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Sheriff: Vandals hit Afton State Park during government shutdown

Broken glass inside a camper cabin at Afton State Park, where authorities say vandals burglarized and damaged three buildings. Bulletin photo by Jon Avise1 / 3
A liquor bottle and debris near an Afton State Park camper cabin that was damaged over the July 4 weekend, when the park was closed because of a state government shutdown. Bulletin photo by Jon Avise2 / 3
Damage to the interior of a camper cabin at Afton State Park. Bulletin photo by Jon Avise3 / 3

Washington County authorities allege that a group of people burglarized and vandalized Afton State Park over the holiday weekend, ransacking an office and damaging cabins while the park was shuttered because of the state government shutdown.

Sheriff Bill Hutton said since the park was closed, nobody was around to stop three buildings from being burglarized and damaged either late Sunday or early Monday.

"If the place would have been open, I strongly suspect that this would not have occurred," Hutton said.

Eleven adults from around the Twin Cities were arrested and booked into Washington County jail Monday, and a 17-year-old female from Inver Grove Heights also was taken into custody. Investigators were seeking one additional suspect Tuesday, Hutton said. The suspects arrested await burglary and felony property damage charges, which are expected as early as Wednesday.

Authorities' early accounts describe widespread damage in the park's main office and a camper cabin.

According to Hutton:

A passerby who was walking in the park around 7 a.m. Monday noticed something suspicious and called law enforcement. A sheriff's deputy who responded to the park found a building that had been vandalized and called for assistance.

Deputies found a vehicle that contained state property likely removed from an office.

The main park office was entered, property was removed and the inside of the building was damaged. A digital video recorder was found in a fire pit. A bullhorn was stolen. There was writing on a building wall.

"It was ransacked," Hutton said.

A camper cabin also had significant damage. Shingles were torn from the roof and porch stairs were removed and burned in a fire pit. There were burn marks on the cabin.

A second cabin was entered forcibly but there was no interior damage.

As deputies searched the area, they came across individuals hiding in cars and in wooded areas. Further investigation led deputies to additional suspects located near a main road turnaround area in the park, Hutton said.

Those arrested in connection with the case include:

Malik A. Butler, 23, Rosemount; Abadir M. Daoued, 23, Rosemount; James J. Flagg, 20, Rosemount; Anthony M. May, 19, Rosemount; David McLin, 20, Apple Valley; Emily K. Miller, 20, Rosemount; Ariel L. Neally, 19, Rosemount; John R. Scott, 18, Rosemount; Mackensie M. Strusz, 19, St. Lous Park; Alexander B. Witso, 19, Rosemount.

Authorities had "various levels of cooperation" from the suspects, Hutton said, and they were looking for a 13th suspect.

The criminal investigation has been hampered by the inability to contact park staff with knowledge of what was in the burglarized buildings, Hutton said. He was waiting for state officials to provide a damage estimate, "and obviously they're closed."

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, like other state agencies, is operating with few employees during the government shutdown.

"The problem is that the people that normally would be working and would be aware of all the stuff that is in there are not there and not working," he said.

A DNR official could not be reached immediately for comment.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Washington County Sheriff's office at (651) 430-7800.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

(651) 459-7600