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Swift County, Minn., assessor gets continuance for having a gun in courthouse

BENSON -- Bringing a cased, unloaded and badly damaged shotgun to his office in the Swift County courthouse in Benson cost Edward Pederson a month's work and pay, along with attorney fees and a $600 charge for the criminal prosecution against him.

But what a special prosecutor calls a "poor error in judgment'' will not make the Swift County assessor a convicted felon.

A plea agreement was reached this week in the criminal case against Pederson, 51. It allows for a one-year continuance of the felony charge of dangerous weapon possession in a courthouse. If Pederson does not commit a similar violation for a year and pays the $600 prosecution costs, the charge will be dismissed and he can petition the court to have it expunged from the record.

Pope County Attorney Neil Nelson prosecuted the case on behalf of Swift County, and the matter had been moved to district court in Stevens County. Nelson said the decision to approve a continuance came after a thorough investigation.

"It wasn't the type of situation where he deserved to be a felon, but deserved a financial consequence among other things,'' said Nelson.

He said there was no hint of evidence that Pederson had any intent to commit a crime, harm or threaten anybody.

The prosecutor also pointed out that at the time of the incident, Swift County did not have any signs posted on entry doors to the courthouse advising of the ban on firearms in the building.

Pederson said he could not discuss the case when contacted prior to a scheduled court hearing. His attorney, Robert Dalager of Morris, said the agreement represents a resolution in his client's favor.

The felony charge was filed after Sheriff John Holtz was notified Oct. 28 that a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun belonging to Pederson was in the break room of the assessor's office in the courthouse. The sheriff confiscated the shotgun.

Pederson immediately contacted the sheriff and acknowledged he had brought the gun to the office. In a letter to the editor published in Swift County newspapers in early January, Pederson said the shotgun was badly damaged in a fire and he had wanted his deputy's opinion on whether it could be repaired.

The Swift County Board of Commissioners met in a closed session shortly after the incident, and placed Pederson on unpaid leave for a month. Pederson is back at his job of more than 26 years.

In his published letter, Pederson said: "As a result of my inadvertent action, I must defend myself against the attempted malicious efforts to destroy my character, integrity, honor and career.'' He stated there was more to the story than has been printed, and expressed the belief that the truth would be known and the matter resolved eventually.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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