Tim Engstrom, Albert Lea Tribune –
A man accused of beating his 11-year-old son with boards as a means of punishment entered a provisional plea of not guilty Monday in Freeborn County District Court.
And he regained permission to contact his son, though on a restricted basis.
Monte Joe Santee, 46, faces a gross misdemeanor charge of malicious punishment of a child. Court files allege he had 1-by-2-inch pieces of wood anywhere from a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet long that he used to strike his son. The files say Santee admitted to a Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office investigator that he hit the child on the buttocks on almost a weekly basis.
In court Monday, Santee’s lawyer, Kevin Siefken of the Christian and Peterson law firm, made a request to change a stipulation of Santee’s release from jail. He asked that instead of having no contact with his son that Santee be allowed to have contact with the permission of Freeborn County Department of Human Services.
“This has split a family,” Siefken said.
Freeborn County District Judge Ross Leuning asked Assistant Freeborn County Attorney David Walker for his opinion.
Walker reiterated the allegations and stated his concern for the child.
“I cannot responsibly join, in the abstract,” he said.
Leuning ruled to allow Santee to have contact but only with the permission and supervision of DHS staff.
A provisional plea of not guilty in Minnesota reserves the right of the defendant to enter a full plea later while allowing trial procedures to move forward. Siefken said it allows the defense to see more of the prosecutor’s evidence and speeds up the court process.
“That way we aren’t having hearings to schedule hearings,” he said.
It could cause further delay, too. The defense has 30 days to file any motions. However, if Siefken files a motion in that time, the usual discovery process — which starts with a typical omnibus hearing — begins.
Siefken advised his client against speaking with the press to explain his side of the story but left a window open for after the judicial process is completed.
Santee is free on a $6,000 bond. A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
The case started when the man’s son approached local law enforcement about his father’s discipline earlier this month. A Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office investigator states in court files he saw bruising on the boy’s buttocks and legs, which the child attributed to his dad.
Court files say the son told the investigator that, in the most recent punishment, the father ordered the son to the basement for neglecting to fold a pair of his mother’s pants while folding a basket of clothes. The basement is where the punishments were administered, against the wishes of the mother, the court files state.
Santee has been employed by the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Department since 2007. He was in the news in September when a tree that a homeowner failed to maintain fell on him. Santee had to be transported to a Rochester hospital.