Charles A. Ramsay
The assault trial for accused murderer Jack Nissalke came to an abrupt and unexpected end Thursday when his Twin Cities-based attorney was arrested for alleged possession of 5 grams of cocaine.
Police believe that the attorney, Charles Alan Ramsay, 41, of New Brighton, Minn., was using the cocaine inside a conference room at the courthouse during breaks in the jury trial. Investigator Jay Rasmussen noticed Ramsay behaving strangely outside the courthouse bathrooms, said Police Chief Frank Pomeroy. He said that Ramsay was touching his face as if he’d just ingested something through his nose.
Then, evidence technician Angela Evans went into a conference room that Ramsay had been using and noticed trace amounts of a white powder on the table. That powder field-tested positive for a controlled substance, which police used as probable cause to arrest and search Ramsay’s belongings.
Because Ramsay is Nissalke’s defense attorney and currently represents him, the city’s police department quickly handed over the investigation to the county sheriff's department to avoid a conflict of interest. The Winona County Attorney’s Office has also forwarded the case to the Dakota County Attorney’s Office for prosecution to avoid the same conflict.
While city and county law enforcement were working quickly behind the scenes to investigate the alleged drug activity, the jury trial was coming close to resolution as Nissalke was working on a plea agreement for the assault case. Nissalke, who’s been accused of murdering Ada Frances Senenfelder almost 25 years ago, was facing assault and terroristic threat charges that allege he threatened police with a metal bar while they executed a search warrant at his home to gather evidence in the murder case.
Ramsay’s behavior during the jury trial was questioned by Judge Mary Leahy, who said that his opening statement attempted to “freak out” the jury. She called for an end to Ramsay’s “dramatics,” and warned him not to mention Nissalke’s willingness to submit to a polygraph test about the assault case. She said that polygraphs are not scientific or admissible and that Ramsay should never have mentioned his client’s willingness to submit to one to the jury. “Had these things been said by the state instead of the defense, we’d have a mistrial on our hands,” said Leahy. “We’d have a mess.”
When Investigator Jay Rasmussen was called to the stand on Tuesday, many of Ramsay’s questions were objected to by prosecutor Tom Gort, who said they were irrelevant or called for speculation.
Ramsay became heated several times during the trial this week, and he took a moment at least once when talking to Leahy when he said he would “calm [him]self down.”
As court was wrapping up on Thursday, Winona Sheriff Dave Brand and two officers entered the courtroom to arrest Ramsay. Brand said that Ramsay cooperated with the arrest and merely said he needed to contact a lawyer.
From there, Brand said that Ramsay’s belongings, including briefcases, were taken directly to the department’s narcotics investigator office, where a K-9 unit was brought in. Brand said that the K-9 picked up on the scent of a controlled substance and police found cocaine in Ramsay’s belongings.
Brand said that Nissalke had not been alone in the particular conference room with Ramsay where the trace amounts of cocaine were found.
Ramsay was charged Friday morning with two counts of felony possession of cocaine and third degree possession of three grams or more. His bail was set at $10,000. He had been held overnight in Olmsted County Jail.
Winona Police Chief Frank Pomeroy said that Nissalke’s trial on the assault charges may be thrown out, even as a plea agreement was in the works. “That might certainly be thrown out and we may have to start all over again,” said Pomeroy of the assault case.
And, as far as the murder charges go, Pomeroy said that Ramsay was the chief attorney for that case as well. With the next hearing on the murder charges expected in February, Pomeroy said that that may be postponed as a result of the accusations. He said Thursday’s situation had “the potential to delay everything.”