Former police officer acquitted of both sex charges
WILLMAR -- A nine-woman, three-man jury acquitted Paul Reed Schmidt, 35, of Atwater, of two counts of criminal sexual conduct Friday in Kandiyohi County District Court.
The jury returned the verdict around 5:30 p.m. after about two and one-half hours of deliberation. Schmidt was on trial for felony fourth-degree and gross misdemeanor fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct for grabbing the breast and genitals of a 22-year-old Atwater woman. She was a ride-along participant with Schmidt, who was on duty as an Atwater police officer, during the Oct. 16, 2007, incident at the police department.
"The jury reached the right decision," said Schmidt's attorney, Julius Nolen. "I'm very happy for Paul and his family."
Schmidt cried and hugged his wife, Amy, and his father, Reed, after the verdict was read. He declined to comment.
Michael Lieberg, the Stearns County assistant county attorney who is prosecuting the case for Kandiyohi County, said he respected the jury's decision, even though he disagreed with it.
The jury received the case around 3 p.m. After about one hour and 15 minutes, the jury returned to the courtroom to review recordings of a phone conversation between Schmidt and the woman and an interview with Schmidt by Det. Brad Redmond of the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's office.
The verdict notification came about 30 minutes after the jury finished listening to the recordings in the courtroom.
During their closing statements, both attorneys argued that the case was about credibility, and which person's story the jurors were to believe. Lieberg argued that both Schmidt and the woman gave the same elements in their versions of the incident. "The elements of the story are all there," he said. "He doesn't remember if he grabbed her crotch or not. The victim said he did."
Nolen stressed that the woman's credibility was suspect, because she lied to investigators in December 2007 when she said that no therapeutic holds or takedown maneuvers were being exchanged between Schmidt and herself on the evening of the incident.
"That is not a minor detail," Nolen said. "This is the crux of the case."
Nolen counted the inconsistencies in the woman's story, that she wasn't clear on when she told her boyfriend and other friend about the incident, that she provided different versions of the story and when Schmidt had grabbed her genital area. The woman also gave the response of "I don't remember" a number of times during her testimony and cross-examination.
"You don't need to add them up," he said. "Just one reasonable doubt is enough. The 'I don't remember' is reasonable doubt by itself."
On Friday morning, Schmidt testified that he accidentally grabbed the woman's breast while they were practicing take-down maneuvers at the police station.
He also testified that he told her twice to show him her breasts because both of them and two other men had made jokes prior to the incident about the woman flashing her breasts to people. He also said he kissed the woman, and later felt bad about it.
"I helped her up off the floor" (after a takedown maneuver), "and kissed her three times," he said. "It was a stupid move."
Schmidt said the woman did not appear to be upset with him after the incident and that he did not remember grabbing her genital area. During cross-examination by Lieberg, he admitted he could have accidentally grabbed her genital area while they were doing to the holds and maneuvers.
Schmidt's testimony was in sharp contrast to the woman's testimony on Thursday morning. He kept his composure through the back-and-forth questioning by the attorneys, and appeared to choke up only when Nolen asked him about the importance of his marriage, wife and family.
In contrast, the woman said a number of times during testimony and cross-examination that she didn't remember specific details and information. She appeared to grow frustrated with the details. The court took a recess early in her testimony because she said she felt sick. She was later admonished by Judge David L. Mennis to answer the questions and allow the attorneys to finish their questions before speaking.
On Thursday, the woman testified that Schmidt grabbed both her breast and her genital area, that he showed her a pornographic image on the department's computer and requested that she show him her breasts twice.
During direct questioning, she said Schmidt had her pinned on her back on the floor when he grabbed her breast. "It was not a grope or a squeeze, it was a grab," she said. "There was no sorry, no 'oops', no nothing."
She said he let her get up from the floor and that when she was walking away, he pulled her to him, kissed her and grabbed her genital area.
During cross-examination by Nolen, the woman admitted that she may not have told law enforcement about the fact that she and Schmidt were practicing therapeutic holds on each other prior to the incident.
Evidence also included the recorded phone conversation between Schmidt and the woman.
In the conversation, Schmidt is heard saying he felt bad about the incident, that he was sorry and that he would take back his actions if he could. One exchange includes her question, "how do you want to fix this?" His response, "How can I fix this? I can't take back what happened."
Lieberg also played an interview with Schmidt conducted by Redmond. During the interview Schmidt is heard saying he may have grabbed the woman's breast by accident, while he was reaching for her arm. Schmidt denied grabbing her genital area, but is heard saying that he was sorry and that the wrestling between himself and the woman "went too far."