Crime, Law and Justice

Burglary charge filed against DFL state Sen. Mitchell over alleged plan to get late father’s items

Minnesota State Senator Arrested
Democratic State Sen. Nicole Mitchell, right, of Woodbury, speaks with Sen. Robert D. Farnsworth, a Republican from Hibbing, on the floor of the Minnesota Senate on April 2.
Steve Karnowski | AP file

Updated: 4:30 p.m.

Democratic state Sen. Nicole Mitchell was charged with first-degree burglary on Tuesday, a day after she was arrested at a home in Detroit Lakes.

The charges allege Mitchell broke into the home of her stepmother amid an ongoing dispute over possessions that belonged to the senator’s late father, as well as his ashes.

Mitchell made her initial appearance in Becker County District Court late Tuesday morning, where a judge granted her release from jail if she abides by conditions including having no contact with the victim, and not leaving the state without written court approval. The judge also said a restraining order was issued Tuesday. Bail without conditions was set at $40,000.

An online roster for the Becker County Jail indicated Mitchell was no longer being held there as of midday Tuesday. She is due back in court on June 10.

In a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon, Mitchell said her stepmom has had memory and paranoia issues and the episode stems from her coming in unannounced.

“Over the weekend, I learned of medical information which caused me grave concern and prompted me to check on that family member. I entered a home I have come and gone from countless times in the past 20 years, where my son even once had his own room,” Mitchell wrote. “Unfortunately, I startled this close relative, exacerbating paranoia, and I was accused of stealing, which I absolutely deny.”

The exterior of a home
The Detroit Lakes home where Minnesota Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, was arrested early on the morning of Monday.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Mitchell’s attorney, Bruce Ringstrom Sr., said in an interview that the dispute arose out of a “fractured relationship” between the senator and her stepmother that has been aggravated by age-related issues.

“It’s not exactly the wicked stepmother from Cinderella,” Ringstrom said.

Ringstrom said he’s sure there will be “internal discussions” among Senate Democrats regarding her future but that she’s entitled to a presumption of innocence.

He said he told her to suppress her instincts “as a media person, a weather person and politician,” and that she agreed “to hold her tongue and say nothing.”

The complaint alleges that Mitchell’s stepmother called police at about 4:45 a.m. Monday, stating that someone had broken into her residence and ran into the basement. Officers allegedly found Mitchell in the basement in all-black clothing, and placed her under arrest.

The complaint said police found a backpack belonging to the Woodbury legislator that contained her Senate identification card. Mitchell is a member of a slim Senate majority and her arrest could complicate the final month of the 2024 session, perhaps leaving the chamber deadlocked 33-33 if she is unable to participate. Mitchell’s next court date is three weeks after the Legislature's mandatory adjournment.

According to the criminal complaint, as she was being detained Monday, Mitchell allegedly told her stepmother that she “was just trying to get a couple of my dad’s things because you wouldn’t talk to me anymore.”

She later allegedly told officers that she had wanted photos, a flannel shirt and other items that belonged to her late father, as well as his ashes.

If convicted on the sole count of first-degree burglary, Mitchell could face a penalty of anywhere from 6 months in jail to 20 years in prison.

Mitchell’s father, Roderick, died in March of 2023. In late January, a judge signed off on a probate case that awarded 100 percent of Roderick Mitchell’s assets to his wife, Carol. They were estimated to be about $173,000 in value. Nicole Mitchell is listed in court documents as his only daughter.

Mitchell did not respond to a message on Monday, and her Senate office referred questions to a spokesperson for the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus who said in a brief statement that the caucus is “aware of the situation and has no comment pending further information.”

Elected in 2022 to the Minnesota Senate, Mitchell is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. She is also a former broadcast meteorologist for MPR News.

The news prompted mixed responses from leaders at the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the actions were out of character for Mitchell and she should be granted her day in court.

“The allegations against Senator Mitchell are upsetting, for me and for anyone who has gotten to know and work with her," Murphy said in a news release. “We believe in due process, and Senator Mitchell has the right to a full defense of her case in court. In the coming days and weeks, Senator Mitchell must also have serious and difficult conversations with her colleagues, constituents and family.”

Republicans in the chamber, meanwhile, said the actions merited a stronger response. They called on Mitchell to immediately step down.

“I understand the difficult situation her family is facing, however the actions taken by Sen. Mitchell are disturbing. The complaint released by the Becker County Attorney lays out the case of a person who took extensive preparation to burglarize a family member’s home,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said. “This behavior is unbecoming of a member of the Legislature and she needs to resign from the Senate immediately.”

Any kind of ethics action wouldn’t be resolved quickly, but Republicans could balk at Mitchell voting while her case is pending given the felony-level charge.

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