Top school administrator found shooting threat that led to Vadnais Heights arsenal seizure not credible, deputy testifies

October 1, 2018

A Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy investigating a student’s alleged school shooting threat that revealed an arsenal of weapons at a Vadnais Heights home last March testified Monday that a top school official told her the threat was not credible, but that she did not include that information in a search warrant.

Deputy Jessica O’Hern could not remember the school official’s name during her testimony, and when she tried to refresh her memory by reviewing her police reports, revealed that she had not taken down the administrator’s name.

“She tends to sweep things under the rug,” O’Hern said of the administrator.

O’Hern testified at a hearing for the boy’s mother, Lisa Stowe, who was arrested and charged in March with one count of gross misdemeanor negligent storage of a firearm based on evidence collected at the family’s home, including dozens of firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and at least one explosive device, according to authorities.

Stowe’s attorney, Sam Surface, filed a motion challenging the search warrant, claiming that there was no probable cause for the search, and that if that the court believes there was, the evidence should still be suppressed because of O’Hern’s “deliberate and material omissions.”

“[O’Hern] kept it out because she knew if she included it, she was a lot less likely to get a warrant,” Surface said of the administrator’s statements. “I think it calls into question [O’Hern’s] credibility today.”

Stowe’s son, who was 13 at the time and whom family members have said is autistic, allegedly made threats on Feb. 28 that he would shoot classmates at the Academy for Sciences Agriculture High School in Maplewood.

A classmate’s mother alerted authorities, who executed O’Hern’s search warrant on March 2 and then a second one later that same day.

O’Hern said she learned that Lisa Stowe told another deputy that there were no guns in the home. O’Hern testified that she was skeptical of the claim because her research revealed that Lisa Stowe and her husband, Christopher Stowe, both had permits to carry.

Steven Tallen, who is prosecuting the case for the city of Vadnais Heights, asked O’Hern why she left out one administrator’s assertions that the threat was not credible.

“I didn’t feel that my opinion should go in there — that I didn’t believe the school was taking it seriously,” O’Hern said.

The deputy said authorities had an obligation to investigate the alleged threat and look for an alleged list containing names of students who were targeted, and any weapons and ammunition in the family’s home.

O’Hern said she also omitted the parents’ permit to carry information in her application for a search warrant.

Surface wrote in his motion that authorities had no information claiming the Stowes’ son had ever been seen with a gun or had access to guns. He also noted that the boy was known to have a history of telling “falsehoods,” and that O’Hern’s omissions were “reckless.”

The sheriff’s investigation of the Stowe family was caught in a storm of events that heightened the stakes: it came just weeks after a former student shot and killed 17 students and staff members and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14. It also pitted Sheriff Jack Serier in an election year against his most formidable opponent, former Ramsey County sheriff Bob Fletcher, who criticized Serier’s handling of the case. Serier and Fletcher are running for Ramsey County sheriff this November.

Serier held a news conference in early March where he released dozens of photos taken inside the family’s house, where authorities found dozens of firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and at least one explosive device.

In June, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office dismissed two felony counts of prohibited possession of machine guns and short-barreled shotguns and one count of gross misdemeanor negligent storage of firearms filed against Christopher Stowe. Authorities had misidentified a gun taken from his home as a fully automatic weapon.

The sheriff’s office said in June that Christopher Stowe could still face federal charges, but his attorney, Bruce Rivers, said Monday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office alerted him a few weeks ago that no charges would be filed because no crime had been committed.

“When this happened, the Parkland shooting was fresh in everyone’s mind, and rather than go with the law, the sheriff went with his gut,” Rivers said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They treated these parents horribly.”

Tallen is reserving a decision on possible lower-level charges against Christopher Stowe pending his wife’s case, Rivers added.

Tallen will have two weeks to file a response to Surface’s motion. Surface will have another two weeks to respond before Ramsey County District Court Judge Kelly Olmstead takes the issue under advisement with 90 days to issue her ruling on the matter.

Tallen asked the judge if the courts could schedule a settlement conference after the attorneys file all of their responses.

“No thanks,” Christopher Stowe said from the courthouse gallery.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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