The Potluck

Hennepin County sheriff candidate was disciplined for mishandling missing person report

By: - April 7, 2022 6:00 am

Bloomington police officer Jai Hanson is running for Hennepin County sheriff.

Bloomington police officer Jai Hanson, who is running for Hennepin County sheriff, was disciplined in 2018 for mishandling a missing person report in which a group home resident was found dead of suicide.

Hanson — who says he’s an independent and will de-politicize the office now held by Sheriff David Hutchinson — was disciplined by former Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts, who is now executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

A June 2018 memo from Bloomington Commander Kevin Herman to Potts said after an internal investigation, Hanson was found to have violated department policy on how to respond to missing and endangered persons reports. He failed to submit a truthful, complete police report, according to the Herman memo.

Hanson was dispatched in April 2018 to a group home for a missing person report, and within about an hour — a half hour after he was scheduled to go off duty — he cleared the call, the memo said. His police report suggested he went to the group home, spoke to the manager and filed the report. But he didn’t. 

The missing person was a vulnerable adult who had left the group home the day before in his mother’s vehicle. The man’s father said he last saw his son two days prior, and that he often left the group home for long periods of time and had attempted suicide nine times.

Hanson wrote in his report that the man had severe depression and hadn’t taken two doses of medication. Hanson wrote that he located a possible vehicle registered to the man’s mother, but was unable to talk to her because she was out of the country. He put out a police alert to watch for the vehicle.

Twenty-six minutes after Hanson cleared the call, police were again called to the group home on a report of an unresponsive man lying in his room. The man had died by suicide. Police found his mother’s vehicle parked in the street outside the group home.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the man had been dead about 12 hours, so Hanson would not have been able to prevent the suicide.

The next morning, the death investigation was mentioned during roll call, which Hanson attended before being assigned to a detail, according to police documents. Later that morning, a sergeant noticed that a supplemental report had been added by Hanson, without a sergeant’s approval. 

The supplemental report reflected that Hanson had contacted the group home manager by phone, contradicting the earlier report that he’d gone in person. He later said he failed to properly report that he handled the case by phone because he was collecting information and writing his initial report at the same time.

Hanson told investigators he couldn’t recall the call notes or the group home address. He said he pulled into the Valley West Outlet Mall and called the missing man’s father, then called the group home manager and said he had enough information to file his report.

Hanson said in an interview with the Reformer that he intended to go to the group home, but then the manager asked if they could do the interview over the phone. He said the man’s father told Hanson that his son liked to go to the mall, so he checked there.

Asked if he saw any value in going to the group home, Hanson told the internal investigator, “in retrospect, yes,” but said the group home manager had told him he looked in the house and the car wasn’t there “so he believed him.”

Hanson told investigators the portion of his report saying he made contact with the group home manager was “misleading” and in retrospect, he should have found the man and his suicide note in the house.

He acknowledged that the case looked sloppy, and that the experience was “pretty humbling” and wouldn’t happen again, according to police documents.

Hanson told investigators that after he found out the victim was dead, he “didn’t even put in for overtime.” 

Potts issued an oral reprimand to Hanson for mishandling the call and required him to be retrained on missing persons calls.

“The fact that you did not respond to the missing person’s residence to investigate further demonstrates poor judgment and does not adhere to departmental policy,” Potts wrote.

Hanson said in a Reformer interview it was an unfortunate situation and “a learning experience for me.”

“I feel bad that he did kill himself, however, my actions didn’t contribute to that,” he said.

Hanson has worked for the Bloomington Police Department since February 2014, and prior to that worked for the Lakeville department. 

“I do take a lot of pride in trying to do this job the right way,” Hanson told the Reformer.

The current sheriff, Dave Hutchinson, announced he would not seek re-election after facing calls to resign for driving drunk and lying about the incident earlier this year.

Minneapolis Police veteran Mark Klukow, Dakota County Community Corrections Director Suwana Kirkland and Hennepin County Major Dawanna Witt are also running for the job.

This story was updated at 2:40 p.m. on Thursday to add another sheriff’s candidate. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.