Unlawful searches by local officer led to dismissal of cases

Even though several Hennepin County judges in the last three years have ruled unlawful searches by Corcoran Police officer Cody Vojacek, which led to the dismissal of six criminal cases, city officials in Corcoran defend the officer.

The Crow River News asked Corcoran Public Safety Director Matt Gottschalk and Corcoran City Administrator Brad Martens for comment about Vojacek.

Gottschalk said, “When you consider that Officer Vojacek was literally responsible for thousands of calls (not all of them criminal matters) for services in our community, to think that five or six cases represents an officer’s entire body of work just is not accurate.” He added that the majority of Vojacek’s cases with criminal charges have resulted in convictions.

He also received praise from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in a June 2018 e-mail. The e-mail said that during a trial, Vojacek was outstanding on the stand, direct, knowledgeable, courteous to the jury, willing to accept responsibility where needed and made no attempts to shirk or show any attitude to the defense counsel.

CORCORAN TAKES ACTION

Martens described what happened when Corcoran learned about the six dismissals.

“The city became aware of defense attorneys referencing the (court) orders in early May,” he said. “The city immediately set up a (May 12) meeting with the County Attorney’s office. That meeting included a discussion on the cases, the actions taken, and provided an overview on higher standards deemed necessary by the County Attorney’s office for expansion of searches. Training was deemed sufficient and no disciplinary action was taken.”

Martens continued, “During his nearly four years as a police officer for Corcoran, Cody has shown a sincere dedication to the community and a desire for constant improvement as an officer.

“The City of Corcoran and officer Vojacek take these allegations seriously,” Martens said. “We have worked with the County Attorney’s office to take actions necessary, and continue to work towards the Police Department’s values of integrity, pride, and community.”

He noted that Vojacek helped with setting up Corcoran’s Police K-9 program and is the first officer to have a K-9 partner.

TWEAKS IN TRAINING

Gottschalk said all of the six dismissals involved traffic stops, some of which included a K-9 sniffing for drugs. The County Attorney’s office has been working one-on-one with Vojacek on how he can improve his work. Very likely, these conversations included procedures for expanded searches, documentation of evidence and methods of presenting findings. Gottschalk was not part of these conversations.

He was asked about the standards for expanded searches that were discussed with the Hennepin County Attorney. He said the standards are based upon the Constitution, state statutes and rulings from previous cases on the proper course of conduct and what evidence and statements are and are not admissible in court.

Gottschalk said the court examines every piece of evidence to determine whether it is admissible. Some cases might involve several charges, one or more of which might be dismissed. The court does not always dismiss a case completely or convict a defendant on all charges. The outcome depends upon an individual judge or jury’s interpretation of the law and circumstances of each case. And each case is different. He said all Corcoran police officers at one time or another have had pieces of evidence ruled as inadmissible.

He was asked how an officer is supposed to know what to do in a given situation. He said, “They go back to their schooling and training. They have to apply what ruling, what case law applies here to the scenario as it unfolds in front of you. It can be challenging, but that is our expectation of our police officers that they can effectively and ultimately protect our citizens and our community.”

Martens noted that training of Corcoran police officers is ongoing. The department has frequent meetings to discuss cases and ways to improve what they are doing.

LEGAL SYSTEM PROTECTS CITIZENS

“Our legal system is designed so that all citizens are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Gottschalk said. “It’s supposed to be that way. That is why every piece of evidence and statements are scrutinized to determine what is and is not admissible to use against people who are alleged to have committed crimes.”

Prosecutors are expected to bring evidence of a crime to the court, he said. There is a reason for a trial. A citizen has a right to have a defense attorney. Each side presents its own facts and tries to refute the other side’s facts.

He added, “An acquittal does not automatically equate that you have violated citizens’ rights. It might mean that the government did not follow necessary steps for admission of certain evidentiary items. So to suggest that suppression of evidence automatically discredits an officer’s ability to conduct further investigations while working in a system designed to work against government is not really a correct assertion.”

If this were the case, “there wouldn’t be any cops left to investigate,” he said. “The system is designed to discredit the government, to give the benefit of the doubt to our citizens intentionally.”

Gottschalk said he wanted to hear from anyone who has questions or concerns about the conduct of Corcoran police officers. He welcomed having a conversation about ways his department could improve its service to the community.

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