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Atwater reaches settlement with former police officer

ATWATER -- The city of Atwater has reached a financial settlement with a former part-time police officer who was cleared of criminal sexual conduct charges.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the council approved a negotiated settlement to pay Paul Schmidt $7,500 in legal fees and $15,803 for 14 months of back pay that he'd been denied after being charged in the case.

The League of Minnesota Cities, which is the city's insurer, will pay all the costs.

As part of the agreement, Schmidt has resigned from the Police Department. He has not worked since being accused of the crime.

On Oct 17, 2007, Schmidt was placed on paid administrative leave after the council learned that a woman had accused Schmidt of groping her at the city Police Department the night before. The woman was with Schmidt, who was on duty at the time, as part of a police ride-along program.

The council put Schmidt on unpaid leave in January of 2008 after two charges of criminal sexual conduct were filed.

During a trial in November of 2008, Schmidt was found not guilty of all charges.

Police Chief Reed Schmidt, who is also Paul Schmidt's father, asked the council to reinstate Paul Schmidt to his 20-hour work week. The council, however, did not put Paul Schmidt back on the police force after his acquittal.

As part of the agreement, Paul Schmidt agreed to resign his position as of Feb. 28, according to City Clerk Goldie Smith.

The council heard details of the proposed settlement in a closed session. Todd Kleinhuizen, a Willmar attorney hired by the city, negotiated the agreement. The settlement was then approved when the public meeting reconvened, said Smith.

In other action:

- The council was informed that two community meetings will be held to gain public input on future city involvement with the Hotel Atwater project. The meetings will be at 7 p.m. May 19 and June 23 at the community center.

- The city heard a proposal from Larry Strandberg who wants to donate land on Tad Lake to the city for additional park land. The city did not take action.

- The council extended the "burn days" to include May 9 and 16 to allow residents time to burn leaves and brush.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750