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Schmidt placed on unpaid leave by City Council due to charges

ATWATER -- The day before Atwater Police Officer Paul Schmidt appeared in court on charges that he sexually assaulted a woman while on duty, the Atwater City Council placed the officer on unpaid administrative leave, effective immediately.

ATWATER -- The day before Atwater Police Officer Paul Schmidt appeared in court on charges that he sexually assaulted a woman while on duty, the Atwater City Council placed the officer on unpaid administrative leave, effective immediately.

The action was taken Wednesday night during the council's first meeting of 2008.

Schmidt was placed on unpaid administrative leave "pending the outcome of the trial," Mayor Bruce Baker said.

"We'll let the chips fall where they fall."

On Oct. 17, a day after Schmidt, 34, allegedly groped a woman at the Police Department after she had ridden with him in the squad car, Schmidt was placed on administrative leave with pay.

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That action was taken by Baker, Councilman Scott Bjornson -- who is the city's police commissioner -- and Police Chief Reed Schmidt, who is also Paul Schmidt's father.

Baker said Reed Schmidt had been notified about the accusations by the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Department the day after the alleged incident occurred. Baker and Bjornson were then told.

Following state law and the city's police handbook policy, Paul Schmidt, who is a part-time officer with the city, was placed on paid leave.

The rest of the City Council was informed about the situation at a special closed meeting on Dec. 5.

Other city staff and community residents learned about the charges through the news media after the formal complaint against Schmidt was filed Dec. 27.

Baker said it was proper early on to "hold the tongue" and not release information about the accusations in case formal charges were never filed.

Even with the charges filed, Baker said, "This is going to lay quiet until a decision is made" by the court. "He's not guilty until the law says he is."

Baker said Schmidt "made some policy mistakes" by having an individual ride along with him in the squad car. The Police Department's policy doesn't allow ride-along passengers unless the request is approved by the chief.

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Schmidt had not obtained prior approval, Baker said.

In Schmidt's absence, the city's other part-time officer, Ross Johnson, has been pulling full-time duty.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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