Sheriff’s Department attempted, unsuccessfully, to make contact with the suspect. Later in the day, it was reported to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department that, “the suspect was possibly identified by St. John’s University Life Safety personnel.”
At 8:30pm, the investigating officer with Stearns County Sheriff’s Department received a call from Life Safety. Life Safety told the investigating officer “the suspect would be in their office at approximately 9pm.”
At a minimum, personnel from Life Safety had access to the suspect between 8:30pm until the investigating officer arrived.
The investigating officer’s notes reflect that during his initial contact with the suspect, (and before the recorded interview) the suspect admitted to making the threat:
… did not know his home address off the top of his head. He provided his cellular telephone number of ###-###-####. I briefly spoke with [the suspect] who indicated that he did write the Facebook post … He initially indicated that it was a threat, but during the formal statement indicated that it was not a threat.
At 9:20 pm, the investigating officer with Stearns County Sheriff’s Department interviewed the suspect.
Sergeant Todd Vierzba with SJU Life Safety was allowed to attend the interview.
The suspect confirmed he was an employee of the university, that he did post the message on Facebook, and claimed that the message was not directed at anyone in particular, despite using the target’s name in the Facebook post.
During the interview, the investigating officer with Stearns County Sheriff’s Department stated, “… if I was receiving this myself, I would take it as a perceived threat. Okay? Do you understand that? That somebody-somebody could take it that way?”
The suspect responded, “I suppose.”
The suspect mentioned a conversation with a family member. When the investigating officer asked if the family member perceived the post as a threat, the suspect started to answer. He said, “She told me that–”
The investigating officer cut off the suspect. The suspect never answered the question.
The interview lasted for eleven minutes.
It makes you wonder…
If Rev. Bruce Wollmering, Rev. Tom Andert and/or Rev. Jerome Tupa, for example, had admitted to kidnapping Joshua Guimond, then later recanted, would the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department have given them a similar pass?
In a supplement to his narrative report, the investigating officer with Stearns County Sheriff’s Department wrote, “On 2-2-2012, I was requested by Capt. Pam Jensen to refer this case file to the Stearns County Attorney’s office for review and consideration of criminal charges.” He also wrote that he “will be referring this case file to the Stearns County Attorney’s Office for review and consideration of criminal charges including terroristic threats in violation of MSS 609.713 subd 2.”
On February 3, 2012, however, Stearns County Sheriff’s Department Captain Pam Jensen called the target to report that her office had decided to close the matter. Remarkably, she told the target that the suspect was still “angry.”
On February 3, 2012, the target of the threat sent an email to Stearns County Sheriff’s Department Captain Pam Jensen, cc’ing Stearns County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Jon Lentz, Stearns County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Danial Winkels, and Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall.
The target explained that he felt the threat was real and that the suspect’s “reference to ‘what is coming’ is worrisome, given his and his family’s influence and connections.” He wrote, “it is important that my (and my family’s safety never be in question, whether in my own home and community or on future visits to my alma-mater. That is not currently the case.”
[Note: Less than a month earlier, a member of the suspect's family was made aware that the target was planning to visit the area in early February.]
The target requested “that an independent prosecutor, if not a special prosecutor, investigate this matter because of the many conflicts of interest that exist amongst and between the Stearns County Attorney’s Office, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department and the Order of Saint Benedict.”
The target’s request for an independent prosecutor was denied (see below).
A private security firm was hired to watch the target’s home on Thursday, February 2 and February 3. The target’s family stayed at relatives.
On February 6, 2012, in an emailed response to a request the status of the matter, Stearns County Sheriff’s Department Captain Pam Jensen wrote, “Hello, It is going to be sent over to County attorney for review.”
During a phone call on February 13, 2012, a clerk with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department told the target that the file was awaiting a captain’s signature before it would be sent to the county attorney.
In series of emails on February 28, 2012, the investigating officer with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department requested information from the target of the threat. When the target reminded the investigating officer that the information had already been provided, on February 3rd, the officer replied, “I do now see that you had provided this information earlier. Thank you for that.”
On March 29, 2012, the Stearns County Attorney’s office made their decision. The target of the threat was not notified.
On May 1, 2012, the target visited the Stearns County Attorney’s office and met with Gordy Spengler. Spengler is Chief of the Trial Support Division. Spengler told the target that the Stearns County Attorney’s office made a decision on March 29, 2012 and a letter with an explanation would go out soon — after which time the case file would be released. A form, requesting the release of the case file, was filled out by the target.
A decision was made… to not pursue the matter, despite the following:
The target was never interviewed by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department.
A member of the suspect’s family was never interviewed by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department.
On November 11, 2011, the member of the suspect’s family berated the target during a Facebook chat session during which the family member called the target “evil”, said they had “never been madder in all my life”, and made other inflammatory remarks about the target.
On January 6, 2012, the same family member learned that the target would be in the area in Central Minnesota in early February. The threat was made on February 1, 2012.
On May 8, 2012, the target received a fax from the Stearns County Attorney’s office… “The official letter has not gone out. I suspect that will happen in a matter of days.”
On May 13, 2012, the Saint John’s University school year ended.
On May 16, 2012, almost seven weeks after making their decision, the Stearns County Attorney’s office sent their official notice regarding the threat.
The letter notified the target that Stearns County Attorney’s office had, “declined to bring charges in this case.”
In addition, the letter stated that the County Attorney’s office did not release times what were “attorney work product and/or private data”.
Request for an Independent Prosecutor Denied
The February 3, 2012 request for an independent prosecutor was denied. This request was made because:
1) Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall’s children attend Saint John’s Preparatory School.
2) Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall’s husband, John Kendall, is currently listed as a faculty member at Saint John’s University.
3) Janelle and John Kendall give money to the Saint John’s University Annual Fund.
4) Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner and at least one of his sons reportedly attended Saint John’s University.
5) Sheriff John Sanner has been a fixture on the sidelines at Saint John’s University football games.
Why is this important?