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Psychologist speaks up about dismissed trial

A former psychologist at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake broke her silence last week, two months after felony sexual assault charges against her were dropped on the precipice of a court trial originally scheduled to start this month.

While relieved to no longer be facing criminal charges, Michelle Brownfield, 41, of Duluth, had counted on the trial for vindication, she told the Pine Knot News.

“One of the most compelling aspects of this is how easily this can happen to anyone in a licensed profession,” she said. “An angry person can make allegations without any validation of that.”

Chief Deputy Carlton County Attorney Jeffrey Boucher oversaw the case, including the dismissal of two felony, third-degree sexual assault charges against Brownfield in February after the death of what he told Duluth media was a “critical witness.”

Brownfield contrasted that narrative in interviews and a news release statement. She maintains the prosecutor dismissed the case in the face of hundreds of documents uncovered during pretrial discovery that, she said, would have served as evidence to “significantly alter the public’s understanding of the situation,” Brownfield said.

Brownfield said the two MSOP clients she was accused of sexually assaulting instead made “collateral damage” of her, concocting tales of surreptitious sexual encounters as a means to highlight their cause to end MSOP and its controversial practice of using civil commitments with no end in sight for release.

“Nobody knows this can happen,” Brownfield said. “Two psychopaths combined a story from information gathered within a facility where people gossip.”

The county prosecutor, Boucher, sent a statement to the newspaper regarding Brownfield’s claims.

“I disagree with Ms. Brownfield’s characterization of the evidence,” Boucher said, denying that it “exonerated” her, and maintaining “the case was dismissed because of the death of a critical witness.”

“The witness in question acted as intermediary between Ms. Brownfield and one of the

MSOP clients facilitating communication between them,” Boucher said.

Brownfield added that probable cause considered by the Carlton County Attorney’s Office to charge her was “so miniscule, [yet] it can ruin a person’s entire life.”

Per an arrangement with the Minnesota Board of Psychology, Brownfield has not practiced as a psychologist since being charged in Sixth District Court in 2021. She remains the subject of a board investigation. Brownfield has paid to renew her license and engaged in continuing education related to her license throughout the ordeal.

“When you put it all out in front of you in totality, I was collateral damage to get the place shut down or get them into a reduced security facility,” Brownfield told the newspaper.

She maintains in her statement she never had sexual contact with the two committed sex offenders. The witness who died prior to trial was a sister of one of the offenders. Brownfield admitted to maintaining professionally inappropriate contact with the sister via text message, something she said she later self-reported to the facility.

Brownfield’s role at MSOP was to perform psychological assessments and evaluations of clients. It is illegal under state law for an employee of a correctional or treatment facility to engage in sexual activity with a resident.

“There were no on-site witnesses, no observations by clinical staff or security personnel, nor any documented concerns from either of the residents regarding the behavior they later alleged,” Brownfield’s statement said. “Nor was there any camera footage in a facility with state of the art security — where there are no blind spots.”

Brownfield further maintained her own security badging data placed her at the other side of the facility during one of the complainant’s allegations.

In dismissing the charges, Boucher told Duluth media that the sister’s “testimony was necessary to develop critical aspects of the case.”

“Without her presence, the available admissible evidence was insufficient to continue to trial,” he told the Duluth media.

Boucher expanded on that with the Pine Knot, calling the sister an “intermediary between Brownfield and one of the clients, facilitating communication between them.”

“This witness was necessary to introduce and detail Ms. Brownfield’s statements describing the existence of a romantic relationship,” he said.

Brownfield said the court was awaiting a brief from Boucher, responding to the defense’s discovery evidence, at the time charges were dismissed. The brief was never filed.

In his statement, Boucher declined to address a question about why he did not file a brief in response to discovery evidence obtained by the defense.

Following dismissal, Brownfield had planned “to get the charges expunged and quietly fade into background,” she said, prior to a story in Duluth media in February. That report, in which Boucher cited the death of the witness as the reason for dismissing charges, caused Brownfield to reconsider.

“His statement gave us no insight, no conclusion,” Brownfield said.

It’s possible charges could be refiled, but unclear if the case is still under consideration by the county attorney.

Upon learning of the dismissal, Brownfield said: “It was amazing. I immediately started to weep. I’ve been living and breathing this for three years.”

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