Ladd prosecuted Little Falls gunman

When the news came that a Little Falls man brought a gun into the Morrison County Government Center June 24 and was later shot by authorities, it hit especially close to home for Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd.

When the news came that a Little Falls man brought a gun into the Morrison County Government Center June 24 and was later shot by authorities, it hit especially close to home for Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd.

Prior to Ladd's arrival as Wadena County's top prosecutor two years ago, she was an assistant prosecutor for about two years in Morrison County, and she was involved in the criminal case against Gordon Wheeler, Sr., the man involved in the June 24 incident. Ladd said she was also involved in the civil proceedings against the man.

Wheeler, 60, was convicted of prostitution-related charges, which led to him losing his liquor license.

"He was pretty upset about that because it was a big financial impact to him," Ladd recalled.

Wheeler brought a loaded handgun wrapped in a red handkerchief into the Morrison County Board meeting, accused county officials of corruption, threatened to shoot hostages, was shot seven times by officers, and was later pronounced dead.


"It was pretty adversarial," Ladd said of the county's relationship with Wheeler. "I sort of saw him as being a bully. He wanted it his way or no way."

Ladd's previous involvement with Wheeler wasn't the only reason she paid special attention to the case. She said in an interview Friday that she fears such an incident isn't just possible in Wadena County, it's probable.

"It's not a matter of if it happens here," Ladd said. "It's a matter of when."

More security

Ladd has been one of the proponents of better security measures at the Wadena County Courthouse.

Wadena County recently added "panic buttons" to signal police when an incident occurs. But the buttons, which have already been activated, don't prevent incidents, they just draw attention to them.

More security cameras have also been added to the Wadena County Courthouse.

But Ladd said more security is needed. At times, most notably during the murder trial of Thorpe Bradley, courtroom access was restricted and guards were posted in the courthouse.


But that can be expensive to taxpayers, Ladd said. In some cases that sort of security may be necessary, but other measures can be taken.

For instance, Ladd said, building access could be limited to the one entry point along Jefferson Street. Also, metal detectors or extra security could be added.

Ladd said it's also important to keep the courthouse as an open, inviting public square.

"This is a public building, and the public should be able to come and go," Ladd said.

But that doesn't mean there can't be safety restrictions, she added.

She said courthouse security isn't just for the benefit of county workers, but for anyone in the public who utilizes and accesses county government.

"Our airports are open to the public, but we make sure that people who come there don't bring in the types of things that can create havoc for the public at large," Ladd said. "And that's the real issue -- trying to protect proactively anything that can happen inside this building."

Part of the job


Ladd said public employees such as prosecutors, judges, tax assessors, law enforcement personnel, and others involved in administering government are often the target of anger and frustration from people who are affected by their professional decisions.

"When they come in to see you and they're mad, you don't know what they've got in their pocket," she said. "You don't know what is sitting in their car that they're going to go back out and bring back in because they didn't like the conclusion or the result that they got after having had that conversation with you. That's scary."

Ladd said workers in the Wadena County Courthouse regularly have contact with people who are upset.

"There are plenty of people here, unfortunately, in Wadena County that are very similarly situated to the Gordon Wheelers," Ladd said. "They feel like they've been wronged by the government."

Ladd said what many people don't understand is she doesn't personally enjoy putting people in jail, or taking away their freedoms. She's doing her job, she said, and it's not personal.

"People don't always see it that you're just doing your job, they see it as that you're doing it to them," Ladd said. "That comes with the job, and it's not the fun part of the job, but it's the reality we work in."

She said she takes it very seriously when she has to ask a judge to take away someone's livelihood or incarcerate them.

"Sending someone to jail or prison is taking away their liberty and their freedom, and that is huge," Ladd said. "And so I don't do that lightly, and I don't do that without full knowledge of what that means. And there are times it's very difficult to do that, but it's the right thing to do in the context of the given case and in the context of what the law requires."


Ladd said normally rational people can do out-of-character things when their property or liberty is infringed.

"Sometimes people don't make rational decisions in those heat of passion moments," Ladd said.

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