Deputy Dan Ruettiman's suicide rocks Ramsey County Sheriff's Department

Bob Fletcher foe left files detailing his struggle for justice

Deputy Dan Ruettiman's suicide rocks Ramsey County Sheriff's Department
Mark Andresen

The sedan sat at the end of Hammersma Drive for hours. This was no lovers' tryst. As the sun began to set, the car remained dark and motionless.

When the retiree spied the sedan, he figured the driver must be having car trouble. As he approached, he called to the man he thought he saw tinkering under the green Saturn. No reply.

It wasn't until he got about 30 feet away in the dusky light that he realized what he was looking at, and it stopped him cold. He raced back to his house at the other end of the drive, ran inside, and dialed 911.

Mark Andresen
Dan Ruettimann (left) on the campaign trail with Matt Bostrom.
David Puente
Dan Ruettimann (left) on the campaign trail with Matt Bostrom.

"Guy laying beside the car," was all the dispatcher could get out of him.

Pine County sheriff's deputies quickly responded. The man in the road had been dead for hours. A black semiautomatic handgun was found near the body.

After half an hour, the deputies realized that the dead man's description matched a missing-person report that had been sent hours earlier. At about 3:30 p.m., a woman with fire-red hair had burst into the station.

"My name is Susan Deters," she told the officer at the front desk. "My boyfriend is missing."

Deters had looked everywhere, but there was no sign of him. She'd even checked a couple of hospitals to see if he'd been in an accident. He hadn't.

Deters gave the police her boyfriend's name, and they pulled up his license plate numbers. Then she told them something she hoped would make them take the situation more seriously.

"He's a fellow officer," she said. "He's a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy."

On Hammersma Drive, the Pine County deputies searched the scene and found the man's wallet. Tucked inside was a sheriff's department ID card that identified the dead man as Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Ruettimann.

Within hours, the news reached Jimmy Hereaux, one of Ruettimann's closest confidantes. As shocked and horrified as he was, something Ruettimann had said to him a week earlier suddenly took on new meaning.

Ruettimann had visited Hereaux at a time when he knew his friend would be alone. In the modest but cozy living room, Ruettimann handed Hereaux a heavy brown accordion file. He wrote a name down on a scrap of paper, the name of a local journalist.

"If anything happens to me," Ruettimann said, "give this to the reporter."

After Ruettimann's death, Hereaux took the file down off his desk. Inside was a thick stack of loose-leaf documents, a manila folder stuffed with letters, and a catalog-size clasp envelope labeled "Reports."

Written in black permanent marker in the margin of the envelope was the reporter's name: mine.

   

BEFORE THAT OCTOBER NIGHT, most everyone who knew Ruettimann would have said he would never kill himself.

Even as she raced to the North Branch police station to report him missing, Deters dismissed the fear that flashed through her mind.

"Part of me said, 'No, he'll never do it,' because of his kids," she says. "He loved his kids so much."

Ruettimann had helped his best friend Paul Hilger through an extreme bout of depression several years earlier. Yet Hilger never noticed his friend's despair.

"Nothing indicated he was feeling that way," says Hilger. "I was shocked."

A suicide seemed so out of character for Ruettimann—a career lawman with aspirations of rising in the ranks—that rumors circulated among his friends that something just didn't add up.

"In all the years I've known him, he's never talked like that or acted like that," says Randy Scott, who served as a part-time deputy with Ruettimann. "I'm not saying somebody killed him, but I just can't believe he would have done something like that."

More than 200 people jammed the North Heights Lutheran Church for Ruettimann's funeral. A sea of light-brown Ramsey County sheriff's deputy uniforms filled one section of pews. Another sizeable section of the crowd wore the navy blue of the Roseville Police Department, where Ruettimann's father had worked.

Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom spoke briefly from the dais in back of Ruettimann's flag-draped coffin. On one side of the coffin was a blown-up picture of Ruettimann smiling mischievously in his deputy's uniform, on the other a photo of him with his six-year-old twins.

"You were dad's heroes. He'd talk about you often," Bostrom said to the twins as they sat bewildered in the audience. "It was an honor to serve alongside Dan."

After the service, a long procession of cars snaked behind the hearse up to the northern corner of Roselawn Cemetery, where Ruettimann would be buried at the foot of his grandfather's grave. Three rows of police officers stood at attention at the gravesite. An honor guard folded the flag on the coffin and gave it to Sheriff Bostrom, who handed it to the twin six-year-olds.

Many of the guests remarked how nice it was that Ruettimann had so many supporters. But some of his closest friends and family knew better. They saw members of the sheriff's department at the funeral that Dan no longer trusted. They watched with contempt as those deputies gave their condolences.

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