West St. Paul has settled a lawsuit with Thomas Wayne Evenstad, a Level I sex offender who sued the city over its 2016 ordinance limiting where registered sex offenders can live.

Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim ordered the suit dismissed with prejudice. As part of the settlement, Evenstad and his attorneys will receive a total of $84,000. Both parties will pay their own legal fees.

"We are pleased with the result," said Adele Nicholas, Evenstad's attorney. "We think Judge Tunheim's decision is important because it establishes that there are constitutional limitations on the types of laws that municipalities can pass to restrict where people can live."

Evenstad and his attorneys argued that the city's ordinance was unconstitutional because it was too restrictive, rendering him essentially homeless because so much of the city was off limits under the ordinance.

More than 80 cities in Minnesota restrict where sex offenders live, though West St. Paul's ordinance, which applied to even Level 1 sex offenders, was among the strictest in the state.

In January, Tunheim ruled that Evenstad could stay in West St. Paul while his lawsuit went through court. The judge noted that the suit had merit, signaling that the city could lose.

By March, West St. Paul had loosened its ordinance. Under the new rule, the city restricts only where Level 2 and 3 sex offenders who have abused children can live, while also allowing offenders to live near group homes.

Nearly two decades ago, Evenstad was convicted of raping an 18-year-old woman he met over a chat line. He was released from prison in 2008. He is classified as a Level 1 offender, meaning he is the least likely of the three groups to reoffend.

Evenstad sued the city after he moved into a friend's West St. Paul duplex in August 2017. Days later, the city said he had to leave due to his sex offender status.

Evenstad, who now lives in St. Paul, said he is "thrilled and relieved that it is over with." He was able to buy a used car with his portion of the settlement.

"The principle was always why I took this case," Evenstad said. "It was more to blaze a trail for other people."

Sex offender residency restriction ordinances are "counterproductive to public safety," Evenstad said, because they can result in sex offenders having no stable place to live.

Erin Adler

Apple Valley

Minnesota Zoo bash raises $730, 000

The Minnesota Zoo smashed its one-day fundraising record last week during the revamped Beastly Bash, an event inviting benefactors to socialize amongst the animals.

Officials raised $730,000 — a sizable increase from last year's $600,000 windfall.

What was previously a formal sit-down dinner called the Beastly Ball has morphed into the Beastly Bash — an evening touting more room to roam, more animal encounters and live musical entertainment. The black tie gala turned outdoor cocktail party was part of a larger plan to entice younger donors and increase profits.

The bash held on June 9, and themed "A Wild Summer Night," summoned philanthropists to a party under the stars.

The shift to an outdoor event allowed organizers to more than double the guest list. Attendance at the zoo's formal ball was capped at 600 participants, while the informal bash can host as many as 1,400.

Liz Sawyer


Judi Tomczik officially joins school board

Retired Shakopee teacher Judi Tomczik was officially sworn into the vacant school board seat Monday night.

Tomczik, who taught in the Shakopee School District for 44 years, fills the seat left open by Mary Romansky's abrupt resignation in January.

She joins the Shakopee board at a time of transition for the district, which has weathered back-to-back budget deficits and a major scandal involving former Superintendent Rod Thompson, who resigned last summer amid accusations of embezzling public funds.

Her appointment ends in early January, but Tomczik has said she plans to run for a full four-year term this fall.

Liz Sawyer

Mendota Heights

Lawsuit filed against city, former cop

A former Mendota Heights City Council member and a one-time mayoral candidate are suing the city and a former police officer alleging the officer unnecessarily accessed their confidential information via the state's driver's license database.

Randolph Pentel, who ran for mayor of Mendota Heights in 2016, and Michael Povolny, a former council member, filed a federal class action lawsuit May 25 against Sgt. Michael Shepard and the city.

Pentel and Povolny say in the suit that the Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) database searches had no law enforcement purpose and thus violated their privacy. The searches were a violation of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, the suit says.

Povolny's wife, Kim, and daughter, Michelle, also are listed as plaintiffs because Shepard looked up their information, the lawsuit said.

In March of 2017, Shepard was suspended by the Police Department for 30 days after an internal investigation discovered that he accessed the driver's license information of 272 people in 2016. Twelve of those searches were found to be suspicious, including searches involving his girlfriend, co-workers, community members and City Council members. Shepard also shared details of the city investigation with Neil Garlock, now the city's mayor, despite being directed not to do so. Shepard had received training on appropriate use of the database after improperly accessing information in 2009.

The plaintiffs are suing the city because Mendota Heights gave Shepard database access, the suit states. The city also didn't notify the people whose information was improperly accessed as required by statute, according to the lawsuit.

Shepard, an 11-year veteran of the department, resigned in late 2017.

Erin Adler