Sudden dismissal in sex assault case

Matthew Koenen

Recent charges of sexual assault against former Grantsburg high school teacher Matthew Koenen were dismissed suddenly as the Washington County (Minn.) prosecutor was preparing to go to trial last week. 

The charges were not related to his prior case, where Koenen was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting two teenage female students at his Stillwater-area home when he was their teacher. He served three months of jail time and was placed on supervised probation for 15 years after the plea deal to avoid a trial, where he had been facing up to 30 years in prison.   

The latest charges against Koenen, 44, of Oakdale, Minn., emerged in January 2020 with third-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a victim who was allegedly impaired. The allegations were that Koenen had sexually assaulted a female co-worker after they went for drinks after work. The victim told investigators that she had woke up wearing one of his T-shirts with no idea how she ended up in his bed, at his apartment. She implied in the criminal complaint that Koenen was behind her losing consciousness and that he had sexually assaulted her against her will in late 2018.  

He pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge, which had been slow in processing, due to the pandemic and other reasons, including because Koenen’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, was also the chief defense attorney for accused Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin earlier this year, who was convicted this spring in the death of George Floyd, further adding to the delay on Koenen’s case.

Koenen’s latest charges alleged that he had offered to ‘mentor’ the women who ended up in his bed, and that they had gone to a Roseville-area restaurant that was closing, where he would give her ‘mentoring advice,’ and that they then had to go to a different tavern, where the victim alleged that she had one drink and then woke up in his bed, confused and convinced that he had assaulted her.

She did not know abou Koenen’s prior sex assault convictions or that he was on probation at the time until a co-worker noticed her acting strangely in front of him at the office, and pointed out Koenen’s prior conviction for sexual assault.

The woman later talked to Washington County authorities, who opened an investigation in 2019 and then filed the charges against Koenen on Jan. 11, 2020.

He was originally set to go to trial last year, but the pandemic shut down much of the in-person court activity for late 2020, with the reset jury trial set for Aug. 30, 2021, to accommodate attorney Nelsons’ trial in the Minneapolis police case.

However, in recent weeks, with little reason noted, the Washington County prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss all charges against Koenen, effectively halting the jury trial and all future proceedings in the case.

The court documents are not very specific, but Washington County prosecutor Siv Yurichuk told the courts that the reason for the dismissal and trial cancellation was due to “… the states’ inability to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” with no further details.

It was unclear how Koenen’s previous convictions would have affected the more recent case. 

In the previous case, his attorney and prosecutor Yurichuck brokered a plea bargain in September 2013, avoiding a trial on two felony counts of criminal sex conduct-by a person in position of authority, where he faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and up to a $30,000 fine for each of the two counts.

According to that criminal complaint, Koenen abused his role as a high school teacher by developing close relationships with several female students in person, online and by text, ultimately leading to alleged sexual conduct at his Washington County residence with two of the students. He had hidden the relationships from his wife, the complaint stated, by using multiple E-mail accounts and two different cell phones.

One of those relationships lasted several months and eventually, one of the victims told school officials, and Koenen was asked to resign, triggering the criminal investigation.