Police officer enters plea, resigns
The case against a Rochester police officer accused of misconduct came to an end Monday with a guilty plea and her resignation.
Vanessa Nicole Mason, 32, had been accused of tipping off drug dealers about narcotics investigations and taking money to help pick up and deliver money. She entered an Alford plea to an amended charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, alleging she fraternized and socialized with people with felony convictions while she was a police officer and on active duty. The plea means she doesn't admit guilt but acknowledges there was enough evidence to convict her.
Under the plea agreement, a felony and two gross misdemeanor misconduct charges were dismissed by prosecutor Paul Beaumaster, the Rice County attorney who prosecuted the caase to avoid a conflict of interest for the Olmsted County Attorney's office, which works with the Rochester Police Department.
Mason’s trial was scheduled to start Monday.
Judge Joseph Chase called the plea a suitable resolution for a case that has dragged on for more than a year. But he also told Mason that her associations with criminals while she was a police officer "showed extremely poor judgment" and was a "breach of trust with fellow officers and the community." He said the plea "brings this sorry episode to a close."
Police Chief Roger Peterson said Monday he's glad the case is over.
"It brings this to a close. It is good for the department and the community, and we will move on,'' Peterson said. He said the department will fill the vacancy.
Mason has been on paid administrative leave since charges were filed against her in April 2009. As part of the plea agreement, she resigned from the police force.
Peterson said the department will not be able to recover the wages paid to Mason while she was on leave. The department couldn't terminate while the case proceeded because the allegations had not been proved, he said.
Mason originally was charged with three felony and two gross misdemeanor counts. She was accused of tipping off drug dealers about narcotics investigations and taking money to help pick up and deliver money. More serious bribery charges were dismissed by Beaumaster in October 2009 after a Rochester man recanted his testimony that he helped Mason deliver and pick up drugs. Beaumaster would not say if that was the reason he dropped those charges.
Mason still faced a single felony charge of tipping off a narcotics dealer about a search warrant being executed on Aug. 7, 2008.
Under the plea agreement, Mason gets a stay of adjudication, which means that if she complies with the conditions of her sentence, the conviction won't appear on her record.
She must pay a $1,000 fine and do 100 hours of community service work. The other condition was to resign.