Local prosecutor disputes State Patrol’s statement on DFL crash

Peterson said her office was initially asked to review the case but was provided with an "incomplete" set of reports.

Top left: Col. Matt Langer (State Patrol); Bottom left: Prosecutor Jenna Peterson (Redwood County); Right: Blaha's vehicle following last summer's accident

A local prosecutor is disputing the Minnesota State Patrol’s characterization of an investigation into a car crash last summer involving two high-ranking Democrats, according to a statement released Thursday.

State Auditor Julie Blaha was not charged with an open-container violation after she was discovered to have an unsealed White Claw in her car following an Aug. 4 rollover. The White Claw belonged to Senate Minority Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen, who was riding in the passenger seat, according to a case file first reported on by Alpha News. Blaha did not have any alcohol in her system.

“This crash was thoroughly and objectively investigated by the State Patrol, including the driving conduct, commercial vehicle inspection, and the details surrounding the White Claw container. The file was submitted for review by the local prosecutor, consistent with other high profile cases. The result of that review was a citation issued to the driver for the driving error that caused the crash,” the State Patrol previously said in a statement.

This isn’t entirely accurate, according to Redwood County Attorney Jenna Peterson, the “local prosecutor” referenced in the State Patrol’s statement.

Peterson told Fox 9 Thursday that her office was initially asked to review the case but was provided with an “incomplete” set of reports. She asked for the full case file a month later but was told her involvement was no longer wanted and that the State Patrol would be issuing a citation on its own, Fox 9 reported.

“I did not personally, nor did anyone in my office, provide any guidance or instruction on the issuance of a citation, what specific charges should or should not be included, or the individuals who should or should not be charged as a result of the incident,” Peterson told the outlet.

Peterson’s office declined to comment when contacted by Alpha News earlier this week.

An email sent from State Patrol Lt. Matthew Sorenson to a trooper completing a report about the incident last August contains a clear direction to “not recommend charges at this time” in relation to the crash. Instead, he told his subordinate to “submit a packet to the county attorney for them to review,” saying the State Patrol should “go off their recommendation on charges.”

Blaha faced a sole charge for failing to yield, a traffic violation that caused a semi to slam into the side of her SUV as she entered a highway. Although first responders found a “cold,” “open” and “mostly full” can of White Claw in her car, nobody faced an open-container charge.

Alpha News reached out to the State Patrol for comment but has not received a response.