Allie Howell: Why the public deserves to see the Nicole Mitchell bodycam video

The best way to find out exactly what happened is to view the police body-camera footage from April 22. Luckily, Minnesota statutes have a provision for situations like this.

Sen. Mitchell was recently arrested in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Today we are talking about the complaint we filed on behalf of Alpha News asking the Becker County District Court to authorize the release of the body and dash camera footage related to the arrest of Sen. Nicole Mitchell on April 22, 2024.

As you have likely already heard, Sen. Mitchell was recently arrested in Detroit Lakes, Minn. At approximately 4:45 a.m. on April 22, Detroit Lakes police dispatch received a call from an adult female victim that “somebody has broken into my house” and “just ran down into the basement.”

When police arrived, they found Sen. Mitchell dressed in all black clothing and wearing a black hat. Sen. Mitchell was ordered on the ground and placed under arrest. While being detained, Mitchell stated to the victim something to the effect of “I was just trying to get a couple of my dad’s things because you wouldn’t talk to me anymore.” One officer discovered a flashlight near Sen. Mitchell that was covered with a black sock so as to control the amount of light emitting from the flashlight.

In searching for Sen. Mitchell’s point of entry into the house, officers observed a window on the wall of the basement with a small black backpack stuck in it. Officers searched the backpack and found two laptops, a cellphone, Sen. Mitchell’s Minnesota driver’s license, Sen. Mitchell’s Senate identification, and miscellaneous Tupperware. Sen. Mitchell said she had “just gotten into the house” and commented, “clearly I’m not good at this.”

Sen. Mitchell was then read her Miranda warning. After hearing it, she stated, “I know I did something bad.” Sen. Mitchell further explained that her father had recently passed away and her stepmother (the victim) had stopped contact with her and refused to provide various items that belonged to her late father. The items she wanted included pictures, a flannel shirt, and her father’s ashes. She also admitted to driving her vehicle to Detroit Lakes from Woodbury starting at about 1 a.m. She allegedly entered the house through the window where her backpack was discovered.

There was also a dispute about the laptops found in Sen. Mitchell’s backpack. At the jail, Sen. Mitchell was given one of the laptops to open and the victim’s name popped up on the screen. Sen. Mitchell said the laptop had been given to her “way back when.” The victim stated that she did not give the laptop to Sen. Mitchell.

The facts I have provided so far are from the criminal complaint filed by the Becker County Attorney and the transcript of the victim’s 911 call which has been released. Sen. Mitchell was charged with first degree burglary and released the next day.

Since then, Sen. Mitchell and her attorney have made public statements that conflict with the facts stated in the criminal complaint. First, Sen. Mitchell made a Facebook post that she drove to Detroit Lakes because she “learned of medical information which caused me grave concern and prompted me to check on that family member.” That family member is “declin[ing] due to Alzheimer’s and associated paranoia.” She went on to state, “[u]nfortunately, I startled this close relative, exacerbating paranoia, and I was accused of stealing, which I absolutely deny.” Sen. Mitchell’s attorney later stated that Sen. Mitchell “wanted to basically make a check and retrieve a couple of items that she felt were being wrongfully withheld from her despite earlier promises.”

Sen. Mitchell’s latest public statement referenced that there is more to the story by stating that she is “extremely disappointed that the complaint lacks the complete information of the incident.” As a result, there is widespread debate in Minnesota on what exactly happened on April 22. As Gov. Tim Walz stated, there are “some very serious questions [that] need to be addressed” and those answers need to come “very quickly.”

Without Sen. Mitchell, the Minnesota Senate is split with 33 DFL members and 33 GOP members. As a result, in the week following Sen. Mitchell’s arrest, floor votes were rescheduled as the Senate tried to decide how to proceed. An ethics complaint was filed against Sen. Mitchell by nine Minnesota senators, alleging that she violated multiple Senate rules, including Senate Rule 56.1 which requires members “adhere to the highest standard of ethical conduct.” A vote to expedite that ethics complaint and immediately consider Sen. Mitchell’s expulsion failed in a 33-33 tie, with Senator Mitchell not voting.

Most recently, Sen. Mitchell returned to the Senate and GOP members proposed motions that would have prevented her from voting. Those motions failed 34-33, with Senator Mitchell casting a vote.

As we argued in our briefing before the Becker County District Court, Minnesotans need answers now. If the Minnesota Legislature continues to operate with Sen. Mitchell acting as a tie-breaking vote, and it is later revealed that she was dishonest in her public statements, the public trust in governance will be damaged.

The best way to find out exactly what happened is to view the police body-camera footage from April 22. Luckily, Minnesota statutes have a provision for situations like this. Although data like body-camera footage that is part of an active criminal investigation is usually confidential, any person can “bring an action in the district court located in the county where the data are being maintained to authorize disclosure of investigative data.” Minn. Stat. § 13.82, subd. 7.

Disclosure is warranted under the statute if “the benefit to the person bringing the action or to the public outweighs any harm to the public, to the agency or to any person identified in the data.” Id.

We believe our case on behalf of Alpha News meets that standard. The public benefit from obtaining more information about an elected official during a contentious time at the Minnesota Senate greatly outweighs any potential harm to Sen. Mitchell or the Detroit Lakes Police Department.

In fact, the potential harm to those parties is quite small. Criminal investigative data becomes public once it is used as evidence in court. Id. Meaning if Sen. Mitchell’s case proceeds to trial, the public will likely have access to the body-camera footage at that time. Our concern is that by then, the public trust will have already been severely damaged.

We are proud to stand with our clients at Alpha News to fight for government accountability. The public deserves to have a full picture of what happened with Sen. Mitchell’s arrest.



Allie Howell

Allie Howell is Trial and Appellate Counsel for the Upper Midwest Law Center.