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It's official: Rukavina files paperwork for his return to politics

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: May 20, 2014 - 4:48 PM


Two years after he bowed out of the political arena, former state lawmaker Tom Rukavina is jumping back in.


"I missed it, to be honest with you. I just missed being able to work a room and I missed being with people," said Rukavina, one of three candidates vying for a nonpartisan seat on the St. Louis County Board. 

Rukavina, a Democrat, retired from the Legislature in 2012, stepping down from the seat he held for 26 years. He filed the paperwork for his new campaign on Tuesday morning.

"For the past year and a half, people would come up to me and say, 'Oh, Rukavina, thank you for your service. We really wish you were still in politics.' So I'm going to see if they really meant it or not," he said with a laugh.

The Mesabi Daily News reports that he faces former Cook City Councilwoman Kirsten Reichel and Vermilion Lake Township resident Christina Hujanen in the nonpartisan election. The job offers a full-time salary of about $55,000 and, Rukavina said, the opportunity "to be home every night with my wife," after two and a half decades of shuttling back and forth to St. Paul.

Rukavina, whose past campaigns have ranged from Minnesota governor to the Virginia school board, was a fierce, funny force on the state political scene. During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, he gave out underpants emblazoned with the slogan "Refreshingly Honest."

In his farewell message to his colleagues, he lamented "the changing atmosphere at the Capitol."

“I recall a kinder and gentler time here when even the most conservative members of our body still believed government could do good things for our people," he wrote at the time. "But times have changed and I haven’t so it’s time for a new direction.”

County government, he said, is another story -- a nonpartisan office and a chance to help constituents at the ground level.

"I left because it had gotten a little out of hand in St. Paul. I'm hoping it will be a little tamer and nicer in Duluth and in Ely and Virginia and Hibbing," he said.

Rukavina, 63, had been eyeing the seat of retiring St. Louis County commissioner Mike Forsman of Ely for some time. The Duluth News Tribune dubbed his campaign plans "the worst-kept secret on the Iron Range."

Rukavina has been working as an Iron Range staffer for Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan but says he will step down from that post around July, as his own campaign heats up.

"That way, if I put my foot in my mouth, I won't put my foot in his mouth," he said, laughing again.

Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler

Former Mille Lacs deputy pleads guilty to child molestion

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: March 21, 2014 - 3:17 PM

A former Mille Lacs County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Friday to molesting young boys at an Otter Tail County summer camp where he was a volunteer.

Aaron Joseph Heuer faces up to 33 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct against five different victims, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The charges stem from June 2013, when Heuer was volunteering as a fishing guide at Lutheran Island Camp in Henning. He pleaded guilty to sexual contact with young boys at the camp, all between the ages of 8 and 10. Investigators believe he knew the children prior to the incidents, which included a separate fishing trip in Aitkin County that was unrelated to the camp.

Heuer, a resident of Isle, also pleaded guilty to one count of criminal sexual conduct in Mille Lacs County. The plea agreement calls for a sentence of 396 months in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for May 8 in Otter Tail County District Court.

Icebound Duluth awaits start of spring shipping season

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: March 20, 2014 - 11:36 AM

Ice-covered Lake Superior in February. Image provided by NOAA to the AP.Duluth will hold its traditional Blessing of the Port ceremony Thursday evening, even though heavy ice will delay the start of the shipping season this year.

Officials in the St. Lawrence Seaway System announced this week that they will delay the start of the 2014 navigation season for the Montreal/Lake Ontario section until at least March 31.

By contrast, last year the ice thawed so early the oceangoing "saltie" freighters were able to pull into Duluth before April for the first time in half a century.

Ice or no ice, The Twin Ports Ministry to Seafarers will host the annual Blessing of the Port at 5 p.m., followed by refreshments and a musical salute to all mariners. Vanta E. Coda II, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority will also give his forecast for the 2014 shipping season.

Winona man identified as victim in mysterious back yard death

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: March 19, 2014 - 10:31 AM

There are more questions than answers in the death of a 57-year-old man whose body was discovered in a bloodied back yard in Rollingstone over the weekend.

The Winona Daily News identified the man as Glenn Peter Brown of Winona, who died of hypothermia and blood loss early Sunday, although the exact cause of his injuries remains undetermined. Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand told the paper that Brown suffered lacerations to his face and scalp.

According to the paper, Brown was discovered in the back yard of a Rollingstone couple's home. They told investigators he had been watching their house and caring for their dog while they were out of town for a day.

Brand told the Daily News that Brown had not been shot and there was no evidence that he had been struck by a vehicle. Brown spent the evening at a local sports bar, leaving around 1 a.m. and was last spotted near a park where investigators found his glasses and a trail of blood that led from the park to the house, two blocks away, where his body was found.

Fargo police officer who took his own life was about to lose his job

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: March 18, 2014 - 1:14 PM
Lt. Jeff Skuza/ Fargo Police Department

Lt. Jeff Skuza/ Fargo Police Department

A veteran Fargo police officer, on the brink of losing his job, took his own life last week after one small mistake led to another, and another and another.

It all started with an accidental Taser discharge inside police headquarters.

It ended on March 11, when Lt. Jeff Skuza – a 23-year veteran of the force and father of two – shot himself in the head in a cemetery just south of town.

According to the internal affairs investigation the department completed this week, Skuza, 47, was working the night shift on Valentine's Day when he decided to do a routine check of his weapon. But he forgot to remove the cartridge first and the Taser discharged into a clearing barrel with a "pop" loud enough to be heard elsewhere in the building.

Instead of reporting a wrist-slap of a safety violation, Skuza gathered up the spent cartridge and wires and cleaned up the scene, hoping no one would notice. When another officer found the discharged Taser probes and began asking questions, Skuza launched into a series of evasions and lies that led to the entire night shift being questioned. He kept up his denials, while assisting in the investigation, for almost two days before admitting what happened.

The episode bewildered his colleagues, who knew Skuza as an exemplary officer with an unblemished service record.

“I was disappointed when the interview reflected his immediate reaction was to cover up his (minor) mistake instead of doing the right thing and reporting it immediately. It then escalated as deception after deception occurred in his interactions with staff,” Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes wrote on March 10, in a letter recommending Skuza’s termination.

Skuza had lost the trust of his colleagues and his credibility as a law enforcement official. The incident would open the door for defense attorneys to question his actions at every crime scene, the department concluded.

“Ultimately, this comes down to the value ‘we’ as the Fargo Police Department place on integrity and truthfulness,” Ternes wrote. “As difficult as this is, I must recommend that Lieutenant Jeffrey Skuza’s employment with the Fargo Police Department be terminated.”

Skuza wrote an anguished letter to his supervisors, trying to explain what happened.

“On an impulse I decided to throw away the cartridge with the intent of letting the incident go undetected. I did this because I was embarrassed that I had done something so absentmindedly careless,” he wrote in a letter dated Feb. 17. “Our ethics standard is clear that we should do the right thing and I failed in this case.”

The longer he waited to come forward, Skuza wrote, the worse things got. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn't eat. He desperately wanted to make things right, but knew he had waited too long. Finally, he made his decision.

“I sat my wife down on February 16 and told her what had happened and that I had to make it right,” he said. “The stress of what I had done was consuming me. I told her if I kept quiet I would not be the same person I have always been….the only solution was to come forward. I told her I was about to make a phone call that would at best damage my career and at worst end it.”

Skuza was placed on administrative leave in early March and was facing likely termination, although there is no way to know whether the events at work led directly to his decision to commit suicide. What is known is that his final weeks were full of regret.

The minute one of his colleagues mentioned finding the Taser probes, “I should have right then told him it was me but I was afraid because I hadn’t immediately reported the discharge,” he later told investigators.

“I could have mitigated the whole thing right there,” he added. “But I had fallen into that rabbit hole and I didn’t know how to climb out.”

Read the entire report below:


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