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New files reveal complaints against Minnesota DOC deputy commissioner

Sarah Walker resigned from her position this week.
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Sarah Walker DOC

New documents released by the Minnesota Department of Corrections has revealed complaints submitted about deputy commissioner Sarah Walker, who resigned last week.

According to files released under state data access laws, the files reveal that Walker was accused of lobbying the state for hundreds of thousands dollars worth of funding for a veterans organization run by her husband.

An anonymous letter alleged that Walker used her position to secure $500,000 of funding for the Minneapolis-based Veterans Defense Project, of which her husband Brockton Walker is president, in 2017, and requested a further $800,000 this year.

The complaint came to the attention of DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell through Minnesota State Rep. John Lesch, who is one of the lawmakers who received a copy of the letter.

Rep. Lesch said he became aware that Walker had sent emails supporting funding for the veterans group from her DOC email address. He also mentioned that Walker was allegedly involved in an effort "to recruit and support a candidate" to run for his House seat, something he says stemmed from an "old dispute" they'd had.

In a statement to the Star Tribune earlier this week, Walker said she didn't have any communication with lawmakers regarding the Veterans Defense Project, adding: "All of my lobbying responsibilities for the VDP were transferred to another lobbyist prior to my start date at the DOC."

Despite this statement, the cache of files released by the DOC shows that on more than one occasion, a document written by her husband relating to the Veterans Defense Project funding bill was edited on Walker's work computer.

Since the release of the new documents, Walker has said she will respond upon returning home from her father-in-law's memorial service, adding: "I am relieved to see the specifics of the complaints against me finally made public."

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Claim she outed a sexual assault survivor

Another of the complaints submitted against Walker came from an employee of the DOC who was the victim of a sexual assault while attending the DOC Academy.

During the April 26, Walker asked the worker the name of the former DOC employee who groped her at an event the previous year.

The worker told Walker, who said "that's what she thought his name was" as his name had come up a few times in conversations with other staff that week.

After the meeting, the employee drove to Pine City to attend a DNR officer's memorial service, but as she arrived she received a text from a former employer saying an MPR reporter called, saying they had knowledge that the worker had been assaulted.

"Neither my name, nor my initials were used in the police report or the criminal complaint of the original assault," she wrote in her complaint.

She believes that Walker was the source of the information leaked to the media, after she intimated at one point that she wished another DOC employee would be held "accountable" for her treatment of staff, adding that "the only way she would be able to get [redacted] out would be if [redacted] talked to Briana," referring to MPR reporter Briana Bierschbach.

"Based on interactions with SW (Sarah Walker) and with legislators and others at the capitol, it seemed like SW constantly broke policies and engaged in legislative work that was not a priority for the department," the complaint added.

Another challenge for Walz administration

The allegations against Walker are another setback for the administration of Gov. Tim Walz, coming in the wake of high-profile resignations and complaints at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Walz himself threw his support behind legislation drafted by the Veterans Defense Project in January, which was aimed at development a statewide restorative justice program for offenders charged with certain crimes.

Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) is the GOP lead on the House Corrections Division, and is calling on Walz to hold Walker accountable after the latest release.

"The documents released this evening directly contradict Ms. Walker's claim that she did not engage in lobbying on behalf of her husband's organization," she said on Thursday.

"In addition, she may have violated state law by releasing non-public personnel data, re-victimizing a survivor of sexual assault in the process. I urge the Walz administration to review the investigative data and take appropriate action to hold Ms. Walker accountable if there is evidence that Ms. Walker violated state law.'

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