Officer Schmitz cleared of charges by Grand Jury

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 5/26/98.

The Stearns County Grand Jury found no reason to file criminal charges against Paynesville Police Officer Joe Schmitz for his role in a chase that killed Gary Westby, New London, last October.

The grand jury met Tuesday and Wednesday, May 19 and 20, to consider possible criminal charges against Officer Schmitz.

Mary Younkers, Stearns County District Attorneyâs Office, said the grand jury consists of a convocation of the public ranging from 16 to 23 people. The only people allowed in the courtroom were the judge, grand jury, prosecutor and witnesses called.

"We (the city) have backed Officer Schmitz since the accident in October,ä Dennis Wilde, city administrator, said. We hired an outside investigator to do the internal investigation, and he found no fault. We are pleased with the grand jury findings and that there was no indictment. It was an unfortunate accident."

The fatal accident occurred on Oct. 15, 1997, when John Carl Anderson, Paynesville, failed to stop for Paynesville Police Officer Joe Schmitz and a chase began. The chase took the two men from Paynesville west down Cemetery Road onto Roseville Road and across Highway 23 near the Evangelical Free Church.

Officer Schmitz failed to see oncoming traffic as he crossed the highway and his patrol car collided with a van driven by Gary Westby, Spicer.

In February, Anderson was convicted and sentenced to serve up to 30 years on charges of vehicular homicide, causing a death while fleeing an officer, causing substantial bodily harm while fleeing an officer, two counts of criminal vehicular operation, two counts of fleeing an officer and one count of driving under the influence.

The city still has several civil suits pending which were filed by the families involved in the accident.

On Nov. 6, 1997, a claim was submitted on behalf of the estate of Gary Westby for wrongful death and also on behalf of Cynthia Westby for personal injuries. Michael Erickson, a passenger in the vehicle, also intends to pursue a claim for personal injuries.

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