County Attorney Tim Scannell charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct

Thomas B. Heffelfinger, the special prosecutor assigned to review the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation of County Attorney Tim Scannell, appeared at a press conference on the Cook County courthouse steps on Thursday, October 31. Joining Heffelfinger was Senior Special Agent Sue Burggraf of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a crowd of journalists from regional media outlets and about 50 citizens, anxious to hear whether or not Scannell would face charges related to his alleged romantic relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
Heffelfinger announced that a special grand jury had been convened in St. Louis County with Judge Shaun Floerke presiding on October 21, 2013. On October 22, the grand jury issued an indictment and Scannell was notified of the grand jury’s decision on October 23.
Heffelfinger said that shortly before Thursday’s press conference, Scannell was charged with two felony counts of criminal sexual conduct in the 4th degree for events that allegedly took place August 1 and August 15, 2012. Heffelfinger said the charges were in regard to sexual contact with a person between the ages of 16 and 18 where the other person is more than 48 months older than the victim and in a position of authority.
Scannell, who has not been at work for more than a week and whose office voicemail states that he is on indefinite medical leave, was present at the Cook County courtroom for the indictment. Scannell’s father-in-law Attorney Richard Swanson is representing Scannell at this time, but Heffelfinger said Scannell’s representation after this point is unknown. 

Scannell left court on own recognizance with two conditions, Heffelfinger said: that he have no contact with the alleged victim and that he notify the court if he wanted to leave the state.  His next appearance will be 8:15 a.m. November 12 at the Cook County Courthouse.  That proceeding will be open to the public. A plea could be made at that time.

Further court hearings will take place in Cook County unless Heffelfinger or Scannell’s attorney request, and are granted, a change in venue. If the case goes to trial, it would be a jury trial.  Prosecutor Heffelfinger said that Scannell requested that all judges in the Sixth District, from Hibbing to Grand Portage, be disqualified from the proceedings and that a retired judge be appointed.

Questions about Scannell’s job as county attorney were outside his purview, Heffelfinger said in response to questions. Any questions about Scannell’s continued licensure as an attorney would be in the hands of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.  Heffelfinger said he was appointed by the court to investigate the charges.  He will be the prosecutor in this case and Cook County will cover the cost.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners issued a statement immediately after the press conference noting that the Board of Commissioners was not involved in the investigation by Special Prosecutor Heffelfinger and has no control over it.
The statement cites the Minnesota statutes regarding a recall election: “By law, the Cook County Board of Commissioners has very limited authority over elected officials like the County Attorney. The board does not have the authority to unilaterally reprimand, suspend, or remove an elected official…
“…The Cook County Board of Commissioners will continue to proactively monitor the situation with the goal, to the fullest extent allowed by the law, of ensuring that the interests of all parties involved and the citizens of Cook County are protected. We encourage the community to remain patient and allow the legal process to work.”
The county board had scheduled a special meeting in the Cook County Commissioners Room on Friday, Nov. 1 to discuss county attorney office staffing, however a notice went out this afternoon that the meeting had been cancelled. 

Local community radio station WTIP has shared the full audio of the news conference on its website. Tune to WTIP to listen at: http://www.wtip.org/drupal/content/full-audio-heffelfinger-news-conference