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County attorney, Matsons set out to change max sentence for cop shooters

The sentencing of convicted cop-shooter Tyler Janovsky was a surreal experience for those watching it unfold inside the small Waseca County courtroom.

Victim after victim, the prosecutor’s closing argument and even the judge herself all had a similar opinion of Janovsky’s sentencing on Friday: It’s just not enough.

Janovsky was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the Jan. 6 shooting of Waseca police officer Arik Matson. Twenty of those years are for shooting and critically wounding Matson in the head, an action Janovsky, during his July plea agreement, confessed to doing with an intent to kill. The other 15 years are for shooting at Waseca officer Andrew Harren and Sgt. Timothy Schroeder, neither of whom were physically injured during the incident.

State law requires Janovsky to serve at least two-thirds of his sentence with the remainder potentially being served on supervised release.

Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius recounted telling Matson’s wife Megan that the law needed to be changed during their conversation before the sentencing.

“She said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Cornelius said.

Following the sentencing on Friday, Cornelius along with the Matsons held a brief press conference where they announced their plan to push for legislation changing the maximum sentencing for attempted murder of a peace officer.

“We just feel that the 20-years is inadequate for officers who have been severely injured in the line of duty,” Cornelius said. “Being shot at, but not physically harmed (20 years) does seem adequate, but it’s not adequate for officers whose whole lives are affected forever.”

Cornelius said the push to change the law is still a new and ongoing process, including that she has yet to determine what she feels would be an adequate maximum sentence for defendants who critically injure a peace office. At this time, she is working closely with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Association to set up meetings with legislators – including local elected officials state Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) and Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) – to start the conversation, keep the momentum going and let people hear about why it is so important to re-evaluate this law.

Standing alongside her during this battle is Megan Matson.

“The night Arik was shot, [Rachel] knew what the outcome was going to be and it broke her heart,” Matson said. “I always said there is a purpose for why God chose Arik that night, and that purpose is we have to do a movement. We are a movement.”

While the bill that would change the law is currently unnamed — another element of what Cornelius said is part of the ongoing process — there is only one name the women feel makes sense: the Matson Strong bill.

Matson said that while there will never be “enough time” to charge a defendant for taking away the time she lost with her husband from the time he was shot until he returned home in October, she feels the time is now to make the change and ensure that more justice is served in any possible future cases similar to theirs.

“There is probably going to have to be different criteria, like the defendant should be charged if you’re attempting to hurt an officer for up to so many years, and if they’re able to go back to work that’s great, but in Arik’s situation as of right now he probably cannot go back to work, and that charge should be different,” Matson said. “I feel like being able to have justice for the thin blue line brothers and sisters and to be able to do something so in the future we can get them justice, that’s our purpose now.”

Another part of the law Cornelius is hoping to see amended is the maximum sentencing when additional officers are involved. Cornelius said she was surprised to learn that by tagging on another officer — or in this case combining the second and third officers involved into one charge for the plea agreement — the maximum was only 15 additional years.

“This law is saying those other officers’ lives are less important than the first and that does not seem right,” Cornelius said. “I keep saying they weren’t physically harmed, but Sgt. Schroeder was clearly emotionally harmed. The PTSD officers experience in general is why the 20 years precedent is important – it’s appropriate because it’s a very traumatic and life-changing event.”

During the sentencing hearing on Friday, Schroeder was one of several to give a victim impact statement to the court. He spoke candidly about how the night of Jan. 6 continues to haunt him and impact his everyday life, including making him wonder if he will “ever be good enough” for his badge.

Waseca Police Chief Penny Vought said that while she believe her department is doing as well as can be expected, there are certainly some officers doing better than others.

“We have endured something that no department ever wants to face, and that is the potential loss of an officer who is also our friend and coworker,” Vought said. “I say it all the time — Arik is a miracle and we are so grateful that Arik is alive and can be with his family and with us.”

Cornelius believes this is the first time the Waseca County Attorney’s Office has attempted to change a state law. She said while she knows it is no small feat, she feels it is an important issue that Waseca is meant to take on.

“I’m excited and ready,” she said. “I’m excited to see if we can do it and I’m confident that we have the right backing and momentum to make it happen.”

Matson echoed Cornelius that she is ready to take on this journey, despite the fact that Janovsky's sentencing won't change regardless.

“No words can describe the hurt that it feels that Arik has to spend the rest of his life as a different person, but Janovsky is going to keep living his life as a repeat criminal, the only life he’s ever known,” Matson said. “Arik didn’t ask for this, I didn’t ask for this, but it’s all in God’s hand now to direct us to the right people and make a change. The time is now.”


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With COVID cases on the rise, City Hall to shuts its doors
  • Updated

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising dramatically across the state and five deaths reported locally just today, Faribault is joining the state of Minnesota in pulling back from some of its measures to reopen the state.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, City Councilors supported Administrator Tim Murray’s recommendation that the city effectively shut down City Hall and return to providing services virtually, as it did for several months after the pandemic hit. Murray said the decision was made not only due to national and statewide trends, but after several staff members contracted COVID. He expressed confidence that the city wouldn’t skip a beat when it comes to providing services for residents.

Under Murray’s plan, basic services will be provided virtually, by mail or through other means while city meetings would again take place over Zoom. The administrator said that the system had proven successful during the spring and summer, eliciting few complaints from residents.

“We’ll make those accommodations we need to,” he said. “I’m not aware that anything got missed or anyone didn’t get what they needed.”

Mayor Kevin Voracek told Murray that if he felt closing down City Hall would be the best course of action, the council wasn’t about to second guess it. Outgoing Councilor Elizabeth Cap, who will serve on the council until January, praised Murray for being proactive.

“I appreciate having the foresight,” she said. “Especially if staff members are contracting it, do what you need to do to keep people safe.”

Murray said that staff would work to refine their policies and the change wouldn’t take place immediately. He suggested that the shutdown will likely occur by the end of next week, with next week’s council work session expected to take place partially in-person.

The change will be major for some boards and councils, but not for others. While the council has met in person, but continued to offer a Zoom meeting, some city boards and commissions have gone to all in-person while others have stayed strictly virtual.

At this point, County Administrator Sara Folsted said no major changes are planned at the county level. Like Faribault’s City Council, the County Board has met in-person as of late, though a virtual option has remained available.

Unlike Faribault’s City Council, the County Government Center in Faribault has mostly remained closed to the public, except by appointment only. The exception to that was early voting, which took place during business hours beginning 46 days before the election, as required by state law. Even though the Government Center has been mostly closed, many county employees still come into work at the office every day. Folsted said that for many, their work computers are equipped with special software or files that can’t easily be transferred to home.

With the number of visitors allowed in the Government Center strictly limited, Folsted noted that county departments are working on ways to provide needed services and make themselves more available to residents.

Folsted noted that a dropbox is still in front of the government center for those who need to make a payment. Staff are available via phone if they have any questions and the county has greatly expanded its use of teleconferencing as well.

“There’s ways we can be open without compromising the safety or health of the public,” she said.


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COVID surge drives Faribault district to distance learning
  • Updated

As COVID-19 cases throughout the region skyrocket, Faribault Public Schools on Wednesday morning announced a district-wide shift to distance learning beginning next week.

Friday will be the last in-person school day for students. The district will use Monday and Tuesday as pivot days as teachers prepare for distance learning to last at a minimum through the end of winter break. Wednesday will be a hybrid learning day for students, and they will transition to full-time distance learning Nov. 19. All middle school and high school athletics and activities will be suspended during this period.

Superintendent Todd Sesker sent his message to families just two days after Lincoln Elementary School announced its two-week distance learning plan. The district’s Incident Command Center (ICC) team made the decision Tuesday with guidance and support from Rice County Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health Regional Support Team.

“Because of the growing numbers and concerns with the positive tests in our community, we really had no choice other than to go to distance learning with our students,” Sesker said. “We remain positive and hopeful that just because we’re changing learning models, our standards will remain high for our students academically.”

Sesker extended a thank you to the community for its support, saying, “We’re just very thankful we were able to make it this far in person.”

Several data points led the team to move to a full-time distance-learning model. The Faribault school district currently has 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff, and there have been 40 cases total since school resumed in the fall.

In Rice County as a whole, there were 334 new cases confirmed between Nov. 2 and Nov. 8; 2.328 total. Rice County recorded five additional deaths due to COVID since Monday for a total of 20. According to the most recent preliminary case rate data in the county, there are approximately 77 cases per 10,000 residents, and the Minnesota Department of Health anticipates an increase in the days and weeks ahead as the winter drives more residents to spend time together indoors.

COVID-19 cases aside, the Faribault district has also experienced a shortage in staffing this month as a result of illness, symptoms, and quarantining. Since COVID, substitute teachers are more difficult to find.

With the goal of returning students to an in-person or hybrid learning model Jan. 4, 2021, after winter break, the ICC will continue tracking the county case rate, and cases within the district population, as well as other factors to determine the safest route.

Additional services

Families will still have access to school lunches during the school closures. The district set up two different meal service options starting Wednesday; one will be daily and the other weekly. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, Jefferson Elementary will serve hot lunches and cold breakfasts at Door 2. From 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, families can retrieve seven-day meal packs containing breakfast and lunch, with instructions for preparation, at Faribault High School’s Door 9.

Childcare during distance learning begins Wednesday at Roosevelt Elementary. The service will be free to Tier 1 essential workers during school hours, but the district will charge a fee for students in before and after school care. To qualify as a Tier 1 family, both parents need to be considered essential workers who work during school hours. Other families who do not qualify as Tier 1 workers will be charged the regular Kids World fee or placed on a waiting list.

The district will continue providing in-person instruction to students with disabilities who receive intensive services not compatible with the distance learning model. The in-person learning for eligible students will take place in the district’s resource rooms from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Early childhood programs and services shift to a hybrid model, which means pre-kindergarten classes will follow a distance learning model on Wednesdays starting next week. Those classes will continue to meet in person all four other days, but there will be no classes on the pivot days Monday and Tuesday next week.

While in-person activities and athletics are suspended during the distance learning period, Sesker said options with virtual activities/athletics are currently under discussion.

BA and K-W Schools updates

To stop the spread of increased cases, Bethlehem Academy has also shifted its learning model.

President and Principal Mindy Reeder said she and the school nurse worked with Rice County Public Health over the weekend to develop a plan for an online learning reset, which began Wednesday and ends Nov. 30. The reset allows the school to reopen after affected individuals reach the end of their quarantine period, thus preventing further spread.

Families learned of the plan over the weekend, and teachers then had two pivot days to make the transition. The hope is to return to a hybrid learning model after the school undergoes a deep cleaning.

Reeder reported five cases total at the school — two staff members and three students. This was a sharp increase for the school, which had no confirmed COVID-19 cases in its first quarter of the school year.

“Once you start adding that up, it was just time to do a reset,” Reeder said. “…We don’t want the numbers to increase.”

Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools also made adjustments to its learning model as a result of an increased in Goodhue County’s 14-day case per 10,000 residents from 19 to 34.

K-W Superintendent Bryan Boysen announced Nov. 5 that the district would switch to a phase four learning model, which involves hybrid learning for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and distance learning for grades seven through 12. Since the start of the school year, prekindergarten through sixth grade students had been attending school in person while grades seven through 12 participated in hybrid learning.

While the phase 4 plan is set to last through this week, K-W High School Principal Matt Ryan predicts phase 4 to last until at least Thanksgiving break.