Accusations of profanity-laced death threats and political back-stabbing were the themes of testimony taken Wednesday in a hearing on a harassment restraining order filed by a Brainerd City Council member against a former transportation committee member and city council critic.
Council member Gary Scheeler, 49, filed for and was granted a restraining order following a Sept. 4 incident in which he claims Jeff Czeczok, 40, a former transportation committee member, threatened his life. Czeczok lost his sight in 1990 as a result of diabetes.
In his testimony, Czeczok repeated the profane comments he made to Scheeler on Sept. 4.
Wednesday's hearing, which was before District Court Judge Richard Zimmerman and lasted more than three hours, was accented by about two dozen objections to lines of questioning from both attorneys and featured testimony from Scheeler; Czeczok; council member Bob Olson, whom Czeczok said he called after speaking with Scheeler on Sept. 4; Brainerd Police Capt. Lyman Dahl, who was the police supervisor at the time of the incident; and three of Scheeler's employees, former city council member Mark O'Day, Jolynn Hoppe and Greg Anselment, who said they heard portions of Czeczok's threatening telephone calls to Scheeler.
In opening statements, Scheeler's attorney, Thomas Borden, said Czeczok's profanity-laced threats to Scheeler had an impact on Scheeler's sense of well-being and his privacy.
"It's certainly not tolerable in civilized society," said Borden.
Czeczok's attorney, Gregory Larson, said Scheeler's petition for a harassment restraining order should never have been granted under Minnesota statute as it was a singular behavioral event and didn't involve physical or sexual contact. Larson said Scheeler's petition for a harassment restraining order was politically motivated, to prevent Czeczok from being reappointed to the transportation committee and to stop Czeczok from running for Scheeler's city council seat in November.
What wasn't contested between Scheeler and Czeczok was that on Sept. 4 the two spoke on the telephone four times -- the first initiated by Scheeler and the final three by Czeczok -- about a call Czeczok had earlier placed to the Minnesota Department of Transportation concerning a city street project.
During testimony Wednesday, Czeczok said when he asked Scheeler how the council member knew about his call to MnDOT, he said Scheeler said MnDOT officials had called him. Czeczok said he called City Engineer Jeff Hulsether, who told him he had told Scheeler that Czeczok had called MnDOT.
Scheeler testified that he refused to tell Czeczok who had told him.
Czeczok said it was in the third phone conversation -- which he had placed -- that he became upset because he believed Scheeler lied to him. He admitted to, and recited in the courtroom, the expletive-filled rant he directed at Scheeler on Sept. 4.
"I said, 'Mr. Scheeler, you (expletive deleted by The Dispatch), why don't you come over here and I'll kick you square in the (expletive deleted), rip off your head and (expletive deleted) down your neck,'" said Czeczok.
When asked by Borden what his intent was, Czeczok said there was no intent: "I just said it, an outburst, a momentary lapse of reason."
In the fourth phone conversation, Czeczok said he was trying, calmly, to rationalize with Scheeler but lost his composure.
"I called him back and said, 'Gary, why do you have to lie to me about something so petty, so minuscule, as who you called at MnDOT?'" Czeczok said. "I said, 'Gary, you're incapable of telling the truth, you piece of (expletive deleted). You don't deserve to wear human skin.'"
On the stand, Scheeler said Czeczok went "berserk" during the telephone calls and that Czeczok had said, "my mission in life is to kill you with my bare hands." Scheeler put the third and fourth telephone calls on speaker phone for his employees to hear. Scheeler said he hung up on Czeczok both times.
"It was a one-way conversation," said Scheeler. "I thought he would snap out of it, realize what he was saying, but he didn't snap out of it. I was scared."
O'Day testified that in addition to what Czeczok admitted to in his testimony, he remembered Czeczok saying to Scheeler at least three times during the telephone conversation: "I'll make it my mission to kill you."
In response to Scheeler reporting the phone calls to law enforcement, Brainerd police officer Holly Ailts began the investigation, said Dahl, but Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc asked Dahl to contact the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department to do the investigation because of the potential for conflict of interest.
However, Dahl said that because of a vehicle accident he was called to, he was unable to immediately contact Ailts and inform her that the sheriff's department would be investigating. Larson said Ailts stated that Scheeler made no mention that he was in fear for his life. Ailts was not called to testify.
Larson said it was only after talking to Brainerd City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick and City Administrator Dan Vogt that Scheeler decided to file a petition for a harassment restraining order, which Scheeler denied.
Crow Wing County Sheriff's Deputy Andy Bradley conducted the investigation for the sheriff's department. On Sept. 10, Czeczok was arrested and charged in Crow Wing District Court with felony terroristic threats, gross misdemeanor harassment and misdemeanor disorderly conduct. He also was charged with a misdemeanor violation of a harassment restraining order. Czeczok's next appearance on the criminal charges is 1:30 p.m. Feb. 2.
Larson also brought up a July 22 incident in which Czeczok lambasted five city council members -- Scheeler, Kelly Bevans, Anne Nelson Fisher, Jim Dehen and Lucy Nesheim -- at a city council meeting for their decision to dismiss a parking ticket issued to O'Day's son. Larson asked Scheeler if he felt threatened by Czeczok at that time. Scheeler said he did. Olson testified that no council member expressed concern to him about Czeczok's rant.
As for the Sept. 4 telephone calls to Scheeler -- after which Czeczok called Olson to tell him what he did -- Olson said he told Czeczok he shouldn't have done that, and that Czeczok expressed remorse for doing so.
On Monday, Larson filed with the court a memorandum in support of a motion for dismissal of Scheeler's harassment restraining order.
Larson's memorandum states the restraining order should be dismissed because Scheeler's petition didn't meet requirements under state statute and it unlawfully precludes Czeczok from participating in city government.
"Scheeler is essentially using the harassment restraining order as a political tool and motivated by political opportunism in order to preclude a voice of descent and criticism against him from being heard and further to preclude Czeczok from his clear intention to become involved in running for public election, specifically, Scheeler's seat on the city council," Larson wrote in the memorandum.
Zimmerman gave Borden until Jan. 19 to file his answer Larson's memorandum. Larson has until Jan. 26 to respond to Borden's response. Zimmerman said he then would take the matter under advisement.
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