Big drama in small-town Minnesota after a party gone wrong

The story behind the investigation of Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Jude

Though Bailey is the only one who ended up in the hospital after the party that night, other teenagers were also drinking heavily. Another parent, Lorraine Akemann , says she picked up her daughter, 17-year-old Ally Mzorik, from the party around 2:30 a.m. When Lorraine arrived, Ally was passed out about 10 to 15 feet from a river. "She could have fallen in and drowned," says Akemann.

A friend helped Mzorik halfway to the car, and Akemann carried her daughter the rest of the way. She also gave a ride home to another party attendee, who Akemann says was incoherent and vomiting.

"I have nothing against [Jan]," she say. "Never have. But now she crossed the line by taking away my parental rights by not being a responsible adult enough to monitor this party, contact the parents of these kids who are underage. You know, there's so many double standards here and hypocrisy."

In June, the Anoka County Sheriff's Department announced it would investigate the case. Russ has been temporarily reassigned from his position.

Some in town think it's unfair that the Judes are being targeted by law enforcement.

"If this happened at anyone else's house, this wouldn't be happening," one mother told investigators. "There wouldn't be an investigation. It wouldn't be on the news."

But others say the county attorney should be held to a higher standard. Jan's office prosecuted another mother, Cheryl Miller, just a few years ago for hosting a graduation party involving underage drinking. Though Miller was ultimately found not guilty of the gross misdemeanor charge of procuring alcohol for minors, Jan took the opportunity to publicly point to the case as "a good reminder during this graduation season that we all have to be mindful of underage drinking and take whatever precautions we can."

"I don't feel it's right," says Kim Hamilton. "I don't feel, myself, she should be able to be prosecuting people for things that she's doing."

On a quiet afternoon just outside Foreston near Milaca, Brett Larson drives down a long dirt road called Central Avenue, where the houses sit acres apart, surrounded by miles of farmland. He stops in front of the Judes' house, camouflaged by trees and shrubs grown out at the entrance of a long driveway lined with wire fence. "No Trespassing: Violators will be prosecuted," a sign reads.

Larson points to the Rum River running up the side of the property. "I thought about jumping on my kayak and paddling up there to get a picture of the house," says Larson.

Larson is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger, a small community weekly that is the paper of record for news of fishing and school board meetings in the rural Minnesota towns surrounding Lake Mille Lacs. The paper is not all fluff, however. The area sees more than its share of violent crime, much of it related to criminal enterprises like the Native Mob, and Larson's staff keeps busy following the beat. The politics of a small town can also make for stories worthy of a daytime soap opera.

One morning in early June, Larson was editing from his Milaca home when he got an email from one of his reporters, Diane Gibas, relaying a tip about a party at the county attorney's home. "One boy was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he almost died," reported Gibas. "His mother is beside herself and said her son is being bullied already because he can't hold his liquor." Though Larson hadn't yet heard about Hamilton's trip to the emergency room, he was already well aware of the party's existence — his daughter had also been in attendance.

Larson told Gibas to follow up. He tried to return to his editing, but couldn't get the email out of his head. "It kind of stuck in my craw," he says.

Larson decided to call the tipster himself. He drove up to see Hamilton the next morning. Gibas had contacted the Mille Lacs County Sheriff's Office, and by later that afternoon the sheriff announced that investigators from neighboring Anoka County would take on the case.

In the small town, the news spread fast. At least one police officers went on Facebook and accused the reporters of being biased. Kids who attended the party also aired their grievances on social media, many criticizing Hamilton and others for snitching.

"Hey at my grad party there will be drinking," reads one tweet. "If you can't handle that don't come. #Dipshits."

"It's your fault that you chose to fucking drink until you blew a .2 you fucking dumbass," reads another. "Don't blame it on everyone else."

Within a few days, community members were calling on the paper to stop writing about the case. But it was too late for that.

"It was beyond us at this point," says Larson. "We got kids on the record. That story with Bailey is a once-in-a-lifetime story for someone like me."

The reporters at the Messenger compiled a list of 40 kids who attended the party. Larson and reporter Rob Passons got a few to talk, and slowly put together details of the party. Some told them it was expected that they could drink, as long as no one drove.

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