DCSO RESPONSE TO THE INCIDENT WITH LARRY DOBSON AT NAYLOR'S POND
Editor's Note: This incident does not reflect any actions taken by any member of the DCI.
SHERIFF REACTS TO DROWNING INCIDENT WITH AREA NEWSPAPER.
DCSO RESPONSE TO THE INCIDENT WITH LARRY DOBSON AT NAYLOR'S POND
On July 26th, 2018 the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office responded to a possible drowning/missing child at Naylor’s Pond. Naylor’s Pond is located on 160th Avenue north of Highway 14 in Claremont Township. The initial reports indicated a 7-year old child was missing, was last seen in the water, and was feared drown.
Upon the arrival of our deputies, we quickly realized more help was needed to conduct a lifesaving search. The help came in the form of fire and medical personnel as well as assets from the air to conduct an aerial search.
The very large scene was blocked off and closed to the public and media so our first responders could conduct an effective search. The only people allowed inside the search area were public safety personnel and the immediate family of the missing child. This is standard procedure when public safety officials are conducing larger area searches. We simply must protect the integrity of a scene until we know what is truly occurring.
During the interviews with family members and potential witnesses at the time the child was reported missing, discrepancies were discovered in their statements that raised concern that the missing child may not have been in the water as first reported. A search team of personnel on the ground and assets in the air were established to search the immediate area of Naylor’s Pond. As the investigation progressed, we determined that this was indeed an unfortunate case of an accidental drowning.
To help explain why we took the necessary measures that we did, I want you to understand the reasons for those measures. We need to secure a large area for the following reasons:
• Maintaining a potential crime scene for evidence
• Providing a safe, controlled environment for public safety personnel conducting the search
• Prevent the early and often inaccurate release of information to the public via social media outlets
• To attempt to protect the privacy of the victim and the immediate family members who are living a nightmare.
Finally, when there is an active outdoor crime scene, such as this one, it is vitally important that we maintain control of the scene to protect the public and media from entering potentially dangerous situations. We must, and this is a strong must, protect the integrity of the scene until we are able to determine if the scene contains evidence of a crime.
During the search and while the scene was active, one of our investigators observed an unknown male in the trees with a camera. The man was confronted and identified as Larry Dobson. Mr. Dobson was located on the east side of Naylor’s Pond, which was west of where our people were securing the main entrance to the pond. This location was also east of where the child was recovered. Mr. Dobson walked out to the investigators after being confronted. The close proximity of Mr. Dobson to the active scene was upsetting to those conducting the highly stressful work of recovering a deceased child, near the child’s family members, while knowing they are being photographed and/or videoed.
Mr. Dobson was obviously removed from the scene. Mr. Dobson was overheard telling other media personnel that he had to crawl quite some ways to get into the scene. At this point, our deputy approached Mr. Dobson and asked if he had pictures of the scene. Mr. Dobson told him that he did. Our deputy contacted our investigators. Our investigators told our deputy to seize Mr. Dobson’s camera as evidence. Mr. Dobson asked if our deputy could just take the memory card. Our deputy seized the memory card and checked the internal memory of the camera to ensure there were no additional photos.
Our investigators wanted to make sure no inappropriate photos were taken of the recovery of the child. It was unknown to us how long Mr. Dobson had been hiding in the brush taking photos. Our entire purpose was to prevent the early release of sensitive photos before we determined that no threat to public safety was present. At this point in the investigation, we had not determined the preliminary cause of death as an accidental drowning. The remote possibly still existed that something other than drowning had caused the death of the young child. Additionally, we felt an obligation to the child’s family to help prevent photos of him being recovered from the water appearing on-line or in a weekly newspaper. Finally, the memory card possibly contained evidence of Mr. Dobson entering a law enforcement-controlled area which was feasibly a crime.
After seizing the memory card, our investigators obtained a search warrant which was reviewed and signed by a judge. The search warrant was to search and recover the contents of the memory card. To ensure nothing was done to damage the memory card and possibly delete an unknown number of photos, we asked for and received assistance from the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office High Technology Crime Investigators. A copy of the memory card was completed by Olmsted County with the copy and original memory card being returned to us.
After reviewing the photos related to the incident in question, we discovered photos indicating Mr. Dobson was knowingly in a controlled scene. We then returned the SD Card to Mr. Dobson.
Due to Mr. Dobson’s location at the pond, his comments made about the incident, and the photos recovered from the memory card search, we believe that Mr. Dobson knew he was in a controlled scene at the time our staff approached him. Mr. Dobson argues that he crossed no “Police Line” posted on the west side of the pond and he was walking on public lands. This is correct. We didn’t have crime scene tape strung on the west side of the pond. With nearly a mile of thick brush and woods between our scene and 150th Avenue, we felt is wasn’t necessary during this high stress incident. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, crime scene tape would have hopefully prevented all of this from occurring. We also have never had a member of the media go to such extraordinary lengths to take photos of a scene.
Which leads us to today and our opportunity to correct some of the discrepancies that have been posted and printed by Mr. Dobson.
• Mr. Dobson insists that he was in a public area that was not part of the controlled scene, yet he took photos from the barricaded staging area and from the east side of the pond where our investigators were working this incident.
• Mr. Dobson was heard making comments to other media personnel that he stumbled into the crime scene and then was later heard to say that he crawled into the scene. Based upon the layout of the land to which Mr. Dobson was located, we believe this is probably a true statement.
• Mr. Dobson has said on several occasions that I instructed my staff to lie to him when he claims my staff told him that I was “out of town”. This is not true. Courthouse security video of his encounter with our screening deputies show that Mr. Dobson was told “he’s not here today” referring to me. That was true as I was at the opening day of the Dodge County Fair helping with preparations for the opening ceremony.
• Our courthouse security video, which also records audio at the security checkpoint, records the encounter between our deputies and Mr. Dobson. Our deputy asks Mr. Dobson “Can you stand over there please? I need to screen these other people in”. Our deputy was referring to other people waiting in line behind Mr. Dobson as they wanted to enter the courthouse via the screening checkpoint. Our people never ordered Mr. Dobson to leave the building as he as suggested in his posts.
• Mr. Dobson has implied in his comments that a competing newspaper had something to do with our decision to keep his memory card. Again, this is not true. The only contact I had with the staff of the Dodge County Independent (DCI) regarding the drowning that night was an inquiry into the incident and a press release.
• Mr. Dobson has also implied that I have had some connection with comments critical of his behavior that a citizen had posted on the citizen’s social media. Mr. Dobson is suggesting slander for these comments to which I have nothing to do with. I have never heard of the citizen in question until Mr. Dobson reported the name in his newspaper. This release is the first comment I have made regarding the incident with Mr. Dobson.
• Mr. Dobson has written that he learned his memory card was sent to Rochester to be duplicated so he could not destroy evidence. I was concerned about the number and content of photos Mr. Dobson had on the memory card, so I asked investigators from the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office to make a copy of the memory card. By having an un-involved agency simply make a copy of the memory card, I had trained investigators use the proper technology to preserve the contents of the memory card. By using an outside agency after the search warrant was reviewed and signed by a judge, we could return the memory card to Mr. Dobson and continue our investigation by viewing the incident related photos on the copy of the memory card.
• Mr. Dobson has written, in bold typeface, “We are gratified by and grateful to all of you who have expressed your support, to law enforcement officials and especially to those in the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office”. While context in writing is everything, I can assure you of this context: There is no support for Mr. Dobson’s actions from anyone in the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office.
After the incident, Mr. Dobson chose to immediately contact our Office in a threatening manner. Mr. Dobson also had an attorney contacting me, threatening a lawsuit. Over the days following the incident with Mr. Dobson, he has chosen to attack me, our Office, and the Dodge County Attorney’s Office in his newspapers, his connections to other newspapers, social media, and on television.
This Office has always worked hard to be a transparent as possible with our citizens and the media. Up to this point, I believe that we have had a good relationship with all media outlets in our region, including Mr. Dobson.
On the night of the drowning and Mr. Dobson’s incident, I left the scene around 9:20 PM, drove home, reviewed the information from the drowning, and sent a press release to the media hopeful it would make the 10:00 PM newscasts. At the scene, I chose not to talk to the media. I simply needed time to get my thoughts and emotions together to present a coherent statement about the sad conclusion of the drowning incident.
Our personnel treated Mr. Dobson’s incident the same as we would any other person that we felt entered a controlled scene without permission: as a potential criminal act that needed further investigation. The bottom line is simple: if you stay out of a law enforcement-controlled scene; you will have no issues. If you attempt or do enter a controlled scene to get a better photo to help increase your circulation; expect there to be consequences.
At this scene our first responsibility was the child and the child’s family. To ensure a sense of safety and privacy while a search was conducted for their kid was foremost in our minds. Our second responsibility is to ensure a safe, secure, and controlled environment for our search personnel to do their job of recovering a deceased child.
A forgotten part of this story is the large number of women and men who came to assist us. Members from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, Dodge County Sheriff’s Posse, Dodge County Sheriff's Chaplain Program, Dodge Center Ambulance Service, Dodge Center Fire Department, Claremont Fire Department, West Concord Fire and Rescue, Owatonna Police Department Drone Team, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, the Minnesota DNR, the Minnesota State Patrol, and Mayo One all responded to help find this child. While the outcome is not what anyone wanted, these first responders need to know they did a great job. They brought a child home to his family.
The amount of support received from our first responder community was and continues to be overwhelming. We are all very fortunate to live in Dodge County where neighbors help neighbors.
I would ask that you do not use this post to attack Mr. Dobson or his newspapers. Larry has been very supportive of our Office and local law enforcement. We hope that support will continue. Larry is surrounded by a great staff and we hope our relationship can continue to grow. Because of that and wanting to move forward, we have chosen not to file criminal charges against Larry. Mistakes were made; let’s move on.
If you wish to comment on this post, please make it in support for those that sacrifice for our communities. Our first responders drop what they are doing to come help people they don’t know. The drowning of a child is a terribly traumatic event that is not soon forgotten.
Finally, please keep Gabriel Kuhlman’s family in your thoughts, prayers, and support them in this time of great loss.