Watertown city staff and members of the city council, including Mayor Charlotte Johnson, were unaware of a recent high profile arrest in Watertown Township until nearly two weeks after Christian Oberender was taken into custody by the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.
Several members of the council expressed disappointment during a Jan. 22 meeting that they were not made aware of the situation sooner, and had to learn about Oberender’s Jan. 2 arrest from a KARE 11 News report on Jan. 15. Oberender, once convicted in juvenile court of killing his mother when he was 14 years old, was arrested earlier this month for being a felon in possession of 13 guns, including several assault rifles.
Johnson and city administrator Luke Fischer had a chance to meet with Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson recently to discuss the concerns.
“We have expressed concern with the Sheriff’s Office about the timing of our notification and the way we found out about this particular situation,” Fischer said.
The city of Watertown, like most of the cities in Carver County, contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for policing services based on a town cop model. The city will pay just under $180,000 for those services this year. Fischer, however, said there have never been any formal guidelines in that contract as to how information is shared between the Sheriff’s Office and the city.
Despite the lack of formal guidelines, members of the council generally agreed that this sort of information, particularly as it relates to public safety, should have been shared with the city sooner. While the council pointed out they don’t expect to be given advance information that could compromise an investigation, they said they would like to be notified after an incident of this magnitude.
“You’d kind of like to know about a dangerous individual in your community, even if he has been taken into custody,” councilor Mike Walters said.
Given the note allegedly found in Oberender’s apartment, a note that investigators say Oberender admitted to writing and that mentions a “monster” inside him and how often he thinks about killing, councilor Adam Pawelk said the arrest should have triggered better communication not just with the city, but with the school district as well.
“Given that he was taken into custody a few weeks after (the school shooting) in Connecticut, you’d think it would have been such a hot issue that they would have been all over the phones communicating with Luke (Fischer) and the school, and expressing what the situation is,” Pawelk said. “It raises a lot of concerns. I’m fairly disappointed in the system.”
Carver County Chief Deputy Jason Kamerud said he was aware of the city’s concerns, and had even watched the online video of the meeting. He said the Sheriff’s Office would work to communicate more clearly with cities in the future.
“It’s pretty clear from their discussion that there were some unmet expectations,” Kamerud said. “Our goal is to meet the expectations of our contract partners.”
Kamerud said this particular situation was a little less cut and dry than some similar scenarios because it didn’t actually occur in the city of Watertown. This case occurred on Neal Avenue in Watertown Township, about two miles east of the city just off of County Road 20. In fact, the home at which Oberender was arrested actually features a Delano address. However, Kamerud acknowledged that residents of Watertown Township likely identify with the city of Watertown, and vice versa.
“We try to communicate those things the best we can, but I will acknowledge sometimes things get missed,”Kamerud said. “It’s a little muddy when talking about a township event. It didn’t happen in the city limits of Watertown. But the people in the township probably identify with the city as their home, and the city probably views that as part of their community, so that’s a fair assessment in my world. We didn’t communicate as well as we could have.”
The city has set up a public meeting with Sheriff Jim Olson, who is scheduled to address the council on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall. That meeting will provide the public with an opportunity to not only hear an update on the Oberender arrest, but also on policing strategies following recent burglaries in the Watertown area, as well as any other matters.
In addition to addressing concerns regarding communication with the Sheriff’s Office during their most recent meeting, the Watertown City Council also expressed concerns with gun laws, background check procedures and mental health history reporting that allowed Oberender to obtain more than a dozen guns in the first place. Several members of the council expressed a desire to send a letter to local state legislators expressing the need to address and fix the current system, particularly in regards to miscommunication between agencies that may have resulted in incomplete data in Oberender’s criminal background.
“We got very lucky (that nothing happened),” councilor Steven Washburn said. “We depend on those other agencies and the communication between them in making sure we’re doing our due diligence to our residents.”
Walters also expressed the importance of Watertown having a voice in ongoing discussions regarding gun laws and background checks.
“Our community was a victim of that loophole,” he said. “We should speak up.”
Much like the city of Watertown, the Watertown-Mayer school district was also unaware of Oberender’s arrest until the day before the KARE 11 report. Though Oberender never made any threats to the school district, superintendent Dave Marlette said the district would continue to monitor the situation carefully.
The district, in the wake of the recent Connecticut school shootings, had already begun discussions on ways to improve school security, and ironically, held a meeting regarding the issue the day after Oberender was arrested, though the school board had no knowledge of the situation at that time. Marlette said the discussions of school security would be ongoing. The board is scheduled to discuss security again during a special meeting on Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. in the district office.
“It’s not just because of (the Oberender situation),” Marlette said. “Whether that happened or not, we’d be having these discussions. That just shows how vulnerable we are.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]