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Atwater police officer facing 2 sex crime charges

WILLMAR -- An Atwater Police Department officer faces criminal sexual conduct charges for allegedly grabbing a woman's body and genitals at the city's police station in October.

The complaint, signed Thursday by District Judge Gerald J. Seibel, charges Paul Reed Schmidt, 34, of Atwater, with two gross misdemeanor charges of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct. No arraignment date -- at which time he would be formally charged -- has been set in Kandiyohi County District Court.

Schmidt has been on paid administrative leave since the allegations were made in mid-October, according to Paul's father, Atwater Police Chief Reed Schmidt.

The case has been handled by the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office, he added.

According to the complaint, the woman contacted the Sheriff's Office to report a sexual assault on or about Oct. 16. The woman told a detective that she was a ride-along participant with Paul Schmidt, who is a licensed peace officer and was on duty at the time. During the ride-along, in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, Schmidt took her to the Atwater Police Department. They watched video clips on a city computer. The woman said when she got up to move away from Schmidt, he tackled and restrained her and made a sexual request of her.

The allegations also state that Schmidt groped the woman's chest and genitals through her clothing, then pulled her to him and kissed her several times.

According to the complaint, Paul Schmidt told the detective in a statement that some "wrestling" took place at the police department and that he grabbed the victim's breast "by accident." He did not remember grabbing her genital area.

The case has been referred to the Stearns County Attorney's Office for review to avoid a conflict of interest, according to Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue. Michael J. Lieberg, an assistant county attorney in Stearns County, has been named a special Kandiyohi County assistant attorney to prosecute the case. However, the matter will be heard in Kandiyohi County District Court.

The local county attorney's office prosecutes the felony cases and most gross misdemeanor cases for the city of Atwater, and has a "long-standing familiarity with Mr. Schmidt," Beccue said Thursday, noting that the referral to avoid a conflict of interest is standard practice in such cases.

The maximum penalty for each of the charges is one year in prison and/or a $3,000 fine. A search of Schmidt's criminal record shows only the charges filed Thursday.