All charges against a former Grand Forks day care employee were dropped earlier this month after a psychologist found the defendant had likely made a false confession.
Grand Forks County Assistant State's Attorney Jason McCarthy, who prosecuted the case, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Timothy Tollefson, 32, Manvel, N.D., on Jan. 5. The next day an order signed by a judge to dismiss the charges was filed.
Tollefson was charged in December 2013 in state district court in Grand Forks with four counts of gross sexual imposition, each a class A felony, after Tollefson told police during questioning that he would become sexually aroused when rubbing the backs and buttocks of four girls during nap time at the Immanuel Christian Children's Center in Grand Forks, according to court records.
Tollefson's defense attorney Alex Reichert said the case was "extremely uncommon" in that the prosecution's psychologist agreed with the defense's psychologist that Tollefson's statements to police were unreliable.
Dr. Rodney Swenson, who conducted the mental evaluation of Tollefson for the defense, found that Tollefson "has persistent and significant cognitive and emotional/developmental deficits" stemming from a serious car accident he was involved in when he was months old, according to court records.
Swenson said the incriminating statements Tollefson made to police were likely coerced, according to court documents.
"When pressed and put under pressure, Mr. Tollefson would agree to anything to get out of that situation," Reichert said of Swenson's findings.
Reichert has argued since August that police coerced Tollefson into admitting to inappropriately touching the children, but Swenson's conclusions cast serious doubt on the reliability of his confession.
McCarthy, the prosecuting attorney, subsequently ordered Tollefson to undergo another mental evaluation, this time by a psychologist at the North Dakota State Hospital.
Reichert said the state's psychologist arrived at the same conclusion as Swenson, after which the state's case crumbled.
McCarthy was out of the office Wednesday and could not be reached by email for comment.
Two and a half months after ordering the second mental evaluation, McCarthy filed the motion to drop all charges.
"Their case was extremely weak," Reichert said. "There was forensic interviews of all of the children, and really none of the children reported anything."
According to court documents, the reporting child told her parents Tollefson would tickle her back during nap time and pull her pants down. When asked by her parents whether he ever touched her privates, she told them "no," court records said.
The girl later told a social worker that Tollefson would sit next to her at nap time and look around, according to court documents. She also reportedly told the interviewer this made her feel "bad" and she would turn away and snuggle with her blanket.
Court documents do not mention anything about what the other three alleged victims said during forensic interviews. They do say a staff member reported seeing Tollefson rubbing a child's back and buttocks. Records do not specify whether this staff member said he did this over or under the child's clothes.
During most of the police questioning, which took place on two separate occasions, Tollefson was adamant he did not touch any of the children inappropriately, Reichert said. But, he said, when police "bullied" him, telling him he was being dishonest, Tollefson told them what they wanted to hear.
The district court sealed the video recordings of Tollefson's questioning by police, but Reichert did highlight pieces of his questioning in court documents.
"Tollefson had previously told (Grand Forks Detective Steve) Conley he rubbed down to the waistband of some of the children at daycare," Reichert wrote. "Conley then exerted psychological pressures by convincing Tollefson his responses were wrong."
Reichert wrote that when Tollefson asserted he was innocent, Conley would respond, "Don't split hairs with me" and "You've gotta be honest with me."
The following is one excerpt from Conley's questioning that Reichert included in court briefs: "Tim, if you really want to help these kids and if you really feel bad, you would just lay it all out there for me ... Do I go back to these people and say this guy's cold-blooded. He doesn't care about your kids. You're not being honest with me Tim, think of it. How is somebody gonna look at that ... Who in their right mind is gonna believe that?"
Tollefson had no prior criminal record, and state officials later found that the day care had followed proper procedure in backgrounding Tollefson.
Reichert said his client now maintains he never touched any of the children inappropriately and that the allegations "devastated" him.
"He loved working where he worked, and obviously that's something he's not going to be able to go back to," Reichert said.