The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 21, 2013

Officer in crash criticized in internal documents

NEW ULM — The city of New Ulm and patrol officer Mathew Rasmussen didn't officially admit to wrongdoing in a $570,000 legal settlement of a lawsuit filed by the family of two people killed by a speeding squad car, and prosecutors declined to file any criminal charges or citations against him.

But internal police department documents say Rasmussen's actions demonstrated "substandard decision making," that his performance constituted "misfeasance of duty" and that the department had been notified more than once about his "aggressive" driving.

The information was contained in Rasmussen's personnel file, provided by the city to The Free Press following a request under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

Rasmussen's punishment was limited to a three-day suspension without pay for his actions on July 8, 2011, when an 82-year-old New Ulm woman and her 60-year-old son from Mankato were killed after the 31-year-old officer's squad — traveling at 70 mph or more without emergency lights or siren on a residential street — slammed into their left-turning Mercury Sable.

But the file also outlined a yearlong "performance improvement" plan to closely monitor Rasmussen's actions, including video recordings of entire patrol shifts, a daily log where he would have to document all his actions and a temporary prohibition of road-side enforcement of speeding laws.

"Officer Rasmussen will understand (upon completion of the performance improvement plan) that traffic enforcement is a continuous risk management process in which all geographical factors, climatic factors, traffic flow factors, pedestrian factors, vehicle management and equipment systems and violation severity need to be taken in to consideration," according to the file.

The reference to "violation severity" appears to reflect concern that the crash occurred after Rasmussen decided to pursue and ticket a speeder who he estimated was traveling 44 mph on Garden Street. After delays in beginning the pursuit because of traffic on the street, the squad car rapidly accelerated to 70 mph or more and the accelerator was to the floor less than a second before the collision.

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