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Akeley woman files civil rights lawsuit after accusing sheriff's deputy of rape

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AKELEY - The woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a former Hubbard County deputy last summer has filed a $2 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the county and the city of Akeley.

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Kristy Barsch, a rural Akeley mother of two, also names former Hubbard County Deputy Greg Siera, Akeley Police Chief Eric Klein and Akeley reserve officer Travis Carlson, alleging "conscious-shocking conduct" in her alleged assault and the subsequent investigation, which resulted in no criminal charges being filed against Siera.

Siera resigned from the county three months ago under pressure, said county commissioner Greg Larson.

"We gave him three months' severance," he said of the closed-door meeting. "There was some dispute over that. I didn't think we should be paying someone who wasn't working."

Barsch, in her suit, is demanding compensatory and punitive damages, and "changes in the policies and procedures" of both agencies named. The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota late last month. The county was served May 29.

Both Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne and county Coordinator Jack Paul declined comment. Paul said the county was "shopping for" an attorney to represent it.

Barsch makes several allegations. Among them are:

-She said she first met Siera in 2003 when he investigated "incidents of familial sexual abuse" that were never prosecuted. Siera helped her move out of her family home, the complaint asserts. He called her in 2006 but that was the extent of their contact until 2008.

-On June 10, the complaint states Barsch asked Siera to enforce a protection order she had taken out against the man who fathered her two children. At the time she was residing in a home owned by Carlson. He lived there part-time while attending college.

-She alleges Siera began stopping by while on duty and engaging in inappropriate contact that eventually resulted in the alleged rape Aug. 13, 2008.

-Barsch alleges Siera falsified his patrol log records that night to show he responded to an injury accident, which he did not respond to.

-She named Klein and Carlson for failing to stop the conduct, and alleges Klein even engaged in "inappropriate sexual advances" toward her on one occasion.

"I can't really comment," Klein said Friday. "All I can say is they're false allegations. I spoke to my attorney today and he said we're very confident we will prevail."

Larson, an attorney, said he doubts the county has any liability in the matter.

"As soon as we heard the complaint, he was placed on immediate leave," he said. "When we threatened to fire him, he resigned."

-Barsch alleges the officers had an affirmative duty to report the incidents of sexual abuse and to investigate them, and by failing to undertake this mandatory reporting, they violated her civil rights.

-She claims that as the victim of the familial sexual abuse in the past, she was an especially vulnerable adult. She also claims Siera "tried to cover up his own misconduct by threatening and harassing Barsch into not reporting the rape."

-She claims Klein "gave contradictory and false reports to the BCA and private investigators in order to cover his own criminal and unconstitutional activities."

The county, city and individual defendants have 30 days to respond to the complaint, but likely will be given an extension, as is routine in complex cases with multiple parties.

This is the first time Barsch and Siera have been publicly named. The Enterprise does not report the names of victims of sexual assaults, nor suspects in crimes if they have not been formally charged with a crime. But the newspaper also does not withhold the names of parties in a publicly-filed lawsuit.

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