County attorneys could pack heat


Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell is accustomed to prosecuting criminals. Six weeks ago he became a victim of one while doing his job at the county courthouse.

On Dec. 15, Scannell was shot by Daniel Schlienz after the latter was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Scannell was rushed to a Duluth hospital with three gunshot wounds, but survived.

He was in the audience when the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee approved HF1829 that would allow a county attorney or assistant county attorney to carry a firearm on duty provided they have a state-issued permit to carry. State statute prohibits local government employees, other than licensed peace officers, from carrying firearms. The bill awaits action by the full House. It has no Senate companion.

Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), the bill’s sponsor, emphasized the bill was not a direct result of the Grand Marais incident and that it had been brought to him a week before the shooting. However, the incident brought attention to the measure.

“The bill before you would give county attorneys and assistant county attorneys the same carry rights as currently enjoyed by the public defenders, the court administrator, the court administrator’s staff, judicial law clerks and the private bar,” said Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson. “The bill is about personal safety, not courtroom security.”

Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Chris Rovney spoke about a drug dealer who put out a hit on him and the concern of going about his daily life knowing the criminal knew where Rovney lived and his schedule. Fortunately, the dealer — who unknowingly had been conspiring with a police informant — was caught before he could do any harm. “We’re not asking for more rights than any other Minnesota citizen, just parity,” Rovney said.

The bill would not supersede a judge’s right to ban firearms from their courtroom.

Representatives of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and Minnesota Association of County Attorneys spoke in favor of the bill.

The committee also approved the Cornish-sponsored HF1879. Sent to the House floor, it would provide enhanced penalties for assaulting or killing a prosecuting attorney while that person performs his or her official duties. It, too, has no Senate companion.

“We’ve seen an increase in violence against prosecutors,” said Paul Beaumaster, Rice County attorney and president of the Minnesota Association of County Attorneys.