Doug and Gina Dahlen violated jail work release rules

During their brief time in jail for their role in the disappearance of two sisters from Lakeville, Minnesota, Doug and Gina Dahlen repeatedly violated jail work release rules, based on documents obtained by Missing in Minnesota.

The repeated rule violations raise questions about the supervision the Dahlens received by jail staff, and if the clear violation of jail work release rules warrant further investigation by law enforcement and corrections officials in Minnesota.

Easy time in Traverse County

Doug and Gina Dahlen were released from the Traverse County Jail on Friday, June 2, after serving just 20 days in jail for their role in the disappearance of Samantha and Gianna Rucki. The Dahlens were released after their attorneys successfully petitioned the court to allow the Dahlens to receive credit for good behavior in jail.

Judge Karen Asphaug permitted the Dahlens to participate in a work release program throughout the term of their sentence. Work release gives inmates leave from jail to maintain employment while serving their sentence. But strict rules exist for work release programs and vary by county and program.

The Traverse County Jail, located in Wheaton, Minnesota has specific guidelines which must be followed by inmates participating in the work release program.

Days prior to their release, attorneys for Doug and Gina Dahlen filed a motion to clarify their sentence requesting early release based on “good conduct.”

As part of this motion the attorneys obtained information from the Traverse County Jail regarding the Dahlens’ conduct while in custody. According to correspondence filed with the motion pleadings, the Dahlens were labeled “model inmates” by Brenda Bartz, the Traverse County Jail Administrator. This alleged statement by Bartz was the basis for the motion requesting early release by the Dahlens.

Missing in Minnesota later obtained the work release logs from the Traverse County Sheriff’s Office, which show time stamped exit and entry to jail each day Doug and Gina Dahlen participated in work release.

Review of the logs shows multiple rule violations by both the Dahlens despite the alleged assertion by Bartz that the Dahlens were “model inmates.”

  • Inmates granted work release must remain in jail for the first 24 hours of their sentence. Neither of the Dahlens complied.
  • Inmates must return to jail by 6 pm each evening. On multiple occasions both Doug and Gina Dahlen returned later than 6pm.
  • Inmates must not work more than 12 hours per day. Both Doug and Gina Dahlen worked a 14 hour day during their sentence.
  • Inmates must not travel more than 50 miles to their work location, without authorization from jail staff. Gina Dahlen’s listed employment location is located more than 50 miles from the Traverse County Jail, and no documentation had been provided to show she was authorized to travel more than 50 miles. 

Violation of the rules of work release could have precluded Doug and Gina Dahlen from receiving credit for good time. Had their violations been recorded, they would have likely remained in jail until June 13, and would also have likely been stripped of their ability to participate in work release.

When asked what information was relied upon in determining that Doug and Gina Dahlen were “model inmates”, Matthew Franzese, who serves as the Traverse County Attorney, stated there “there is nothing in writing to support the statement” made by Bartz that the Dahlens were “model inmates.”

Samantha and Gianna’s father, David Rucki, released a statement expressing his strong frustration that Doug and Gina Dahlen served only 20 days in jail for their involvement in the disappearance of his children for 944 days.

Dahlens did not report to jail in Dakota County or “home county”

Doug and Gina Dahlen’s vehicle parked outside the Traverse County Jail in Wheaton, Minnesota. Picture source: Missing in Minnesota

As reported by Missing in Minnesota earlier this month, the Dahlens were each sentenced to one year in jail for their role in the disappearance of the Rucki sisters from Lakeville, Minnesota. The Dahlens’ full jail sentence was stayed, pending the successful completion of two-years probation.

The Dahlens were ordered to serve 31 days in jail – one day for each month the Rucki sisters were held at their ranch in Herman, Minnesota. The Dahlens were scheduled to report to jail on May 16, 2017, at 9AM.

Hours after the 9AM deadline was missed, staff at the Dakota County Jail confirmed the Dahlens were not in custody. Staff with the Minnesota Court Information Office also confirmed the Dahlens were scheduled to report to jail in Dakota County or in their home county, which would be Grant County.

Missing in Minnesota later discovered information which showed the Dahlens appeared on the inmate list for the Traverse County Jail. The jail is just a few miles away from the border between Minnesota and South Dakota and after traveling from the Twin Cities to Wheaton last evening, staff at the Traverse County Jail confirmed the Dahlens were in custody and had reported to jail on Sunday, May 14, 2017.

Missing for 944 days

The Dahlen’s ranch in Herman, Minnesota. Picture source: Missing in Minnesota

On November 18, 2015 – 944 days after they disappeared – the girls were found living on a Dahlen’s ranch by law enforcement, headed by the Lakeville Police Department. In total, Samantha and Gianna were held at the White Horse Ranch for 942 days.

David Rucki was awarded full custody of all five of his children in November 2013, while two of his daughters remained missing. David Rucki was reunited with his daughters days after they were found on a rural ranch in northern Minnesota. They live with him and their other siblings at the family’s home in Lakeville.

The Dakota County Attorney’s Office charged four adults for their involvement in the disappearance of the Rucki sisters for 944 days.

The girls’ mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was convicted in July 2016 on six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights.

Dede Evavold, who is a friend of Grazzini-Rucki and the Dahlens, was found guilty in September on six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights related to the disappearance the girls.

The decision by Doug and Gina Dahlen to plead guilty ensured that Assistant Dakota County Attorney Kathy Kenna successfully prosecuted all of the people criminally charged related to the disappearance of the Rucki sisters.

Future of the White Horse Ranch in doubt

Doug and Gina Dahlen live at the White Horse Ranch, located in Herman, Minnesota. The 162-acre property which includes the White Horse Ranch has been the subject of a dispute between Dahlen and his second wife, Pamela Nelson.

Court documents from Dahlen’s divorce from Nelson in 2009, the rural Minnesota property was to be sold with the proceeds being divided between Dahlen and Nelson. On November 3, 2014, the court ordered Doug to “vacate the property” if it had not been sold within six months. Doug was also provided with the option of purchasing Nelson’s interest in the property.

According to recent court filings, the listing of the property allowed for the cancellation of an evidentiary hearing that had been scheduled relative to Dahlen’s failure to comply with orders to vacate or buyout Nelson’s interest in the property.

The White Horse Ranch is currently for sale, and the ability of Doug and Gina Dahlen to work with children remains in doubt. Related to the operation of the ranch, Gina Dahlen previously testified in court that the White Horse Ranch has not been licensed to provide therapy to children.

A review of multiple regulatory agencies showed that no licenses or accreditation have been issued to either Doug or Gina Dahlen, or the White Horse Ranch for therapy or treatment of children, or to practice equine therapy.

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