Anti-Gun Lawmaker Busted on Burglary Charges Returns to MN Senate

Becker County Jail

Minnesota state Sen. Nicole Mitchell returned to the chamber on Monday after her DFL colleagues decided maybe it wouldn't be the smartest political move to let her vote remotely after her arrest last week on burglary charges. But while the Democrats (technically the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, but for simplicity's sake I'll just be calling them Democrats from here on out) are requiring her to show up in person to cast her votes, that's about as far as they're willing to go to sanction Mitchell, given that she's expected to be the tie-breaking vote on multiple bills in the remaining weeks of this year's session. 


Mitchell, a first-term senator from Woodbury, declined to answer reporters' questions after the Senate recessed on Monday morning and quickly exited the chamber. Some of Mitchell's DFL colleagues embraced her on the floor. The Senate is expected to take up several bills on Monday.

Mitchell was arrested last week and charged with burglary after she allegedly broke into her stepmother's home to take some of her late father's belongings, including his ashes. Police found Mitchell in the basement of the Detroit Lakes home dressed in black with a flashlight covered by a black sock. The senator told police she entered the home through a sliding basement window, according to charging documents.

Over the weekend, the Senate DFL Caucus decided to remove Mitchell from legislative committee assignments and caucus meetings. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Nick Frentz told the Star Tribune that Mitchell is expected to participate in votes.

The Democrats don't need Mitchell in committee or caucus meetings. They do need the gun control advocate on the Senate floor, where the DFL holds a one-seat majority. If she's not there, the Democratic agenda is in danger of stalling out, so they'll give her a slap on the wrist (or a warm embrace) despite the felony charge she's currently facing after allegedly breaking in to her stepmother's home to retrieve items that belonged to her late father. 


Mitchell's statement to police when she was caught in her stepmother's basement is far different than what she's told the public in her lone statement on social media. According to officers, Mitchell was dressed in black, had a sock covering the lens of a flashlight she carried with her, and admitted she drove several hours from her home so she could sneak in to her stepmother's house and get several "sentimental" items after her stepmother stopped speaking to her. In a statement on Facebook, however, Mitchell claimed that she was, in fact, checking in on her stepmother, who she says has dementia; an explanation that never showed up in the police report about her arrest. 

Despite those two wildly different tales the DFL and their media allies have tried to rally around Mitchell, with Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Laura Yuen characterizing Mitchell's legal troubles "bizarre" yet "relatable"

What Nicole Mitchell did is bizarre, tragic and unlawful, if the police narrative of her breaking into her stepmother's home prevails. The state senator's apparent failed heist of her father's ashes and other belongings likely spells the end of her political career.

But the emotions behind it? I understand them.

Trauma after losing a loved one can make a person act out of character, if not out of their mind. An Air National Guard officer, former meteorologist, lawyer, single mom and staunch defender of children's rights, this promising first-term DFL legislator had everything to lose.


Here's the thing: Rod Mitchell passed away more than a year ago, according to an obituary from a Detroit Lakes, Minnesota funeral home. I know that grief doesn't follow the calendar, but why should Yuen or anyone else automatically accept the idea that it was grief that motivated Mitchell to allegedly burgle her stepmother's home and not, say, anger over her stepmother refusing to let her get some of her dad's personal effects? 

Yuen's column is filled with stories of adult children who have been unable to collect belongings from their late parents, but no matter how much sympathy they might express towards Mitchell, the fact remains that none of the folks Yuen spoke to have been accused of criminal activity regarding those personal items. 

Yuen at least acknowledges that Mitchell's story has changed dramatically from what she originally told police, but she's still more than willing to cut the senator some slack. 

Until this point, Mitchell has always struck me as a superhuman, measured in both achievements and decency. (We both worked at MPR News, and I wrote a column about her and fellow meteorologist Rob Kupec after they were sworn into the Senate.) Mitchell might deserve a second chance in politics, but it would be easier to make that case if she apologized for the actions that led up to her arrest.

She could start by saying she's in grief. That she's embarrassed by what she's done. That she's going to step aside while she receives professional help to heal.

And as a culture, we need to allow for people to talk openly about debilitating grief, the kind that makes a hard-working, respected legislator risk it all when she acted on the worst decision of her life.


Mitchell might take most of Yuen's advice in the coming days, but I highly doubt she's going to step aside and receive professional help, at least while the legislature's still in session. Despite the appalling lack of judgment she's displayed, the DFL needs her in her seat if they're going to continue to advance their agenda this year, so don't expect any of her colleagues to bring up her "debilitating grief" and the need for counseling until the session has gaveled to a close. 

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