The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 9, 2014

Lawyer claims defamation by Sleepy Eye police, newspaper

Lawsuit filed against Sleepy Eye, police, newspaper

By Josh Moniz

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NEW ULM — A Sleepy Eye lawyer has filed a defamation lawsuit in Brown County District Court against the city of Sleepy Eye, two of its police officers and the town's newspaper.

Glen Kotten, 25, accuses Sleepy Eye Police Chief John Schueller and officer Justin Bauer of defaming him by fabricating facts in their criminal complaint for his Dec. 1, 2012, arrest for driving offenses. He accused media organizations, including the Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch, of defaming him by publishing parts of the disputed complaint. Kotten originally included KNUJ Radio and The New Ulm Journal in his lawsuit but later filed to dismiss them in late February.

In an interview, Kotten accused Sleep Eye police of trying to frame him for crimes that would allow them to seize the vehicle and make a profit. When asked to elaborate on his assertion, he declined further comment.

He claims city and police officials sought to cover up their action instead of addressing his concerns. He said his long-term goal is to have Bauer removed from the police department.

The Sleepy Eye police officers have denied Kotten's accusations in their legal filing.

"The department is vehemently opposing these charges. We're confident that we will prevail," said League of Minnesota Cities attorney Ryan Zipf.

Kotten is seeking $100,000 from Bauer, $1,000 from Schueller and $30 for each "defamatory publication" from the Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch, which could total nearly $50,000. He claims the city of Sleepy Eye is liable for any damages he seeks against Bauer and Schueller.

He also originally sought $30,000 from KNUJ, along with requiring they remove the story from their website, and $20 per publication from The Journal, which could have totaled nearly $130,000.

Kotten's complaint

Kotten was originally charged with fleeing a police officer, reckless driving, careless driving and speeding. He pleaded guilty to careless driving and the other charges were dismissed. The charge was dismissed last January after he completed probationary requirements.

In the criminal complaint, Bauer alleges he observed Kotten taking an "aggressive turn" and recorded him eventually reaching 90 mph. He said he was concerned Kotten was attempting to evade him. He said Kotten attempted to turn into a driveway, but his speed caused him to enter a ditch and strike a telephone pedestal.

Bauer reported Kotten said he was "trying to make it home" and that he lived at the residence. Bauer said Kotten admitted to seeing his lights and being unsure what do because he had never been stopped. Kotten denied speeding at the scene, according to the complaint.

Bauer claims Kotten said, "I was at the Railway and had two beers." The officer said he detected the odor of alcohol and that Kotten refused to take a breath test but passed a field sobriety test.

Kotten was later transported to the detox center in New Ulm.

Forfeiture papers were served on the vehicle Kotten was driving, which was registered to Charles Kotten of Sleepy Eye.

Kotten alleges Bauer maliciously fabricated the following facts: The "aggressive turn." The observed positions of the vehicles. What he said about the lights. Whether he crashed into a telephone pedestal.

Kotten claims defamation in his lawsuit because the disputed facts in the report harmed his reputation, which he says is essential for his ability to produce income.

In an interview, he said he was unsure of his speed when Bauer activated his lights. He said 90 mph would have been impossible given the road. He said he did not crash but instead drove slightly off the road when startled by the lights.

Kotten claims Bauer admitted under oath to lying about whether Kotten was intoxicated. He also claims he offered to take a breath test but was told a physical performance test would be sufficient. He claims audio and video evidence of his statement was destroyed and that Bauer lied about when his malfunctioning microphone was sent for repairs.

Finally, Kotten claims Bauer maliciously submitted him to detox. He claims Bauer violated Minnesota statutes that require officers to not submit people to detox while in uniform or a marked vehicle.

Similarly, Kotten claims abuse of process in the lawsuit. He alleges that Chief Schueller and Bauer intentionally fabricated reports to harass him, which resulted in financial hardship.

Kotten also alleges the vehicle he was driving was illegally seized. He is seeking compensation for the fees paid to recover the vehicle. He claims the fee should have been waived after the fleeing a police officer charge was dropped.

Lastly, he claims the incident caused him to suffer from severe emotional distress, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, loss of appetite and excessive sweating.

Police respond

In their Feb. 18 filing, the Sleepy Eye police officers denied Kotten's claims and maintained the disputed details of the criminal complaint are accurate.

They admitted Bauer was wearing the microphone and he was aware it periodically malfunctions. They denied Kotten's other statements.

Regarding the vehicle seizure, they noted a judge found sufficient cause for the initial charges and that Charles Kotten paid the fees.

The officers filed the following affirmative defenses: They acted in good faith. They did not directly cause Kotten any loss. They are legally protected during official duties. They assert Kotten's claims are false. They assert Kotten carries the most blame for any issues.

The Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch has not yet filed a legal response to Kotten's lawsuit. The newspaper's legal representative declined to comment.

A court date has not been set yet for the lawsuit.