Apr 23, 2024 - News

Minnesota senator faces pressure to resign after burglary charge

Sen. Nicole Michell

Photo: Minnesota Legislature

A Democratic state senator from a Twin Cities suburb is facing calls to resign after prosecutors accused her of breaking into her stepmother's home to retrieve ashes and other items she said belonged to her late father.

Catch up quick: Sen. Nicole Mitchell (DFL-Woodbury) was arrested on Monday following an early morning call to police reporting a break-in at a Detroit Lakes home.

  • On Tuesday, the Becker County Attorney's Office charged her with first-degree burglary, a charge that Mitchell denies. The felony carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
  • The criminal complaint stated the senator told officers her actions were connected to a dispute over her father's possessions.

What they're saying: In a Tuesday afternoon post on her Facebook page, Mitchell denied stealing, saying she was attempting to check on a family member experiencing a "decline due to Alzheimer's and associated paranoia."

  • Her lawyer, Bruce Ringstrom, Sr., told Axios via email that the first-term senator has "no interest in resigning."

The big picture: Mitchell's arrest could create political and logistical problems for Minnesota Democrats, given their narrow 34-33 Senate majority.

  • Any absences could leave majority Democrats unable to pass legislation without GOP votes ahead of a May 20 adjournment deadline.

The latest: Mitchell, who was booked into Becker County Jail on Monday, did not enter a plea during her first court appearance on Tuesday.

  • The judge said she could be released on conditions that include having no contact with the victim.

Context: Mitchell, a former meteorologist and lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve, was elected in 2022. An obituary shows her father died in 2023.

What we're hearing: Senate Republican Leader Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) on Tuesday called for Mitchell's immediate resignation.

  • "I understand the difficult situation her family is facing, however, the actions taken by Sen. Mitchell are disturbing," he said in a statement, calling the behavior outlined in the complaint "unbecoming" of a legislator.
  • The state Republican Party and Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus have issued similar statements.

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) described the alleged actions as "far outside the character [Mitchell] has established in the Senate and in her distinguished career in the military."

  • She said in a statement that while Mitchell "has the right to a full defense of her case in court," she "must also have serious and difficult conversations with her colleagues, constituents and family" in the weeks ahead.

Details: Officers responding to the scene just before 5am on Monday discovered Mitchell in the basement "dressed in all black clothing and a black hat" with a flashlight that had a "black sock covering" it nearby, the charging document states.

  • Mitchell's statement said she visited the home after learning of "medical information that caused me grave concern" about her family member.
  • She said that she had been to this home "countless times in the past 20 years … Unfortunately, I startled this close relative, exacerbating paranoia."

According to the complaint:

  • Mitchell, who admitted to making the 3 1/2-hour drive from the Twin Cities in the middle of the night and entering through a basement window, told officers she had "just gotten into the house" and said, "Clearly I'm not good at this."
  • As she was being detained, Mitchell said to her stepmother something along the lines of: "I was just trying to get a couple of my dad's things because you wouldn't talk to me anymore."
  • She told police that her stepmother had cut off contact after an argument and that she wanted possession of sentimental items such as his ashes, a flannel shirt, and pictures.

Zoom in: A backpack at the scene contained Mitchell's IDs, a cellphone, Tupperware, and two laptops, per the complaint. Mitchell told police that both of the computers were hers. But one showed her stepmother's name when powered on.

  • Mitchell reportedly claimed it was given to her by the victim, but her stepmother disputed that claim.

What's next: Her next court appearance is scheduled for June 10.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a Tuesday afternoon statement from Mitchell and her lawyer.

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