Internal police investigation at a stand still

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 10/28/97.

An internal investigation into the Paynesville Police Departmentís recent pursuit and resulting accident which claimed the life of Gary Westby, Spicer, is at a stand still.

City attorney Bill Spooner said the city is looking for an outside investigator to avoid conflict of interest. ďWe have been unable to find someone to conduct the investigation into whether Paynesville Police Officer Joe Schmitz complied with the department pursuit policy,Ē Spooner added. The investigation is required as a result of Officer Schmitz being involved in a pursuit which resulted in the death of Westby on Oct. 15.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a state highway patrol officer knowledgeable with pursuit policies have been approached to do the investigation, but both refused.

Spooner said another reason for the slow pace is the Stearns County Sheriffís Department refusal to release any of the necessary reports to Tony Schmitt, Paynesville Police Chief.

ďWe feel by obtaining a neutral party to do the investigation, the county would probably release their files quicker,Ē Spooner said. ďBecause we canít get the information, we could sit back and wait to do our analysis, but we want to see if what Schmitz did was right or wrong.Ē

ďThe Paynesville Police Department is a small, close knit group and they want to avoid any conflict of interest,Ē Spooner added.

Stearns County is investigating the accident for criminal charges against John Carl Anderson, who fled from the officer several times during a pursuit which took them several miles outside of the Paynesville city limits. Anderson is being held in the Stearns County Jail on $100,000 bail. Officer Schmitz could also be facing criminal charges for his role in the accident.

Anderson made his second court appearance in Stearns County District Court on Monday for manslaughter, criminal vehicular homicide and fleeing a peace officer. A November ominbus hearing has been scheduled.

ďOfficer Schmitz returned to work last week but is only doing administrative and investigative duties until the internal investigation is completed,Ē Police Chief Tony Schmitt said.

The Paynesville City Council had a search put out by local car dealers to find another squad car to replace the one wrecked in the accident. A 1997 Crown Victoria was found in Wisconsin and should be here within a week or two.

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