Five arrests made as authorities tried to determine if a crime had been committed.

    Another public service agency was hard at work behind the scenes on a different front during the time that law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel, and those 200-plus wonderful volunteers searched every possible place for 11-year-old Anthony Kuznia after he was reported missing at the south edge of East Grand Forks recently.

    Within just a few hours of the missing child report that “other” agency — the Probation Department of Tri-County Community Corrections — was checking on the whereabouts of persons on the Predatory Offenders Registration (POR) list. Their concern was to make sure that a registered sex offender hadn’t abducted Anthony.

    In that mission, 15 probation office personnel — from administrators to field workers to support staff — organized and made home visits complete with full physical searches of 53 separate residences of known sex-offenders. Three teams worked late into the night on the first day. More teams were formed to make the visits and contacts the next day.

Called in early
    “Sheriff Barb Erdman called us into the investigation in the first hours after the missing child report was issued,” Chief Probation Officer Tami Lieberg relates. “Our probation officers and staff immediately dropped all other family and work commitments to assist in the search. The 24-hour search period was exhausting for all involved but staff showed tremendous dedication and determination to see it through to the end. Nobody was about to give up.

    “Barb and I had been a part of the Dru Sjodin case 10 years earlier and we knew of the importance of mobilizing early,” Lieberg says. There had been a time lag of “a couple of days” before probation became involved when the UND student was abducted and subsequently murdered in November 2003.

Investigated all known offenders
    “Even though we knew that Anthony had initially walked away from his home voluntarily,”  Lieberg says, “we had to look into all possibilities so that precious time would not have been wasted if the investigation had gone a different direction.  We investigated all of the high-risk persons in the community with a history of sexual offending.”  

    Most searches were naturally done in the immediate East Grand Forks area where approximately 35 sex offenders live. As time progressed in the about 24-hour time period before Anthony was found in the Red River additional searches were done in Fisher, Crookston and Shelly to get to the total of 53. “And we weren’t yet done investigating sex offenders when Anthony was found.”

    All of persons on the POR list were able to account for their whereabouts during the hours in question, so abduction was ruled out. There was little resistance to consenting to a search when a probation officer, especially when it was appropriate to be accompanied by a law enforcement officer, arrived at the door of a registered offender. Every area of each residence was searched.

Made five arrests
    A side product of just the first few hours of the search was that five arrests were made for parole violations or other criminal activity. Two persons were charged with the possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia. There probably could have been more arrests, too, but taking the time to make an arrest became less important than continuing the determination of where each of the registrants was at the time of the disappearance.

    Tri-County Community Corrections, in case you aren’t quite sure of what this agency does, is a joint powers organization that provides probation services and operates the Northwest Regional Corrections Center jail and the Red River Valley Juvenile Center in Crookston for the three member counties of Polk, Norman and Red Lake.

    The operation was staged from the Polk County Human Service Center building in East Grand Forks. “We had our own important job to do and we didn’t need to be in the way of those managing the ground search that was being conducted jointly by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the East Grand Forks Police Department, and the East Grand Forks Fire and Rescue Department,” Phill Greer, TCCC executive director, says of having a separate operations base. Some 30 different agencies, including several from North Dakota, participated in the effort.

    In a note to probation staff members, Greer noted, “I applaud your efforts to come together on short notice, to work diligently — together with law enforcement — to investigate, search and clear sex offenders under our supervision as well as unsupervised registered predators through consent searches.” He continued, “Thank you for your effort, professionalism and dedication to duty during the entire course of this situation. I, for one, am very proud of you and your efforts.”

    All involved in the search process — probation officers, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and all of the volunteers who responded and searched virtually every inch of the area where Anthony might have gone — are to be more than commended for their efforts. Their response was not just heartwarming but provides just another reason why we treasure living in an area where people truly care about their neighbors… and will always go above and beyond toward that end.
    Disclaimer: Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners.