Regional News in Review - October 2010

Access dispute headed to court

A dispute over a shared driveway, which is used by a man with a disability, went back to Dakota County District Court Oct. 4 . For several months, Micah Olson’s family has needed a spotter to help back out of their 8-foot-wide driveway.

That’s because neighbor Jason Kustritz installed 10 metal T-posts sticking out of the ground at uneven lengths on his  property, inches away from the shared driveway.

The Olsons said the metal T-posts have made accessing the house difficult for their disabled son, Micah, and hard for them to get in and out without damaging their car. Kustritz said the T-posts are temporary barriers to prevent the Olsons from repeatedly driving on his lawn.

The dispute wound up before the South St. Paul City Council in September, but city officials indicated that there is nothing they can do. City officials characterized the neighbors as one between neighbors, not something that involves the city. Previously city staff indicated the posts could stay.

“The only reason to have the post there, if they are not going to be developed as a fence is just to harass the Olsons,” said Justin Page, an attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center, who was representing Micah.

While T-posts are not dubbed as suitable building materials for fences in South St. Paul, the posts on Kustritz’s property were decided earlier not to constitute a fence.

The posts couldn’t be labeled as a public nuisance, either, because they were only affecting the Olson family, said Korine Land, city attorney.

“Unfortunately, this is one of those situations that I think that everyone sees that there is a hazard, but it’s not a public hazard and so for the city to interject itself into a private property matter is really an inappropriate expenditure of city funds,” Land said.

Disputes between the two neighbors about the driveway have gone on since September of 2008, according to the Olsons. The family has spent an exorbitant amount of money in litigation, Olson said.  [Source: Star Tribune, Southwest Review]

Latest nursing home abuse trial this month

The trial for 20-year-old Ashton Michelle Larson, who faces charges of alleged abuse of residents at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea, will start Nov. 15 in Rice County District Court. The trial is expected to take one week. It was moved from Freeborn County because of pretrial publicity. A pretrial hearing for Larson is set for Oct. 14.

Larson is the latest of the defendants in the nursing home abuse case to be tried. The alleged abuse took place from January through May 2008. Larson and five other young women are accused of abusing nursing home residents through various types of verbal and physical abuse.  The case sent shock waves throughout the region.

Larson faces 17 counts, ranging from fifth-degree assault, criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult, criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult involving sexual contact, disorderly conduct by a caregiver and mandatory failure to report suspected abuse. She and co-defendant Brianna Broitzman were charged as adults, while four others were charged as juveniles. The charges against the juveniles went through juvenile court.

Broitzman, who faces 15 counts, pleaded guilty in August to three counts of disorderly conduct by a caregiver as part of a plea agreement in the case. She will be sentenced Oct. 22, 2010.  [Source: Albert Lea Tribune]

Veterans have own court

Veterans charged with crimes now have their own court in Hennepin County. A Sept. 27 Star Tribune article described how the veterans, some of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities, have their cases handled. The court began operating two months ago.

Patterned after similar courts emerging across the country, the Hennepin County project is the first in the state. It brings together parties from the criminal justice system and the Department of Veterans Affairs to focus on the specific needs of veterans. A handful of defendants have been accepted into the court, which requires intensive participation on everyone’s part. The courts are in response to the realization that veterans may benefit from specific interventions and plans, and that their military experiences may be contributing factors for why they are in court.

Judge Richard Hopper has experience in this blend of traditional court and social experiment. He has presided over the county’s mental health court and has seen many of the same people stand before him.

The court uses mentors. Mike Bauman, a Vietnam era veteran whose father wrestled with what was then known as acute battle fatigue, mentors an Iraq vet in his 30s with multiple drunken-driving offenses. The program is administered by the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living. So far 32 mentors have gone through training and 18 have been matched with a veteran.

A Justice Department study in 2000 found that one in 100 vets was behind bars, and that veterans account for roughly 10 percent of people with criminal records. In Minnesota, 7 percent of the state’s prison population is veterans, but studies suggest those who have seen combat are a much higher percentage of that group. Many are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, but the largest percentage of defendants appearing in front of Hopper have been Vietnam vets, many of whom have long histories in the court system. [Source: Star Tribune]

Ground broken for new facility

Minneapolis-based Shelter Corporation broke ground Sept. 21 on a $6.3 million senior-housing facility in Oakdale. Cypress Senior Living at Red Oak Preserve will be a three-story apartment community with 39 rental homes for seniors, underground parking and a community room. The facility will offer one- and two-bedroom floor plans with rents of between $775 and $875 per month. The units will be priced affordably for elderly residents with household incomes at or below 60 percent of the median area income.

The project, located at 4994 N. Hamlet Ave., is to be completed and ready for new residents next spring. Hopkins-based Frana Cos. is the general contractor. The Washing County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency are involved in financing, as are two banks.

Shelter is a company that finances, develops, owns and manages market-rate and affordable multi-family and senior rental communities.  Shelter Corporation, founded in 1993, is a Minneapolis-based corporation that finances, develops, owns and manages multi-family and senior rental communities throughout the United States. The Shelter management portfolio consists of diversified rental properties including urban and suburban, market rate and affordable, and family and senior. Company principals have developed and acquired more than 15,000 housing units

Shelter Corporation, founded in 1993, is a Minneapolis-based corporation that finances, develops, owns and manages multi-family and senior rental communities throughout the United States. The Shelter management portfolio consists of diversified rental properties including urban and suburban, market rate and affordable, and family and senior. Company principals have developed and acquired more than 15,000 housing units  [Source: Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, Shelter Corporation]

Lightning damages group home

A lightning strike apparently triggered a blaze to that led to an evacuation of a group home in the 100 block of Crestridge Drive in Burnsville. Fortunately, none of the residents were injured and everyone got out safely.

Police and fire units received a call shortly before noon, Sept. 15, that a lightning strike had triggered a growing fire near the home’s gas meter. Authorities helped the caretaker evacuate the home’s residents, including two in a wheelchair, while firefighters cut holes in the roof to fight the flames, which had traveled to the attic. Neighbors also assisted in getting the residents out safely. Burnsville Fire Department and Center Point Energy arrived quickly to shut off the gas and put out the fire.

 The building’s exterior and the attic were damaged, and the interior sustained smoke and minor water damage. No injuries were reported, and residents will be relocated until the house is habitable.   [Source: KSTP TV, Burnsville Sun-Current]

PCA is charged with theft

A woman who worked as personal care attendant is accused of stealing medication and jewelry from a client who has multiple sclerosis. Kristin Michelle Poppa, 28, of Lakeville was charged last month in Dakota County District Court with three felonies, including theft, theft of a controlled substance and receiving stolen property.

Poppa allegedly stole from a patient she cared for as an employee of Custom Care LLC of Eden Prairie. Poppa took care of the client alone at her Farmington home during the day for two years.

The patient’s husband noticed earlier this year that some of his wife’s Vicodin pills were missing. In early March, he separated some of the pills and hid them in a dresser drawer. He counted the pills every few days as they began disappearing. He also noticed a missing gold bracelet. The bracelet and other stolen items later turned up at a pawn shop.

In the spring, the husband contacted Custom Care about the missing items, the complaint said. The company reported the incident to Farmington police. If convicted, Poppa could face up to 10 years in prison for theft of a controlled substance and up to five years for each of the other two charges.  [Source: Pioneer Press]