The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office waited six months to divulge that a nurse who examined sexual assault victims and was listed as a prosecution witness was fired for lying about her educational background, prompting a call for an independent review of criminal cases she was involved in.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he was “certain” the revelation would lead defense attorneys to request dismissing charges in cases involving the nurse, or to ask for new trials. His office didn’t begin reviewing those cases until last week, after the Star Tribune contacted him for comment about the May 8 firing of Kristi J. Jarvis, a Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) nurse.
“Hindsight tells us it would have been better practice to disclose this earlier,” Freeman said. “It did not appear to us to be significant.”
Freeman said that his office has identified 19 cases involving Jarvis, but that there are “a lot of cases we’re going through.”
The Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office blasted Freeman for sitting on the details when his office is constitutionally required to share such information. Freeman said his office learned of Jarvis’ firing when it occurred. Federal law places the burden on prosecutors to identify and share information that can cast doubt on a potential witness’ credibility.
“They had an obligation to disclose this information as soon as they learned a witness they were offering as an expert was fired for lying about her qualifications,” said Chief Hennepin County Public Defender Mary Moriarty. “It is astonishing that Freeman characterizes lying that got her fired as not significant enough to disclose.” Moriarty said the office is now assessing which cases the revelation may affect.
Documents obtained by the Star Tribune show that Jarvis was fired for falsely reporting in documents she signed early this year that she had a bachelor’s of science in nursing.
Her personnel file also showed that she inappropriately took $4,050 in personal checks from participants who attended a class she taught, was disciplined in 2017 for altering official HCMC documents and contributed to a work environment rife with dysfunction.
Jarvis, who was also praised in her file for her “very high standards,” passion and “impressive command of knowledge” in her field, deferred comment to her attorney, Christa Groshek.
“Ms. Jarvis denies any allegations that she misrepresented her title or credentials,” Groshek said in a written statement. “A subordinate in her office misstated her title.”
Jarvis is a registered nurse, has a bachelor’s of science in criminology and criminal justice, a master’s certificate in forensic nursing and is certified as a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE), Groshek said.
Jarvis, 37, was first licensed as a nurse in Minnesota in 2006, and is actively licensed with an expiration date of February 2020, according to the Minnesota Board of Nursing. A bachelor’s degree in nursing is not required for licensure as a nurse.
Jarvis was hired by HCMC in 2014 and promoted the following year to “program coordinator” for the Hennepin Assault Response Team (HART), then known as Sexual Assault Resource Service, or, SARS. She served as forensic program coordinator from late 2017 until her firing.
HART is staffed 24 hours a day and investigates allegations of sexual assault, human trafficking and sexual exploitation involving adults and children.
Jarvis “worked tirelessly while at HCMC …,” Groshek wrote. “This team was underfunded and overworked.”
Hennepin Healthcare, the umbrella organization for HCMC, refused to grant an interview about Jarvis’ actions and how they may have affected her colleagues and criminal investigations. It confirmed that Jarvis had the credentials to perform her job duties.
“The reason for termination was ‘failure to comply with Hennepin Health System’s Code of Conduct,’ ” Hennepin Healthcare said in a written statement.
The HCMC documents show that Jarvis self-reported conducting more than 400 forensic exams in her career and wrote that she has provided “expert witness consultation and testimony for numerous county attorney’s offices” and defense attorneys. Her career included a stint as a SANE at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
Public defenders in Hennepin and Ramsey counties could not immediately say how many of their past or pending cases involve Jarvis as an examiner or witness. She worked on cases in both counties while at HCMC.
“We’ll find out which cases she’s been pivotally involved in and see what can be done,” said Jim Fleming, chief Ramsey County public defender. “This certainly is going to perk interest.”
Jarvis’ involvement in a case wouldn’t necessarily result in an automatic challenge, Fleming said, adding that many other variables have to be considered.
“Every case is unique,” Moriarty said. “We’re looking at each one individually to make sure our clients’ rights were protected.”
Moriarty said her office has at least one pending case involving Jarvis, and that as of late last week, Freeman’s office had yet to alert her of Jarvis’ firing.
While the county attorney plans to share the information, Freeman said he did not believe Jarvis’ firing was relevant to assault allegations. The credentials she previously reported and that prosecutors shared with defense attorneys before her termination were accurate at the time, he added.
The county attorney’s civil division was contacted by HCMC when Jarvis was fired because it represents the hospital in terminations, Freeman said. The information then migrated to the criminal division.
According to a termination letter, Jarvis was fired for claiming on forms related to the International Association of Forensic Nursing’s approval process for SANE classes that she had a bachelor’s of science in nursing.
Jarvis denied misrepresenting her educational background, and told her supervisors that she had simply signed forms filled out by a co-worker, the termination letter said.
“Our investigation found that many of the statements you made during the meeting were untruthful,” the letter said. “Your misrepresentation of your credentials … puts the organization at risk and shows a lack of integrity on your part.”
Freeman said his office has “established protocol” with police departments and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that guides their reporting of potential witness credibility issues. He didn’t know whether a similar protocol was in place with HCMC.
“It’s shocking that they didn’t have a protocol in place to share that type of … information internally,” said Moriarty, who called for an independent review of every case Jarvis touched.
Moriarty’s “comments on how we handled the cases involving Ms. Jarvis are, in the words of Shakespeare, ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing,’ ” Freeman shot back. “We handle all of these issues to the best of our ability while staying true to our mission of doing justice every day.”
Freeman pointed to his office’s announcement in 2018 that then-Eden Prairie police officer Travis Serafin falsified information in search warrants.
The county attorney asked judges to vacate convictions in 22 cases involving Serafin and dismissed 24 other pending cases that were affected.
Moriarty noted that the Serafin news was also delayed by months.