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State doctor who evaluated Rodriguez may be removed from job
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"Bad judgment was used by individuals who are psychologists or psychiatrists who were kind of guessing in what's part art and part science," Pawlenty told reporters. "They were guessing about what this individual may do, and they guessed wrong." (MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)
Gov. Pawlenty says he wants to discipline the state doctors who decided against recommending civil commitment for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. Rodriguez is charged with kidnapping 22-year-old Dru Sjodin. The convicted sex offender was released in May even though some evaluations say Rodriguez had a high likelihood of re-offending. Rodriguez has maintained his innocence in Sjodin's disappearance. While Pawlenty is considering punishment for the doctors who assessed Rodriguez, Minnesota's attorney general and other DFLers say they're concerned that budget cuts led to the oversight.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty says the state doctors who decided not to recommend civil commitment for convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., made a bad decision. Pawlenty has repeatedly said Rodriguez should have been recommended for indefinite civil commitment. He says he wants to take some sort of action against the examiners.

"Bad judgment was used by individuals who are psychologists or psychiatrists and they are kind of guessing and it's kind of part art and part science and they were guessing what this individual might do, and they guessed wrong," Pawlenty said.

Asked later to elaborate on the potential punishment, a Pawlenty spokesman declined and said it was "way too early" to talk about it.

"It was a poor choice of words by the governor, and it's way too early to say that disciplinary action is even an option," said the spokesman, Dan Wolter. "The review just hasn't gotten to that point."

As a result of Rodriguez's arrest, corrections officials have changed their policy on Level 3 sex offenders. They say the department will now refer all Level 3 sex offenders to county attorneys for civil commitment. Before the change, county attorneys would typically rely on the assessment of Corrections Department doctors before deciding which offenders should be recommended for indefinite commitment.

That concerns the Minnesota Attorney General's office. Chief Deputy Attorney Kris Eiden says county attorneys, mostly in rural areas, may have difficulty with the new policy.

Eiden wrote a letter to the Hennepin and Ramsey County attorneys stating that corrections officials should have recommended Rodriguez for civil commitment. She wrote that budget cuts may have deterred prosecutors from pursuing civil commitment.

"We're hoping that in the Rodriguez case that cost was not the driving factor, but there are a number of other determinations in regard to the program that cost was a factor," she said.

Corrections psychologist Dwight Close conducted two evaluations of Rodriguez. The first, done in 2001, said he didn't have a high likelihood of reoffending because of his age. But Close wrote in an analysis done in January 2003 that Rodriguez "has demonstrated a willingness to use substantial force, including the use of a weapon, in order to gain compliance from his victims." It said his willingness to use force is increasing. An official with the Department of Corrections would not comment and referred all questions to the governor's office.

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, says she's concerned that corrections officials didn't utilize all of its necessary resources in assessing Rodriguez. Ranum, who also works as a Hennepin County prosecutor, says budget cuts made in the last legislative session have had an impact on public safety.

"They cut money for the assessment of sexual offenders. This was in the governor's budget. What I'm hoping will happen this year is that the governor and people who followed the no-tax pledge are going to be looking to see what things do we need to restore that were cut last year, now that the world has seen -- or at least what Minnesotans have seen -- what has happened in the Dru Sjodin case," Ranum said.

Ranum, who also chairs the Senate State Government Budget Division, says she intends to hold hearings in the upcoming legislative session to examine any negative consequences from the budget cuts. Gov. Pawlenty says the Rodriguez matter, and more importantly, Dru Sjodin's disappearance, shouldn't be politicized.

"These kinds of incidents have taken place, sadly and unfortunately, throughout the last decade, and it hasn't been a function of budget pressure," Pawlenty says. "As you recall, in the '90s we had lots of money -- in the mid- to late-'90s in Minnesota -- and these events were still occurring, sadly. So we we need to fix the problem and not point fingers."

Pawlenty says he believes lawmakers have allocated enough money to pay for the assessment, treatment, and punishment of any sex offenders. He says he may be willing to spend more money if it's necessary.

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