Minnesota Democrats Rally Around Anti-Gun Lawmaker Charged With Burglary

Becker County Jail

When Minnesota state Sen. Nicole Mitchell released a public statement about her arrest on burglary charges that was wildly different from the report filed by officers from the Detroit Lakes PD, I predicted that while the differing accounts of her alleged break-in of her stepmother's home would make it harder for her DFL colleagues to stand by her side,they'd still do everything in their power to keep her in the Senate for the remainder of this year's session. If Mitchell resigns or is removed from office, Democrats and Republicans would be deadlocked 33-33, and that would leave the Democrats' legislative agenda in limbo. 


So far, anyway, that's exactly what's happened. While Republicans were quick to file an ethics complaint against Mitchell, Democrats have voted in lockstep not to expedite the ethics investigation, while Senate leadership is looking for ways for her to keep casting votes even if she's unwilling or unable to show up in person

In the 34-33 Senate, Republicans seized on the opportunity to call for Mitchell’s resignation and removal. Under the current Senate ethics investigation rules, the process can take up to 30 days to begin, meaning it could start after the session closes May 20.

In urging members to vote no, Democrats said lawmakers should respect due process before removing a colleague from office.

“It’s important to acknowledge we don’t have all the facts, but this obviously is a very tough and challenging moment for this institution,” Senate Majority Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, told reporters after Wednesday’s floor session.

Sen. Eric Lucero, R-St. Michael, said Mitchell had violated the public trust, and he introduced a resolution to speed up the process to potentially remove her.

“We must have a swift examination of this serious felony charge to ensure the integrity of this institution and the state of Minnesota is upheld,” he said.

The measure failed on a on a 33-33 party-line vote. If it had succeeded, the Senate Ethics Committee would have been required to start its investigation.

Actual removal requires a two-thirds majority in order to succeed, and it’s evident DFLers had no interest in signing off on ending their majority.

[Senate President Erin] Murphy told reporters she’d consider allowing Mitchell to vote remotely for the rest of the session.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said the Senate needs to act on the ethics investigation of Mitchell with urgency because her arrest already led to the cancellation of committee hearings and floor votes on Wednesday and Thursday.

“What you’re seeing now is the DFL kicking that down the road 30 days later,” he said. “Already, today and tomorrow, Senator Mitchell is having an impact on the business of the Minnesota Senate.”


It's one thing for Murphy and the DFL caucus to refuse to demand Mitchell step down or even to block an expedited ethics investigation. That's unseemly, to be sure, but it's not exactly shocking given that Mitchell is the tie-breaking vote in the chamber. But why on earth should Mitchell be allowed to vote remotely for the rest of the session? She's not being held in custody any longer, so if the DFL wants her to cast a vote she should show up at the state capitol and do so in person. It's not like she's sick and physically unable to attend the session. Murphy just wants to spare Mitchell the embarrassment of being grilled by the press and the public over the burglary charge and the contradictions between what she told police and her statement to the public. 

According to the officer who arrested Mitchell, she admitted that she drove several hours to her stepmother's home because she wanted to collect some of her late father's belongings. The pair had argued and her stepmother refused to speak to her anymore, so she decided to conduct a late-night break-in to retrieve some sentimental property that belonged to her dad. When officers searched a backpack belonging to Mitchell, however, they found a laptop belonging to her stepmother. Mitchell told police that her stepmother gave her the laptop "way back when", but her stepmother told authorities that she had never done so. 


When Mitchell released a statement on Facebook, however, she declared that she had gone to the home because she was concerned about the health of her stepmother, who Mitchell says is suffering from dementia. She made no mention of collecting any items from the home, and in fact never brought up her late father at all. 

Her explanation on Facebook directly contradicts the police filing, as well as the 911 call that her stepmother made to police.

At 4:45 a.m. Monday in Detroit Lakes, a 911 caller now identified as Sen. Nicole Mitchell's stepmother said "Somebody has broken into my house... and they just ran down into the basement," according to a 911 transcript obtained by KARE 11 News through a data practices request. 

"I don't know if he's breaking out the back window or what," the caller continued.

"Did you get a good look at him at all?" dispatcher Joe Robbins asked.

"No, it was completely dark. I tripped over 'em. Ah, he was on the floor next to my bed. He ran downstairs into my basement."

Throughout the 911 call Mitchell's stepmother referred to the intruder as a "he", which suggests that she had no idea who was in her home. 

Mitchell's story about traveling several hours in the middle of the night to check on her stepmother doesn't make much sense to begin with. If the lawmaker was that concerned about her well-being, why didn't she call the Detroit Lakes police herself and ask them to perform a welfare check? Why didn't she tell the officers who discovered her in the home's basement that she was worried about her stepmother's mental state? Why was she dressed all in black and carrying a flashlight when she was found? Why did she, according to the officers, admit that she knew she "did something bad"? 


If the DFL wants to keep Mitchell in her seat, at least until this year's session concludes, they have the power to do so. But there is no valid reason to let her cast future votes remotely instead of showing up in person to do her job. Granting her that special treatment would be an embarrassing abuse of authority by the DFL majority, and Republican senators should do everything in their power to demand that if Mitchell is going to continue to serve in the Senate, she needs to show up in person just like everyone else. If she's not willing to do that, then she needs to step down. 

Join the conversation as a VIP Member