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Crookston officer who killed man in homeless shelter ID’d as same officer who killed man in May




CROOKSTON, Minn. – The Crookston police officer who shot and killed a man at a homeless shelter last week also fatally shot a man six weeks earlier, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Nick Gunner Fladland, 31, was identified by the BCA as the officer who used deadly force June 30 against Christopher Ryan Junkin, 44, of California, who died of multiple gunshot wounds at the Care and Share shelter.

“He was crying out for help, and he got killed in return,” said Junkin’s nephew Bobby Rodriguez in a phone call Wednesday from San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“I’m all for backing the blue. I respect police officers. I respect everyone who puts their life at risk for us citizens, man. This is not just, you know, F the cops situation… But the way my uncle got shot and killed like that was just totally uncalled for. It’s really hard. We’re all trying to wrap our head around it.”

Fladland, who has five years of law enforcement experience, is on critical leave. He was also placed on critical leave following the May 16 fatal shooting of Andrew Scott Dale, 35, of Crookston, while responding to reports of him wielding a hatchet.

It’s unclear how long such leave lasts, but the deadly shootings were 45 days apart. The BCA said each police department has its own leave policy and the agency deferred to Crookston police for answers. Messages on this to the department were not returned and the police chief didn’t respond to multiple interview requests.

Mayor Dale Stainbrook declined to say whether he believes Flandland should’ve been back on duty after the first shooting, or if he should remain on the force after killing two civilians.

“It was two isolated incidents. Granted, it happened within weeks of each other, but like I said, we haven’t had anything like this as long as I can remember and I grew up in this town,” Stainbrook said in a phone interview.

Rodriguez said it’s no question that Fladland returned to duty too soon and he should not be on the force.

“We truly believe [Fladland] should have never been off leave after killing that other young man, Andrew,” he said. “I don’t think he should have been back on duty within a short matter of time after taking another young man’s life dealing with a mental health crisis.”

The BCA said in a news release that Fladland first deployed his Taser before firing his department handgun.

Officer Corey Rich, with two years of experience, and Polk County deputy April Hansen also deployed Tasers. Hansen has 14 years experience, according to the BCA, and she also used a chemical irritant.

Law enforcement responded to reports of men allegedly fighting at a homeless shelter. When they arrived, the BCA said they made contact with Junkin, who was allegedly breaking items inside the shelter. Junkin ignored their verbal commands and followed officers as they backed down a hallway, the BCA said.

But Junkin’s roommate at the shelter, Robert Fox, told Valley News Live that he disputes the police account of the incident. Fox said he told officers: “This is a mental health issue, it’s not a fight, I don’t want to press charges,” the Fargo TV station reported.

The officers and deputies were wearing body cameras that captured portions of the incident. The BCA is reviewing this footage as part of an ongoing investigation.

Rodriguez said Junkin’s family viewed the body camera video and he doesn’t believes the shooting was justified. He said his uncle was naked, unarmed and in crisis.

“My uncle didn’t do anything to those officers for his life to be taken,” he said.

Junkin, a father of four was a father figure to Rodriguez. He said his uncle moved to Minnesota for a girl, spent some time living in Minneapolis and fell on hard times in Crookston. The family didn’t know he was living at the shelter because Rodriguez said Junkin’s wasn’t one to ask for help — he helped others.

In April, Junkin was charged with first-degree damage to property in Hennepin County. According to the charges, he was at the Mall of America in Bloomington on July 24, 2023 when surveillance shows him throwing a planter over the fourth floor balcony. Junkin is accused of trying to force entry into a closed restaurant and causing nearly $5,000 in damage to the door.

He has no other criminal history in Minnesota, but there are two civil cases involving him and another woman who filed a harassment and domestic abuse restraining order against Junkin last year.

As for the May 16 fatal shooting of Dale, Police Chief Darin Selzler said Dale “rapidly approached” police, who initially used less-lethal measures to stop him.

Two police officers and a Polk County sheriff’s deputy fired at Dale after responding to a 911 call. Officers encountered him swinging a hatchet in the streets shortly before 1 a.m. in a residential area near the Polk County Government Center.

The BCA said officer Alex Rudnik first deployed his Taser and deputy Matt Benge fired 40-millimeter foam rounds. Fladland fired his department handgun, striking Dale several times.

Junkin’s family started an online fundraiser to help cover costs of cremation and to bring him back home to California.

“He always had a big heart and gave the best bear hugs,” wrote niece Amanda Elliott. “He will truly be missed. We, as a family, just want to bring Chris home.”

Star Tribune staff writers Paul Walsh and Louie Krauss contributed to this story.

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Trump, GOP weaponize Minnesota Freedom Fund in attacks on Kamala Harris




What began as a small charitable nonprofit founded by a University of Minnesota business school student has again become ammunition for attacks against Kamala Harris’s record on crime.

A day after Joe Biden bowed out from the presidential race, as Donald Trump’s campaign recalibrated its attacks on Harris as the Democrat frontrunner, Minnesota Trump Campaign Chair and U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer posted on X that Harris once supported “a bail fund for Minnesota criminals who should have stayed behind bars. One convict she sprung from prison killed a man after Kamala helped release him.”

Fox News followed with a headline saying the “Kamala Harris-backed” organization has “put murderers, rapists back on streets.”

And on Tuesday, Trump’s official war room account posted a photo of Harris to X alongside a mugshot of Jaleel Stallings, a Minneapolis man the account describes as being “charged with the attempted murder of two police officers” in 2020.

“[Harris] raised money to bail Stallings out of jail,” read the caption. “Kamala Harris is radically liberal and dangerously incompetent.”

The post fails to mention Stallings was found not guilty by a jury — or that one of the arresting officers was convicted of assault for beating him up.

These political attacks—some misleading or false—stem from a Harris social media post four years ago. After George Floyd’s murder, the Vice President encouraged her followers to help arrested protestors by donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that pays criminal and immigration bonds for people in Twin Cities jails and detention facilities.

The Freedom Fund was started in fall 2016 by Simon Cecil, then a graduate student completing dual master’s degrees in business and public policy. In the beginning, Cecil had a meager $10,000, half from a University of Minnesota grant program and the rest from an ideas competition. Cecil paid bails capped at $1,000 in the early days—some as low as $50—for people accused of committing low-level crimes.

The fund has since ballooned into a multi-million-dollar organization, largely after a deluge of donations in 2020, and become perennial fodder for attacks on Harris and other Democrats.

Since its inception, the Freedom Fund has posted criminal bail for 2,537 people who were charged and awaiting trial in jail, and another 463 immigration bonds, according to data provided by organization as of May 2024. The bail fund’s staff describe its mission as a way to level the playing field in the system of cash bail in America, where impoverished people sit in jail when they are presumed innocent because they can’t pay nominal fees.

“That’s one of our core beliefs that motivates our work: everyone, regardless of wealth, is entitled to this presumption of innocence,” said Freedom Fund spokesperson Noble Frank.

Harris’s tweet from 2020 is the extent of her support for the organization, said Frank. “We’ve had no connection with her other than that.”

Some of the people bailed out by the Freedom Fund have gone on to commit violent crimes while on release, such as George Howard, who was convicted in a deadly road rage shooting after the organization helped secure his release.

Frank said these cases are rare, and critics mischaracterize the bail fund’s role in the system to link it to Harris. Contrary to Emmer’s tweet, the Freedom Fund does not—and could not—arrange the release of people who have been found guilty of a crime and are serving prison sentences. Bail is only available to people who are awaiting trial for pending charges, and who have been granted the opportunity for bail by a judge.

Emmer did not respond to a request for an interview about his remarks.

Frank said the organization now places limits on who it will bail out, such as not paying for the same person in a year period. Staff also evaluates court appearance history, criminal past and factors like mental illness or risk of losing employment and housing in determining whether to post a person’s bond.

Frank said about one-third of the people bailed out by the Freedom Fund have ultimately been exonerated. That includes Stallings.

In 2020, a jury exonerated Stallings after body-camera video showed Minneapolis officers firing projectiles at him without warning from an unmarked vehicle five days after Floyd’s murder. Stallings, who was standing in a parking lot, returned fire with a licensed gun in what he later described as an act of self defense. The officers brutally beat and arrested him.

Then-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said later that police “grossly misled” his office on the evidence. The city paid $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit with Stallings.

Bail in the United States dates back the nation’s founding, and so do bail funds.

The first was started by Declaration of Independence-signer Benjamin Rush, who helped people navigate the bail system so they didn’t have to linger in jail awaiting trial, said Kellen Funk, a legal historian who teaches a seminar on bail at Columbia Law School.

Throughout the 19th Century, charitable groups often raised money to pay bail for what they believed were unjust charges. Funk cited examples of abolitionists collecting funds to bail out an operator of the Underground Railroad in Maryland. After the Civil War, he said, a group raised $100,000 to bail out Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.

“This political trick has a long history,” said Funk. “But it’s always been the case that the law of bail is rather indifferent to the source.”

Back then, bail usually did not have money attached to it; in most cases, it was simply a pledge to return to court, said Funk. In the 20th Century, courts in the United States began using money more broadly as an incentive for people to appear. If they did return to court, the money was returned in full. This led to the rise of the commercial bondsman, a for-profit enterprise that charges a fee for posting cash bail.

As the criminal justice system has changed over the centuries, this is where bail reformers say it has gone very wrong. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits “excessive” bail. Yet 34 percent of Americans charged with crimes linger in jail pretrial for no other reason than they can’t afford to pay, according to a 2016 report by the Harvard Law School.

“Many low-level offenders are being held simply because they cannot afford the money amount up front,” Funk said. “They’re presumed innocent. No evidence has come in. Very often the evidence is exonerating when it comes in, but people will even plead guilty for crimes they did not commit just to end their pretrial detention.”

Modern-era bail funds have emerged as a Band-Aid to close this gap, said Funk. Some municipalities, including New York City and the state of New Jersey, have dramatically curtailed the use of cash bail.

In recent years, lack of transparency around Minnesota’s bail system has fueled criticisms across the criminal spectrum.

The Trump campaign first attacked the Freedom Fund in 2020 for its role in bailing out people arrested after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd, leading to Minnesota Republicans pushing a bill that would require more publicly available information as to who is posting the bond. Months later, when an anonymous benefactor paid Chauvin’s bail, hundreds marched down Minneapolis streets in protest of his release.

This week, MAGA Inc., a Trump super PAC, posted to X that a person arrested for rioting in 2020 was bailed out by the Freedom Fund and charged with murder. The Freedom Fund said they have no record of such a case.

Frank said the Freedom Fund has been inundated with unwanted attention as the attacks are revived on the national stage.

“The work that we do is unpopular,” Frank said, “especially during an election cycle.”

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Rapidan Dam Store to move to new location in downtown Mankato




The Rapidan Dam Store, a restaurant southwest of Mankato that was demolished after flooding in June overran the nearby dam, may soon have a new home.

The Hruska family that has owned the store since 1972 is in the final stages of talks that would reopen the restaurant temporarily in a location in downtown Mankato, the family and a local realtor said.

The deal is finalized but still needs approvals from the city, said David Hruska, co-owner of the restaurant. The restaurant, known for its burgers and pies, would reopen on South Front Street, at the former location of the Wagon Wheel café.

“It’s close, but it’s got a couple steps to go before that’s done,” said Hruska, who owns the store along with his sister Jenny Barnes.

The Rapidan Dam Store was demolished in June by Blue Earth County officials as a safety measure following flooding on the Blue Earth River. The flooding, the second worst measured on the river, overran the nearby dam and swept away the Hruska family’s home, along with a playground, trees and other debris.

The family received approximately $40,000 for the building and still owns the land, which has shrunk due to the flood scouring away the bedrock near the river.

The final terms for the Rapidan Dam Store to move into the new location have been signed as of Tuesday afternoon, said Dain Fisher, a Mankato realtor and friend of the Hruskas who has been helping them relocate.

“It’s going to be exciting for the Dam Store to be in the heart of Mankato,” Fisher said Tuesday. The remaining steps involve approval by the city, he added.

A spokesman for Mankato city government confirmed the Hruska family is going through approval processes to move their business. The next steps are a planning commission meeting Wednesday and a city council meeting on Aug. 12, said Paul David, communications director for Mankato.

Use of the old Wagon Wheel location would be donated to the family for $1 for four months, said Kyle Smith of the Tailwind Group, which owns the building.

The family would have to pay their own expenses at the space, which has been vacant for several years, Smith said Tuesday.

The Wagon Wheel location will probably need a new floor and replacement ceiling tiles, as well as a professional cleaning, Hruska said.

The Rapidan Dam Store could reopen by the end of August at the earliest, Hruska said, adding that September is more likely.

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Pedestrian struck and killed by Metro Transit train in St. Paul




A pedestrian was struck and killed by a Metro Transit Green Line light-rail train in St. Paul on Tuesday.

The incident occurred shortly after 3:30 p.m. near the intersection of University Avenue and Syndicate Street N., just east of Hamline Avenue, according to Nikki Muehlhausen, a spokesperson for the Metro Transit Police Department.

The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene, she said, and an investigation is underway.

No other information was available.

Buses were replacing trains between the Fairview Avenue and Western Avenue stations while the scene was being cleared, Muehlhausen said.

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