Lakeville detective receives medal of commendation

Chief cites Dronen’s work on missing persons case

Lakeville Det. Jim Dronen accepts thanks from City Council Member Colleen LaBeau as the crowd gives him a standing ovation for being awarded the Medal of Commendation by Lakeville Police Chief Jeff Long at the May 16 City Council meeting. (Photo by Laura Adelmann)
Lakeville Det. Jim Dronen accepts thanks from City Council Member Colleen LaBeau as the crowd gives him a standing ovation for being awarded the Medal of Commendation by Lakeville Police Chief Jeff Long at the May 16 City Council meeting. (Photo by Laura Adelmann)

A Lakeville police detective was recently awarded the Medal of Commendation for his work on a missing persons case that made national news.

Lakeville Police Chief Jeff Long awarded the medal to Det. Jim Dronen at the May 16 City Council meeting.

Long called the effort to find two missing teenage girls, Samantha and Gianna Rucki, one of the most “bizarre” cases he has seen throughout his 29-year career, and indicated there are more details that will come out in the July trial of the girls’ mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki.

Grazzini-Rucki is charged with multiple counts of depravation of parental rights and concealing a minor for allegedly dropping off the girls at a ranch in rural Minnesota after they ran away from home in 2013 during a child custody dispute.

The Lakeville mother of five contends she was abused by her husband, David Rucki, who has denied the accusations.

In presenting Dronen the commendation, Long cited multiple complications and issues Dronen endured while working to find the girls, discovered at western Minnesota horse ranch in November 2015 by Lakeville police and law enforcement officers serving a search warrant.

Long said the Rucki case was virtually the only one Dronen worked on while he was assigned to the detective division, and said the case had multiple false leads.

Long said he cannot say many things because of the pending trial, but he offered an assessment of those involved in the girls’ disappearance, including a former television reporter who interviewed the girls in person after they disappeared.

Long said the reporter “could have solved this (case) two years ago chose ratings over child safety,”

“Officer Dronen dealt with individuals from a dark network of adults who hide children,” Long said. “As he began to get close to solving this sick web of deception, he endured threats of lawsuits as a way to intimidate him.”

Long said law enforcement officers’ personal media sites have been “trolled,” and their photos placed on a site “intended to intimidate the officers prior to trial.”

To solve the case, Long said Dronen endured much more and weeded through thousands of emails, messages and computer files obtained in search warrants.

“We were purposefully led astray,” Long said.

He added that new information indicates that this was neither a domestic issue or a custody issue as police were led to believe.

“Many of us are now being called corrupt and being harassed by the witnesses involved in this incident,” Long said, adding it would have been easy to “fall under the fear of threats,” by putting the case aside and label it a court issue.

He said the work has multiplied since the case has progressed to attorneys.

Now in the patrol division, Long said Dronen has spent months preparing for the case and is still working on it.

“Despite obstacles, dead ends, delays and uncooperative witnesses, Jim’s commitment to finding the missing girls was commendable,” Long said.

Dronen called the case difficult, and thanked fellow officers for helping to cover the workload and providing information and help that allowed him time to work on the case.

“This case is truly a team effort,” Dronen said. “And while I wish I could speak more about everything that happened and what we went through, I really have to thank all of them for standing behind me to get this case to a successful resolution.”

In the chambers filled with police officers and firefighters, Dronen received an extended standing ovation.

Mayor Matt Little said the entire community breathed a sigh of relief when the girls were found safe.

“If you continue to receive all that pressure, we’ve got your back and we’ll support you for the whole way,” Little said.