Appeals court reverses child molesting conviction, orders new trial

   The Minnesota Appeals Court reversed the felony sexual assault conviction of an Eagan man accused of molesting a 10-year-old girl, reasoning that Eagan police should have read him his Miranda rights while speaking to him at the scene of the crime.
   The appellate court ordered a new trial in the case of Mohamad Haniff, 44, of 4055 Halite Lane, Eagan.  Haniff, a Guyana immigrant who was living with relatives at the time of the crime, was convicted in October 2015 and sentenced to five years of probation, according to court records. He was also ordered to register as a predatory sex offender, court records said. The appeals court reasoned that statements Haniff made to Eagan police should have been suppressed, or not used, as evidence at his trial.
   “After police learned that Mohamad Haniff reportedly sexually groped his ten-year-old niece’s breast area and buttocks, without reading him a Miranda advisory they took him into a room of his home, questioned him repeatedly, told him they believed the accusations, and pressed him at least 30 times to confess,” Judge Kevin G. Ross wrote for the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
  “Because a reasonable person in Haniff’s shoes would have perceived that he was in police custody to the degree associated with formal arrest, the statements that police extracted from him without a Miranda warning should have been suppressed. And because the district court found that Haniff did not fully understand his Miranda rights when they were finally provided to him, his later statement to an investigator also should have been suppressed. We therefore reverse Haniff’s conviction and remand for a new trial,” Ross wrote for the court.
   The case arose from the Eagan Police Department’s response to a report of a domestic disturbance in October 2014. When police arrived at the scene, they learned the disturbance arose after the 10-year-old victim disclosed that her uncle, who had moved into the home upon his arrival from Guyana five months earlier, had sexually assaulted her, according to the court,
   Police first spoke to Haniff outside the home, in the driveway. When Haniff admitted to touching the girl, a police officer asked Haniff to show them where he committed the offense. Haniff then led a group of officers to a room inside the home where police asked more questions.
   There is no indication from the appellate court opinion that Haniff was threatened by police. The suspect was still at his home, not at the police station, when he was asked a series of questions about the victim’s allegations for about 45 minutes. Nevertheless, the appeals court concluded the suspect could have considered the questioning a custodial interrogation, the trigger point requiring police to read a suspect his Miranda rights. Miranda rights, so-called because of a U.S. Supreme Court case of that name, include the right to remain silent under police questioning and the right to an attorney.
   “After 48 minutes of sustained questioning, the officers placed Haniff under arrest and took him to the police station. [a detective] advised Haniff of his Miranda rights. Haniff said he did not understand, and the detective read them again, line by line. The detective interrogated Haniff further, and Haniff confessed further to the same conduct,” the court wrote.
   The Dakota County district court denied Haniff’s request not to use his statements as evidence against him in court. In reversing that decision, the appeals court concluded a reasonable person could have concluded he was in police custody at the time, although the court acknowledged that many factors of the questioning would suggest Haniff was not in police custody at the time.
   “At least one factor—the questioning occurring in or near the home where Haniff was staying rather than at the police station—suggests that Haniff was not in custody,” the court wrote.
   But, the court reasoned, the scales tipped in Haniff’s favor because of the length of time police questioned him, 48 minutes. “We find especially compelling the officers’ long, relentless pressuring of Haniff for a confession along with their repeated insistence that he was guilty,” Judge Ross, the sole black judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, wrote. “In this circumstance, any reasonable person in Haniff’s shoes would be convinced that the officers would not relent from their group interrogation until they got the confession they insisted upon.”   
 APC clears the aisles for Costco

   Eagan’s Advisory Planning Commission Jan. 23 approved a request for a zoning change that would allow the construction of a Costco store and gas station in the Blue Gentian Road area, despite an objection that the land should be used for office, not retail, space.
   Supporters of the project told the commission that they had tried to develop offices on the 18.1 acre site, but there was no market for the office space. Developers therefore sought approval to change the designated use of the property from major office to retail commercial.
   A local office building owner spoke against the proposal, expressing concerns that the area should be limited for use as office space and about traffic the wholesale store would bring.
   The commission voted to approve the change after Costco’s representatives told the board about the company’s compensation structure, which includes higher pay than most retail stores. The planning commission’s chairman expressed the city’s preference any development support “head of household” jobs.
   Costco’s representative explained the company’s philosophy to pay its workers higher workers to help eliminate costly employee turnover. Hourly wages start at more than $13 and are expected to rise as other retailers raise their hourly rates. Employees who work 20 hours are eligible for full benefits and, after five years of service, full-time cashiers earn more than $50,000 per year, according to Costco’s representative.
   The compensation package is higher than the pay for many office workers in the area. A company up the road from the site, often referred to as Eagan’s largest employer, Thomson Reuters, has eliminated enough positions in recent years that it has closed some parking lots on its Eagan campus. Many of the current workers at the office facility are contractors and temporary workers paid below $50,000 without company benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.
   Costco requires a membership to shop at its stores. In addition to the regular warehouse store, the Eagan location is expected to include a liquor store, tire center, and gas station.
   In other business, the commission also approved requests that will allow construction of a 120-foot cell phone tower and liquor sales at the new Vikings facility. The commission also approved a request from Lifetime Fitness on Thomas Center Drive that will allow a 9,500-square-foot expansion of the health club.
   The commission also approved a request that will move forward construction of a 5-story 151-unit apartment building near the outlet mall in the Cedar Grove area. Commission member Angela Torres asked the developers if they had considered any affordable housing units for the project. The developer had not, for economic reasons.
   The proposed developments are expected to appear on the Feb. 6 city council agenda for final approval.
Clear some shelf space. Costco could be coming to Eagan after the city's Advisory Planning Commission approved a change that would allow land in the Blue Gentian Road area to be used for retail, rather than office, space. The commission also approved a change that would allow construction of a five-story apartment building in the Cedar Grove area.

The Super Bowl Experience?

First major snowstorm of 2018 hits city

Local businesses plowed mountains of snow from their parking lots this week after the year's first major snowstorm dumped about 12 inches of snow on the city Monday and closed local public schools for two days.
Schools closed, workers stayed home as Monday morning brought a mess 

   Warmer weekend temperatures brought people out after residents spent the early part of the week indoors thanks to 12 inches of snow that fell Monday in the first major snowstorm of 2018, a storm that caused the airport, schools, and businesses to close.
   Many workers were unable to get to their jobs in the area Tuesday, the day after the major winter storm, because many local streets in outlying areas were still unplowed. In the city of Eagan, snowplows were on the roads at the height of the storm, 11:30 a.m., according to the city government, and continued through Wednesday to reach neighborhood roads.
   District 196 schools were closed for two days, Monday, in anticipation of heavy snow, and Tuesday, as plows continued to clear outlying roads. The district posted school closing announcements on its website in three languages.
   St. Paul schools did not close Monday. Some elementary students were reportedly stuck at school into the evening as parents waited for buses travelling through heavy snow to bring children home.
   Local and state law enforcement warned people off the roads Monday. Commuters trying to return to work Tuesday morning still had a difficult commute. One of the major arteries through the city, Pilot Knob Road, had a new coating of snow Tuesday morning after its initial plowing Monday. One lane of the road was shut down shortly before 5:45 a.m. Tuesday as a tow truck had to pull out a car that had spun into a snow bank on the side of the road.
   Some of the best plowed areas were those with private plowing crews—neighborhoods with private property management and businesses. Mountains of snow were piled in the plowed-to-the-pavement parking lot of Thomson Reuters, one of the city’s largest employers, Tuesday morning. However, many of the roads leading into that business were still covered in snow.
  Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport reported more than 500 flights were cancelled. Runways were closed on Monday, leaving some travelers who ventured to Philadelphia to watch the Vikings play in the NFC championship stuck in that city.

Ready for someplace warm?

Turn to Books

Despite city code, some Eagan homeowners hoping to cash in on Super Bowl party houses

An ad on an Internet transient rental site lists an Eagan house for rent Super Bowl weekend.
   Despite rules against renting residences in the city for less than 30 days, dozens of Eagan property owners have posted rooms and homes for rent Super Bowl weekend looking to cash in on this year’s game in Minneapolis.
   One of the largest internet sites to list transient rentals, AirBnB, lists dozens of Eagan homes, with photos. Homeowners are asking hundreds to thousands of dollars per night. Many of the people listing homes just joined AirBnB this month, in anticipation of cashing in on the first weekend in February.
   The Eagan city code prohibits residential rentals under 30 days. City code also requires residential rentals to be registered with the city and prohibits renting to felons.
   Many of the Eagan listings invite partying on the property, although the city code generally discourages such activity in longer term rentals. The city code says:
   “Owners and operators are responsible to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to ensure that the citizens of the city who occupy such rental properties may pursue the quiet enjoyment of the normal activities of life in their surroundings that are: safe, secure and sanitary; free from noise, nuisances or annoyances; and free from condition that endangers the health or safety of persons and security of property.”
   Advertisements on AirBnB list names and photos of the “hosts” looking to rent the property and a map where the houses are located. There’s no indication the city will use that information to enforce the city code. The Eagan police department will likely be busy enough on other matters Super Bowl weekend. The city signed an agreement to lend police officers to Bloomington to provide law enforcement for Super Bowl events.
   Eagan homeowners aren’t the only Minnesotans looking to cash in as many homeowners in suburbs surrounding Minneapolis have listed their houses for rent. Many are getting little response as hotel rooms remain available and ticketholders seek accommodations closer to the game, or choose to travel in the day of the game without booking rooms.
   Airport officials have been planning that many people will simply head to the airport, rather than a hotel, after the game.
   The Eagan city code prohibits residential rentals under 30 days. City code also requires residential rentals to be registered with the city and prohibits renting to felons.

The Town and The City of Eagan

   In this week's installment of Who's Using Our $75,000 No-Bid Logo Now? we bring you the Golden State Warriors. The NBA team has released a new line of uniforms and gear featuring a tree in a circle labeled The Town.
Despite city codes, Eagan homeowners have listed everything from spare bedrooms to entire houses for rent during Super Bowl weekend. One website features a map of Eagan with rental prices of various properties.