Updated: 6:57 a.m., March 4 | Posted: 3:20 p.m., March 3
The St. Paul Police Department has put an investigator on paid leave after federal judges rebuked her for lying to a grand jury on key parts of a sex trafficking case.
The move stems from a child trafficking indictment of dozens of Somali-Americans, mostly in the Twin Cities. A Tennessee jury in 2012 convicted three Twin Cities men: Idris Fahra, Andrew Kayachith and Yassin Yusuf.
A federal judge, however, reversed the verdict. On Wednesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld that reversal.
In that appeals court document, the court admonished St. Paul Officer Heather Weyker, citing the lower court's belief that Weyker "likely exaggerated or fabricated important aspects of this story ... the District Court caught Weyker lying to the grand jury, and later, lying during a detention hearing."
St. Paul officials said Weyker was put on leave Thursday while authorities probe what happened.
"Sgt. Weyker is currently on paid administrative leave with the St. Paul Police Department," department spokesperson Steve Linders said. "We were recently made aware of the court's decision, and immediately upon becoming aware of it, we launched an internal investigation."
A message for comment left on Weyker's cellphone was not immediately returned. A police union representative said he'd just learned about the department putting Weyker on leave and couldn't immediately comment.
Prosecutors in St. Paul are trying to figure out if the appeals court's rebuke will affect other cases Weyker was involved with.
Dennis Gerhardstein, a spokesperson for Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, said staff are reviewing the decision to "determine the proper course of action as it relates to any review of current or past cases."
David Boling with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nashville said 16 other defendants in the alleged conspiracy are still awaiting trial, and federal prosecutors are also figuring out their next move.
"We're currently reviewing the decision of the 6th Circuit, and assessing how it may impact the government's case against each of the remaining 16 defendants," he said.
As prosecutors weigh how to proceed, defense attorney David Komisar, who represents Yusuf, said the ruling vindicates his client. He said that after 53 months behind bars, Yusef is getting out of prison Friday.
Komisar said Weyker should face consequences for lying in court.
"There should be an accountability I would think, somewhere along the line, on the actions of the lead agent in this case, and how she, in an effort to create this false narrative, has destroyed lives and cost people almost five years of their freedom," he said.
According to the appellate court record, Weyker served on an FBI Task Force on sex trafficking in 2008. At one point, she tried to speak with a minor girl identified only as "Jane Doe 2." When her parents objected, Weyker "met Jane Doe 2 surreptitiously at her school."
Some 30 meetings over several months with the girl "produced a story in which Jane Doe 2 was not a troubled runaway or juvenile delinquent, but was instead an innocent child taken in by a Somali gang who used her for sex, either as a prostitute or for free sex with the gang members," the court wrote.
The girl apparently went willingly on a road trip to Tennessee with several boys and said she had sex with several people, the court noted. "She also wrote out and signed a statement saying the same. She did not mention any prostitution or sex trafficking. But when the Nashville Police put her on the telephone with Officer Weyker, she changed her story to include acts of prostitution and sex trafficking," according to the court record.
The girl "furthered the district court's suspicion when she testified on cross examination that Weyker had misstated facts in the reports, adding to and omitting things from her statements. Elsewhere, the district court caught Weyker lying to the grand jury and, later, lying during a detention hearing, and scolded her for it on the record," according to the opinion published Thursday.