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How high can you go?

Pretty high, it seems, Jenga. You, sidewalk chalk and Baby Nancy, the first Black baby doll, have been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Confessed shooter sentenced to 35 years for attempted murder of Waseca officer

The courtroom was silent, tense and ripe with emotion on Friday as the Waseca community looked to close the chapter on what has been nothing short of a horror story.

Despite having her life drastically change forever through the actions of a single man, Megan Matson embodied every ounce of strength and support the community has shown her family since her husband, Officer Arik Matson, was shot Jan. 6 in the line of duty. Through her unwavering victim impact statement and assisting her husband walk in and out of the courtroom, Megan Matson was the beacon of hope for a town looking to heal.

“Sometimes we have to let go of the picture we had of what we thought life would be like and find the joy in the story we are living,” she said during her statement to the courtroom. “We have found that joy, and we will keep living.”

The Matsons sat silently wrapped in one another’s arms Friday listening as a judge handed Tyler Robert Janovsky a prison sentence more than three decades long. But neither looked at the man who changed their lives forever for more than a brief moment.

Janovsky, 38, of Waseca, pleaded guilty in July to one count of the attempted murder of Matson and one count of attempted murder of Waseca officers Andrew Harren and Sgt. Timothy Schroeder in relation to the January incident that left Matson critically injured from a gunshot wound to the head.

During the sentencing hearing Friday, which included victim impact statements, Judge Christine Long sentenced Janovsky to a total of 420 months in prison. Per Minnesota statute, Janovsky must serve at least two thirds of that. The remainder would be served on supervised release.

“No one is happy at the outcome — it doesn’t make up for the losses the community, the officers and the families have experienced,” Long said, addressing Janovsky. “But this is what the law allows, and what the parties agreed to in the plea petition.”

While receiving his sentencing, Janovsky raised his eyebrows in what appeared to be a look of indifference. Prior to the judge’s ruling, Janovsky made a quick statement where he apologized for the pain and suffering he caused the Matson family, his own mother and his two sons.

“Law enforcement has treated me better than I deserve,” Janovsky said, looking only at the judge. “I am where I need to be and am ready to take my medicine and being this next journey of my life.”

All other charges linked to the shootings were dismissed as a result of the July plea agreement. Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius also agreed to drop a first-degree manufacturing meth charge from a separate drug case filed in December. Also part of the agreement: the federal government won’t pursue drug charges linked to the December case.

Upon entering the courtroom, it was noted Janovsky winked at someone in the audience. Multiple people who had been directly impacted by the January incident gave victim impact statements prior to the judge handing down the sentence. Throughout the statements, Janovsky remained emotionless and unbothered, never once looking at any of his victims.

Two of those were Jack and Mary Williams, owners of the home Janovsky shot Matson from atop of. The couple said while homes are meant to be a safe haven, their security and privacy was stripped from them in a matter of moments when Janovsky fired at the Waseca officers. Multiple bullets penetrated the Williamses’ house, garage and vehicle, turning their property into a crime scene.

“It was a heart wrenching site to see a police officer and the intruder lying on the ground wounded,” Jack Williams said. “We were in disbelief.”

Stifling tears, Mary Williams said seeing Arik Matson return home Oct. 19 and walk into the Waseca Police Department with Megan by his side was an important moment for the couple, though she added their journey to healing is still ongoing.

Both Harren and Schroeder also made statements to the court, with Harren saying he’s not sure if he will get to a point of forgiveness for Janovsky – a sentiment shared earlier by Waseca Chief of Police Penny Vought just moments prior.

“A good man was shot. A good husband was shot. A good father was shot. A good son was shot. A good brother was shot. A good police officer was shot,” Vought said as she discussed the turmoil Janovsky’s actions brought to her department and the community. “I will never forgive the defendant for the devastation he’s caused – his actions do not warrant forgiveness.”

Perhaps one of the most profound statements came from Schroeder, as he courageously admitted while holding back emotions that series of events and the sounds of the gunshots from Jan. 6 continue to haunt him.

“The sound of those shots ring out loudly – I cannot outrun them, I cannot concentrate, they are with me and all I do,” Schroeder said. “Every day I put on my badge, I wonder if I will ever be good enough for it. I blame myself that I couldn’t protect my partner.”

Members of Arik Matson’s family also gave victim impact statements, including his brother Jared Matson who said while the family is grateful every day that Arik is alive, the maximum sentence of 35 years and possibility of parole is simply not enough for the magnitude of the impact Janovsky’s actions had over the last 10 months. Megan Matson’s mother, Michelle Joyce, prepared a statement but was unable to deliver it through her tears, having Cornelius read it on her behalf.

“I will no longer give one more thought or care about what happens to [Janovsky],” Joyce wrote along with the details of how the family felt torn apart while Matson was away recovering in rehab. “My family is back together, and no one will hurt us again.”

Following Megan Matson’s statement, she recited a prayer she said has helped her get through the nightmare of the past several months.

“Today I choose to give all the pain, bitterness and revenge to you, God,” Megan Matson said. “Heal every part of me.”

With his wife’s assistance, Arik Matson walked to the podium to deliver his own statement, an action Cornelius said in and of itself was a statement all by itself. He said that while he cannot recall all the details of that night, his life has changed forever and that so much was stolen from him.

“I was in the wrong clothes at the wrong time in the wrong place,” Arik Matson said. “But when all is said and done, I wanted to protect the people inside the house and protect the officers I was with … I would still respond to that call if it were made tomorrow.”

During the July hearing, Janovsky told Judge Long that on the night of Jan. 6 he was aware that officers were looking for him as he hid behind a house. Janovsky said that he went on the roof of a Third Avenue SE home and shot at Matson with the intent to kill him before firing at Schroeder and Harren with the same intent.

According to the criminal complaint, Janovsky, who was on supervised release for a 2010 drug conviction, had a warrant out for his arrest at the time of the shooting. According to court records, police found materials for a potential methamphetamine lab, as well as drugs and a loaded handgun at his Waseca residence in December.

On the night of the incident, four Waseca Police officers — including Matson, Schroeder and Harren — were dispatched to the 900 block of Third Avenue SE in Waseca following a report a suspicious person with a flashlight in nearby backyards. Capt. Kris Markeson was also at the scene.

Officers first made contact with Janovsky that night on the balcony of the home where he then fled to the garage roof before circling to the front of the house, according to the complaint. It is there that he fired his gun at the officers, striking Matson in the head. Janovsky was in turn shot twice, sustaining non-life threatening injuries. According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Matson and Schroeder fired their weapons during the incident.

Janovsky admitted to initiating the gunfire when he entered into the plea agreement.

After mini red wave, little change locally from 2016 in Tuesday's result
  • Updated

After one of the most heated, expensive and unusual election campaigns in U.S. history, it appears that President Donald Trump may be on the verge of losing reelection — but the rest of the electoral picture doesn’t look that different, either nationally or locally, than it did in 2016

Locally, the DFL maintained its advantage in the traditionally blue stronghold of Northfield. Biden won the city by nearly 50 points, and Rep. Angie Craig bested her Republican opponent, Tyler Kistner, by a similar margin, helping her to prevail in a close race for re-election.

DFL Rep. Todd Lippert also won re-election, though by a reduced margin over Republican Joe Moravchik. DFL hopes of electing Navy veteran and educator Jon Olson in Senate District 20, which includes Northfield, fell apart as Republican incumbent Rich Draheim easily won.

As is typical, the two precincts containing St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges were particularly strong for Democrats. Biden took a stunning 92% of the vote in Ward 4 Precinct 2, which includes St. Olaf, and 93% in Ward 1 Precinct 1, which includes Carleton. While not by such overwhelming margins, Northfield’s other precincts backed the DFL ticket as well. Overall, not a single Republican candidate cracked 40% of the vote in any Northfield precinct.

The race was much closer in Dundas, which voted for Trump in 2016, but Biden managed to flip it by six votes while all other Democrats won it. In Bridgewater Township, which narrowly backed Clinton in 2016, every Democrat won except Olson.

In Faribault, which voted for Trump in 2016 after backing Obama in 2008 and 2012, Republicans held their own. Trump won, though his margin was nearly halved compared to 2016, while incumbent Rep. Brian Daniels and Sen. John Jasinski won overwhelmingly.

Trump won all four precincts, though he narrowly missed capturing a majority of the vote in precinct 2, which includes the northeast quadrant of the city. Conversely, he won precinct 1 in northwest Faribault by a 9-point margin, larger than his overall citywide margin of 5.5%. The presidents did even better in Owatonna, besting Biden by a double digit margin and winning every precinct, all but two by double digits. Once again, however, Biden improved on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, mainly by increasing his vote share at the expense of third parties.

The DFL’s candidate for the 1st Congressional District, Dan Feehan, came closer, though the incumbent, Jim Hagedorn, still carried the Steele County city by a 7-point margin. Unlike Biden however, the DFL candidate for Congress managed to pick up a precinct, Ward 1, Precinct 1, which includes part of downtown and eastern Owatonna.

Outside of their three largest cities, Rice and Steele counties voted overwhelmingly Republican. Rural and small town voters backed Trump and Hagedorn by 2 to 1 margins, and Republican state House and Senate candidates fared even better.

Due to strong support in the rural areas, Rice County stuck with Trump by a margin of less than 100 votes. At the same time, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith carried it in her race against former Rep. Jason Lewis by a similarly close margin, and DFL House candidates cumulatively won it.

Rice County DFL Chair Shawn Groth said that he was relieved that Lippert had been returned to the House, despite the reduced margins. Despite polls showing DFLers winning by as much as 17 points in Minnesota, he said he knew it would be a tough slog.

“Going into this, I always tried to be realistic,” he said. “I never for once thought there was going to be a blue wave.”

Groth noted that DFL candidates won an unprecedented number of votes in many areas, but Republican turnout was extremely high, with the party’s base extremely passionate about supporting Trump.

“When you have higher turnout in all areas, it’s great, but it makes it harder for our party to win in more conservative areas,” he said.

Groth suggested that DFLers might have done better had they decided to door knock. However, even as he maintained that door knocking is the most effective way to campaign, Groth said the party made the sensible call in not doing so, due to the risk posed by COVID.

Local GOP activist Janalee Cooper was ecstatic about the results, though not wholly surprised. For example, Cooper said that she had expected voters to return Sen. Jasinski to St. Paul, and Daniels’s race was not seriously targeted by outside groups either. Still, Cooper said she was highly impressed by the margins posted by local Republican candidates, including the ultimately unsuccessful Moravchik. She attributed the performance to Republican voters choosing to stick with the ticket rather than split it.

“Traditionally Republicans are independent as a voting block,” she said. “This time they voted the ticket.”

Notably, pro-marijuana candidates did unusually well for third party candidates where they were on the ballot. In the 2nd Congressional District, Legal Marijuana Now candidate Adam Weeks won nearly 6% of the vote — even though he died weeks before Election Day.

DFLers have repeatedly accused Republicans of attempting to use the pro-marijuana candidates, which gained major party status and thus automatic ballot access in 2018, to siphon off votes from DFLers. However, Carleton College Professor Melanie Freeze said that evidence they “pull votes” disproportionately from one side is typically limited. In addition, polling suggests that the marijuana issue doesn’t break down neatly along party lines.

In the end, pro-marijuana party candidates won more than the total number of votes separating the candidates in both the 1st and 2nd Congressional District, even as incumbents Hagedorn and Craig held on.

Bill Rood, a left-wing activist who ran in the 1st District as the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party candidate and won more than 21,000 votes, said that he strongly contests the notion that his candidacy pulled votes away from DFLer Feehan.

“I think because people are fed up with both Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “This attitude that one party or the other thinks they are entitled to certain votes is disgusting.”

Crisis for pollsters?

Retired Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier said that the results represent a “crisis” for the polling industry as for the second straight election, a surge of Trump support appears to have turned a projected comfortable Democratic victory into a nail biter.

“I think we were misled by the polls that there was going to be a blue wave,” he said. “You can only say Democrats underperformed in respect to false surveys.”

Schier said he’s not sure that Biden is even out of the woods yet, with Trump threatening legal challenges to the results. Still, he conceded that Biden is favored to win the Presidency but that the results down ballot were particularly strong for Republicans.

A significant portion of that Trump surge seems to have come from “shy Trump voters,” disproportionately working class voters who failed to respond to the polls. Nonetheless, Biden’s gains among college educated voters in the suburbs helped him to offset that loss.

On the whole, polls had suggested a result similar to the 2018 midterm elections, when they were largely accurate. But since then, Schier noted that left-wing figures like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar have gained increasing prominence.

“I think that a lot of the unrest and increased liberalism of the Democratic Party got a chilly reception in some parts of the electorate,” he said. “That’s really been a phenomenon of the last two years.”

If Biden does hang on to win, Schier said that Democrats are likely to face a backlash in the 2022 midterm elections. However, he warned that increasing Democratic support in the Twin Cities will make the state difficult to win for Republicans even in a favorable climate.

“The metro area has become a real Democratic bastion that dominates statewide politics,” he said. “That will continue to be a problem for Republicans.”

State health department adds Owatonna to schools list for COVID-19
  • Updated

Owatonna High School was added on Thursday to the Minnesota Department of Health’s list of schools with five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases.

It is the only Steele County school to appear so far on MDH’s list, which is updated every Thursday and denotes school buildings where there’s at least five COVID-19 cases among students or staff who have been in the building while infectious during a two-week reporting period.

Superintendent Jeff Elstad says he isn’t too concerned about making the list.

“The reason is they are using a 14-day count, and what I can tell you specifically for the cases at Owatonna High School is that we overlap by one day, “ Elstad said.

Owatonna schools will continue with their current model of learning, he said.

Elstad said he believes most schools with a population size similar to or larger than Owatonna school district will eventually make the list at some point.

The district has been posting its own weekly data on its COVID-19 dashboard, isd761.org/covid-19/covid-19. Eight cases were reported in Owatonna Public Schools for the week of Oct. 30 through Nov. 5, up from seven cases the week prior. The dashboard is updated weekly.

When a positive case is reported, families and school staff are notified by the district, Minnesota Department of Health or both. The district continues to work with Steele County Public Health staff to monitor the positivity rate in the school building and other data, he said.

MDH updates the 14-day COVID-19 case rate per 10,000 people by county every Thursday. The data collected helps guide districts when making decisions about learning models. Steele County’s most recent 14-day case rate for Oct. 11-24 was 29.17 cases per 10,000 residents, according to MDH. That’s down from the previous week’s rate of 34.08 cases per 10,000 residents.

However, this case rate is only one factor in determining which learning model to use. Other data sources school and health officials look at include COVID-19 tracking statistics for each building within the district, COVID-19 positivity rates within the district and where county cases are originating.

Steele County schools provide extra support for distance learning students
  • Updated

An initiative in Steele County has provided extra help for Owatonna and Blooming Prairie students who need it on distance learning days.

Blooming Prairie seventh- through 12th-graders have access to on-site support for the days when they’re distance learning in their hybrid learning model with the help of United Way of Steele County, the city of Blooming Prairie and the Blooming Prairie Youth Club. Now Owatonna is starting its own program to help sixth- through eighth-grade students, according to Annette Duncan, president of United Way of Steele County.

United Way worked with Steele County schools to determine student needs throughout the summer and as the back-to-school season approached, she said. It was determined that additional assistance for students during distance learning days was needed.

“The need came from conversations with the school, but also the parents specifically saying, ‘I work full time and I don’t really feel comfortable leaving my child at this age,’ especially the sixth graders. They are just transitioning out of the elementary school,” Duncan said.

During distance learning, students are home by themselves and responsible for staying on task with their work.

United Way started coordinating with different organizations and the communities to provide students with support.

The Blooming Prairie site was launched on Oct. 12. Duncan added that reception to the support has been great and the site sees an average of 15 students a day. While the Blooming Prairie site runs all day, the prospective Owatonna site is set to launch Nov. 16 beginning with half-day support offerings.

“Because we know the need is a little bit greater and we might have to do two sections versus one section with the larger community, so we are going to start with half a day in Owatonna and we may have to have a second shift, depending upon need,” Duncan said.

Owatonna Middle School Principal Julie Sullivan acknowledged that these are very trying times for students, schools and families. She hopes the sites offer a good place to go for structure, as well as a quiet space away from home where students can focus on their work.

“It’s just a space for kids to go if they need support or need a place to get some work done,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan is looking forward to the Owatonna site’s launch.

“If we get some additional inquiries, we’ll have to decide how many we can handle in a space like the community room at Roosevelt,” Sullivan said.

There are plans to take the intuitive to Medford as well, but it takes a while to get these sites set up, Duncan says. Right now she is looking for volunteers for both sites. Onsite volunteers help students with logging on, reaching out to teachers for help and helping students stay engaged and on task during distance learning days.

Volunteers also help distribute meals to students, oversee cleanup, ensure students are safe and, depending on the volunteers’ ability, may also help students with coursework, although this is not an expectation.

“Providing that safety and socialization as well, because there is a whole mental health component to this, in addition to some support for school work, because our kiddos are really struggling right now with being isolated,” Duncan said.

Volunteers will be trained by the district and will go through background checks and both locations will have staff on site.

“We are super excited to be able to partner with the community to offer this and just look forward to being able to help the children in our community succeed, that’s really what it’s all about,” Duncan said.