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Hubbard County settles civil rights lawsuit involving former deputy

PARK RAPIDS -- Hubbard County will pay an Akeley woman a structured settlement worth $640,000 to settle a lawsuit against it and a former deputy sheriff accused of sexually assaulting her.

The Hubbard County Board went into closed session Tuesday afternoon with its attorney and voted to allow the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust to pay Kristy Barsch to settle her civil rights lawsuit.

"Hers is closer to $500,000 than the total settlement," said her attorney, Bob Bennett of Minneapolis. "My fees are none of your business."

Bennett said part of Barsch's settlement will be in cash; part will be an annuity from which she will derive a monthly income. County officials had earlier reported the total settlement figure of "around $500,000" when there was some confusion as to how the settlement would break down.

Barsch alleged former deputy Greg Siera sexually assaulted her while he was on duty in the fall of 2008.

Siera resigned one year ago under pressure after being placed on paid administrative leave following the incident.

Criminal charges in the matter were never filed when Clearwater County Attorney Jeanine Brand said she could not prove the case against Siera beyond a reasonable doubt.

Siera invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, and declined to voluntarily provide statements to investigators. He was ordered to provide DNA samples by a district judge.

Barsch's $2 million lawsuit followed. She named Hubbard County, Siera, Akeley and two of its officers for failing to investigate her charges; she named both governmental units for neglecting to properly supervise the officers she alleged were derelict. Akeley settled the case last fall for $55,000.

Hubbard County Coordinator Jack Paul said a formal news announcement will follow tomorrow or the next day.

He said he anticipated the county's insurance premium will rise slightly.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court. A settlement conference was scheduled for December, in which a judge suggested the settlement amount and MCIT agreed after assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the county's position.

Paul said settling was cheaper than litigating the matter through trial. The settlement was "not the amount of payment made in the absence of serious wrongdoing, nor the type of payment that commissioners should or would approve unless there was compelling evidence that Ms. Barsch's allegations were, in fact, true," Bennett said. "When a sheriff's deputy invokes Fifth Amendment protections to avoid giving a statement to either the BCA or Barsch's civil counsel, that's a bad fact for Hubbard County who employed him."