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Minn. Trooper Sylvia Maurstad, whose dedication to slowing drivers in the region attracted attention, retires

Maurstad, who patrolled northwestern Minnesota, was known for frequent traffic stops and ticketing of drivers. One Facebook page was titled "Sylvia sightings in Baudette and surrounding areas."

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ROSEAU, Minn. — After 28 years with the Minnesota State Patrol, Sgt. Sylvia Maurstad retired quietly on July 13.

Maurstad, who began working with the State Patrol in 1994, was known in northwestern Minnesota for a dedication to her job that resulted in many tickets for the region's drivers but also attracted attention on social media and from elected leaders.

In 2021, she executed 1,559 traffic stops and issued 642 citations and warnings for speeding. The Minnesota State Patrol could not provide Maurstad’s career statistics due to the agency’s data retention schedule.

Maurstad did not return a Herald reporter’s call to a number thought to be hers.

Maurstad’s apparent zeal for bringing speeding drivers to justice led to her being labeled as an unreliable witness in court in 2017 by Karen Foss, who was Roseau County attorney at the time . Maurstad was classified as “Giglio impaired,” meaning any testimony she gave in Roseau County could be taken into question.

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Foss based her distinction on a 2015 decision in Minnesota’s Ninth Judicial District to throw out an impaired driving arrest made by Maurstad after ruling she lacked probable cause to pull over the vehicle.

The classification did not prevent Maurstad from being used as a witness in criminal proceedings, but brought her testimony into question and allowed the judge or jury to decide the validity of the testimony.

Maurstad was considered an unreliable witness in Roseau County until her retirement, confirmed current Roseau County Attorney Kristy Kjos.

Kjos said early in her time as county attorney, she did ask if she should follow through with her predecessor’s decision, and was advised by the Minnesota County Attorneys Association to continue to disclose Maurstad’s status as an unreliable witness in court. However, with squad car and bodycam video and the level of severity of cases brought to court – mostly contested traffic citations – Maurstad’s Giglio impaired classification rarely came into play.

“It wasn’t really an issue and we still prosecuted her cases,” said Kjos.

Maurstad’s retirement, however, came as a surprise to the Roseau County prosecutor.

“Typically when an officer retires, we’re given a heads-up, but we were not and so I was a little taken aback by it,” said Kjos.

Kjos could not say if Maurstad issued more traffic citations than other state troopers in the region because most traffic citations are not brought to court.

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Minnesota joined a national movement to increase the number of female law enforcement officers.

Rick Rone, mayor of Baudette in Lake of the Woods County, was one local leader that publicly took issue with how Maurstad performed her job. Rone, who has been mayor for 24 years — nearly as long as Maurstad had patrolled the highways of northwestern Minnesota — often fielded complaints from residents about Maurstad’s tactics.

Once, Rone drove to St. Paul to voice his concerns about Maurstad with the commander of the Minnesota State Patrol, though he admitted his efforts brought no change.

“It was that big of an issue,” Rone told the Herald in 2017. “It really was.”

Maurstad’s diligence inspired a sort of watchdog culture online, with people in northwestern Minnesota creating Facebook groups with names like “Sylvia sightings in Baudette and surrounding areas.” That specific group, which was created in 2017 and has more than 3,800 members, was renamed “Trooper sightings in Baudette and surrounding areas” on July 23 of this year.

Despite Facebook groups dedicated to warning others about Maurstad’s location, not everything posted online about her was bad. In 2015, the Minnesota State Patrol recognized Maurstad in a Facebook post for helping an elderly man in northwestern Minnesota. The post says Maurstad saw a vehicle driving slowly, backing up traffic behind it, and recognized the senior driver. She knew his license was canceled, so she tracked him down at a local cafe to tell him he could not drive.

According to the post, the man told her he did not have food at home, and she ended up buying him groceries and arranging for a local senior service agency to provide him transportation and assistance.

Comments on the Facebook post were not all positive, with some expressing disbelief that Maurstad did not issue the man a ticket before helping him.

Others, however, thanked her for going above and beyond the duties of her job.

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Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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