An Air National Guard lieutenant colonel who is also a Minnesota state senator was charged with burglary after being arrested at her stepmother’s home on Monday, court records show.

Nicole L. Mitchell is currently commander of the 126th Weather Flight, a Wisconsin Air National Guard unit, according to her official biography.  She is responsible for meteorological and tactical training, developing squadron airmen, and coordinating the needs of Army Brigade Combat Teams and other customers. She is a former member of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. The unit is known as “Hurricane Hunters” because it flies into hurricanes and other storms.

Outside of her military career, Mitchell was elected to the Minnesota State Senate as a Democrat in 2022. She also worked as an anchor for the Weather Channel from 2004 to 2011.

Police have charged Mitchell with first degree burglary, a felony offense, according to a complaint filed in Becker County District Court, which was provided to Task & Purpose.

Mitchell’s explanation of the event have evolved in the subsequent days. According to police, when she was arrested she told officers that she entered her stepmother’s home to retrieve her late father’s ashes and other sentimental items that had belonged to him, court records show. Police found Mitchell dressed in black including a hat and using a modified flashlight to reduce its output. “I know I did something bad,” police say Mitchell said.

But on Tuesday afternoon, Mitchell posted an explanation on Facebook that shifted blame for the incident to a “close relative” who she said was suffering from Alzheimer’s and associated paranoia.

“I entered a home I have come and gone from countless times in the past 20 years, where my son even once had his own room,” Mitchell wrote. “Unfortunately, I startled this close relative, exacerbating paranoia, and I was accused of stealing, which I absolutely deny.”

She added that the incident has been a “true tragedy for our family” and she hopes it can become a private matter again.

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Police say they received a call at roughly 4:45 a.m. on Monday, from a woman in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota reporting that someone had broken into her home, according to the complaint, which identified the woman as Mitchell’s stepmother but did not include her name.

A police officer found Mitchell in the woman’s basement, court records show. She was dressed in black clothing and a black hat, and she had a flashlight covered by a black sock.

“The flashlight appeared to have been modified so as to control the amount of light emitting from the flashlight,” the complaint says.

After she was arrested, Mitchell reportedly told her stepmother, “I was just trying to get a couple of my dad’s things because you wouldn’t talk to me anymore,” court records show.

Police also found a black backpack, which contained two laptops, a cell phone, Mitchell’s driver’s license, her senate identification and Tupperware, the complaint says.

Mitchell told police that she had “just gotten into the house,” adding “clearly I’m not good at this,” the complaint says. She later said, “I know I did something bad” after being read her Miranda rights.

Mitchell told police that her father had died recently, and her stepmother had severed all contact with her and other family members, court records show. She also admitted to entering her stepmother’s home through a window where the backpack was found.

“Mitchell stated she wanted various items of her late father’s and that Victim refused to give them to her,” the complaint says. “Mitchell described these items as pictures, a flannel shirt, ashes, and other items of sentimental value.  At the jail, Officer Sternhagen asked what got Mitchell “to this stage” and Mitchell indicated that it was her father’s ashes. She stated that she and her stepmother had stopped speaking after an argument.

Mitchell also told police that both laptops they found belonged to her, but when she later opened the computer, her stepmother’s name was displayed, court records show. Mitchell said that her stepmother had given her the laptop “way back when,” but her stepmother told police that she had not done so.

Bruce N. Ringstrom Jr., one of Mitchell’s defense attorneys, told Task & Purpose that she is motivated to get back to work and assist in the preparation of her defense. He added that there is currently no known change in her National Guard status.

“The criminal complaint is designed only to cause a judge to determine that there is sufficient probable cause to charge someone with a crime,” Ringstrom said. “It fails to include exculpatory facts, such as how Senator Mitchell has a key to the residence in question; that she was only in possession of things that she actually owns; and that she was and is deeply concerned about the health and welfare of someone who has been a member of her family for 45 years.”

As a veteran himself, Ringstrom said he has been “shocked by how quickly Nicole’s status as a service member has been disregarded.”

The accusation against Mitchell in a criminal case in state court is separate from how she comports herself as a service member, 

“I have been deeply disturbed by social media posts advocating that due process be suspended in Senator Mitchell’s case,” Ringstrom said. “Insisting on the rights of humans criminally accused by the government should be a sacrosanct bipartisan issue.”  

In 2011, Mitchell filed a lawsuit after her contract with the Weather Channel was not renewed, claiming she had been fired due to her Air Force Reserve obligations.  Her case was ultimately settled out of court due to an arbitration clause in her contract.

In the aftermath of her arrest, Minnesota State Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, a Republican, has called on Mitchell to step down from the legislature.

“Sen. Mitchell has betrayed the public trust and must resign,” Wesenberg said in a statement on Wednesday.

He also threatened to file an ethics complaint and a motion to expel Mitchell from the state senate unless she can explain the discrepancies between her Facebook post and the complaint filed in court.

After this story was first published, both Ringstrom and Mitchell provided additional statements to Task & Purpose about the case.

Ringstrom said that although Mitchell wants to speak publicly about the accusations against her, she understands that her defense team has advised her to stay silent on the matter.

“Contrary to what has been said and written by others, there is effectively no actual evidence that has yet been made public,” Ringstrom said. “Litigating a criminal case correctly and justly takes time, and until those allegations are actually tested in a court of law – where the rules of evidence, the right of confrontation, and other components of due process are enforced–it is irresponsible to make hasty conclusions.”

Mitchell said that a “much different picture will emerge” when all the facts about the incident become known. 

“While I cannot elaborate more at the advice of counsel, I can say I am extremely disappointed that the complaint lacks the complete information of the incident including important context, including that I have known the other person involved in this incident since I was four and care deeply about her,” Mitchell said.“It saddens me that some people are attempting to use a tragic family situation to score political points, and I am grateful to those who believe, as I always have, that everyone should be allowed the due process guaranteed in our Constitution.”

UPDATE: 04/25/2024; this story was updated after its initial publication to include additional statements from Bruce Ringstrom Jr. and Nicole L. Mitchell.

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