How did a Grand Meadow man convicted of violent crimes obtain a Mower County gun permit?

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(ABC 6 News) – Earlier this week, ABC 6 News reported on a Grand Meadow man’s pending court cases in Mower County.

According to Mower County law enforcement, Nicholas Sneed was initially charged with illegally owning firearms and ammunition, based on several previous felony convictions.

The Mower County attorney’s office dropped the three charges of violent felon in possession of a firearm/ammunition, because Sneed was issued a gun permit in 2021.

Screenshot from Nicholas Adam Sneed criminal complaint filed in Mower County Court Dec. 28, 2022. Case number 50-CR-22-2532

However, according to the Mower County Attorney’s Office and Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik, Sneed is still ineligible to possess firearms.

In fact, he should never have been issued a gun permit at all.

Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelson said because Sandvik issued Sneed the permit, it makes it impossible for the state to charge him with illegal firearm possession.

Sandvik told ABC 6 News Tuesday that although Sneed had been denied the permit in preceding years, in 2021 Sneed presented the sheriff’s office with a court order which restored his right to purchase and own firearms.

Sandvik referenced a court document filed in Olmsted County within the first week or so of Dec. 2020.  However, ABC 6 News has determined that the document presented to Sandvik should not have restored his right to own a firearm.

Nelsen provided ABC 6 News with a probation discharge order dated Dec. 8, 2020, from Olmsted County, which reads as follows: 

The “issue” with the discharge order is that it did not restore Sneed’s firearm rights – but it also did not specifically address the matter, Nelsen said.

Current Minnesota statute 609.615 requires firearm orders to specify that discharge orders for convicted felons are restored. However, the Olmsted County discharge order did not include the following wording used to notify all current clients that their firearm rights may be restored.

Olmsted County Community Corrections program manager Alex Bunger had an explanation.

“This discharge does not change any possible firearms restrictions that may be placed upon you. It is your individual responsibility to determine whether or not your firearms rights have been restricted. Resources for obtaining this information would be the Minnesota Statutes, contacting your attorney, or contacting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at (651) 726-0200.”

Sneed was discharged from Olmsted County probation in 2005, but the report that Olmsted County agent made didn’t include the official discharge order, Bunger said.

Olmsted County discovered the error in December of 2020 and sent a new discharge order for the 2005.

“Somebody believed that that was a full restoration of rights to include firearms, which is never the case,” Bunger said.

Bunger added that it would have been “clearer” if Olmsted County Corrections had included the stipulation about firearm rights in Sneed’s discharge order, but he says it certainly shouldn’t have resulted in a gun permit for Sneed without a background check.

Bunger said it “struck (him) as odd that that discharge order would be used in any way to obtain a permit because the background process hasn’t changed.”

“If you go in any county in Minnesota … you say, I’d like to apply for a firearm permit to either carry or obtain or to purchase, you fill out that packet of information, and the sheriff’s office does a background check,” Bunger said. “And I ran one on this individual and this conviction clearly shows up.”

Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem was more definitive in his assessment.

“This does not implicitly restore his right to possess firearms,” Ostrem said. “Usually such orders are explicit about what rights are restored and what is not.  I hope no sheriff’s office granted a permit based on this order without looking further.”

“He remains ineligible to possess,” Nelsen agreed. “But it wasn’t properly addressed and the Sheriff granted the permit. Even though he is ineligible under the statute, because he was granted the permit by the sheriff, we are unable to prosecute him on the gun charges.”

Sandvik confirmed Wednesday that Sneed was indeed ineligible to purchase firearms in 2021, and that his permit was revoked shortly after his arrest in December of 2022.

However, he said he spoke to the Mower County attorney’s office specifically about the order of discharge, which was attached to Sneed’s permit application in 2021, before granting the permit.

If the discharge order had not been attached to the permit, Sandvik said, he would have rejected the permit immediately.

Because it was attached, he said he called the Mower County Attorney’s office. 

“That’s the office we contact when we have questions,” he said. 

Sandvik said he “can’t speak to a miscommunication,” but he recalled consulting with someone at the Mower County Attorney’s office over the phone, giving them a verbal description of the discharge order, and being told that the order meant Sneed was now eligible to purchase firearms. 

“We have no record of any conversation with the Sheriff regarding this,” Nelsen said.

Sneed still faces three counts of interfering with privacy, three counts of 5th-degree drug possession, and three charges of controlled substance user in possession of a firearm after allegedly hiding cameras in his bathroom and interfering with the privacy of three individuals Monday, Feb. 6.