Court records offer details in sexual conduct case involving Cook County attorney
By Tom Olsen / Duluth News Tribune
The parents of a girl who allegedly engaged in a relationship with Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell were concerned about the prosecutor’s behavior several years before filing a restraining order against him, according to court documents that recently became public.
While giving guitar lessons to the girl, who was about 14 years old at the time, Scannell told the girl’s father that “he was not sure if he should be alone with” her, investigators said in the documents.
Scannell was charged last month with two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct after being indicted by a grand jury that was convened to review the case for charges. At Scannell’s court appearance Tuesday, his lawyer, Joe Tamburino, declined to talk to the News Tribune about the evidence in the case.
“He will forcefully defend himself,” Tamburino said then. “He is not guilty of these charges.”
However, several search warrant applications filed earlier this year and recently made public provide some insight into the alleged relationship. The documents reveal that Scannell’s sister first notified authorities of the relationship and suggest that Scannell may have violated a restraining order earlier this year.
The five search warrants, signed by judges between April and July 2013, authorized investigators to obtain records from the Cook County Personnel Office, Apple, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn as part of the investigation.
According to the warrants:
Scannell’s sister, Tara Scannell of New Hampshire, first reported to a school counselor a possible inappropriate relationship between her brother and the girl. She reported receiving an inadvertent phone call from her brother in June 2012, during which she heard an “inappropriate interaction” between Scannell and the girl in the background. The call lasted about five minutes.
The following morning, Tim Scannell left a voicemail message for his sister, saying he was sorry for what she heard. Scannell also said he would never hurt the girl and said he cared about her.
Tara Scannell later spoke with Tim Scannell’s wife, Lynn, who encouraged her not to report what she heard because it would “ruin their lives.” Lynn Scannell also told her that she “didn’t understand the culture there,” Tara Scannell reported.
In December 2012, shortly after the girl’s parents filed a restraining order against Scannell, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents were asked to investigate the case for criminal charges. In the harassment order, the parents referred to Scannell as a “family friend, coach, mentor and volunteer” and said they were concerned about his relationship with their daughter because he was in a position of authority over her as the county attorney.
In an interview with the parents, investigators asked if they ever previously had any suspicion of a relationship between Scannell and their daughter. The father stated that when he had dropped the girl off for a guitar lesson at Scannell’s home about three years earlier, Scannell suggested that he should not be left alone with her.
In a February 2013 interview, the girl told the investigators that her relationship with Scannell included kissing and holding hands. She said on one occasion Scannell had also touched her chest.
The girl said she and Scannell also frequently emailed and chatted online. She said he was concerned about the emails becoming public, and said she might try to protect Scannell if she thought he was going to jail.
Investigators also reviewed several email exchanges between Scannell and the girl. They allege that he used his work and personal email accounts to communicate with the girl.
In at least one email exchange, Scannell made several references to his genitals. In another, he acknowledged that he had been both a “mentor” and “parental figure” to the girl.
A two-year restraining order against Scannell was granted on Jan. 22, 2013, ordering him not to have any contact with the girl or her parents.
In June, the teen’s mother reported to authorities that she received an invitation from Scannell to connect on LinkedIn, a social network for professionals. The girl also reported receiving a similar invitation. Investigators were treating the invitations as a possible violation of the restraining order.
Evidence in the case was presented to a St. Louis County grand jury in October, resulting in the indictment charging Scannell with two felonies.
While the age of consent in Minnesota is typically 16 years old, special prosecutor Thomas Heffelfinger has said the case is being pursued because Scannell was more than four years older than the girl and in a position of authority.
Scannell gained notoriety in December 2011 after he was shot at the Cook County Courthouse by Daniel Schlienz, a man he had just prosecuted for criminal sexual conduct charges related to a relationship with a teenage girl.
Sentencing guidelines for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct call for a stayed sentence of 18 to 24 months for an offender without a criminal history.
The case has been moved to the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth, and Scannell should next appear sometime in January.