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Jana Peterson, Pine Journal, Published March 15 2012

Ex-head of behavioral science at MeritCare in Fargo gets 120 days for window peeping

CLOQUET, Minn. – The former head of behavioral health at Fargo’s MeritCare was sentenced to 120 days in jail on Wednesday after he was caught peeping here at the window of the juvenile daughter of his neighbor last summer.

Richard Allen Paul, 57, of Cloquet, had pleaded guilty in December to a felony interference with privacy charge and was sentenced Wednesday in Carlton County District Court in front of his victims, other neighbors and his own family. The charge is a felony because the person whose privacy was violated was a minor.

Paul, who was director of behavior services for Essentia Health System in Duluth before he was arrested and held a similar position at the predecessor to Sanford Health in Fargo from 1999 to 2002, apologized in the courtroom.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t regret my actions,” Paul said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t pray for (the vicitm’s family) that God gives them relief from the pain I gave to them.”

B.J. Berg discovered Paul outside Berg’s home at 11:30 p.m. on June 14, 2011, wearing a black ski mask, tan shirt and jeans while peering into a bedroom window. When Berg confronted him, Paul said something about trying to find his dogs.

Berg told him, “Not at my daughter’s window, you’re not,” and told him to get off his property.

Berg followed Paul to his home and called the police, who searched Paul’s home and found night vision goggles, a ski mask, clothing and a loaded handgun. Paul admitted to police he had a firearm on his hip while outside Berg’s home.

In his statement in court, Berg talked about the close-knit nature of their rural Cloquet neighborhood – 20 miles west of Duluth – and how Paul built trust with his neighbors and their children over 12 years.

“This whole ordeal has been a sad lesson for our kids and family to learn … that you may not be able to trust the people you have grown to respect, and that your home may not be the safe haven you thought it was,” Berg told the court, adding that his children haven’t ventured down the road on their bikes to visit friends since then. “Some of their childhood innocence has been lost and their perception of safety in our home has been diminished.”

Paul sat with his head down during most of Berg’s statement.

Since his arrest, Paul has completed a residential addiction treatment program at Hazelden and is undergoing follow-up treatment and counseling.

Although defense attorney Stephen Zuber asked that Judge Robert Macaulay consider allowing Paul to serve the recommended jail time wearing an electronic monitor in his home, both Zuber and Paul stressed that Paul was there to take the consequences for his actions.

Neighbor Melissa Preteau read a letter she said had been circulated around the Hantz and Spring Lake Road neighborhood requesting no leniency for Paul.

“Until June 14, we all thought our neighborhood was a safe place to live,” Preteau said. “We shared relationships built on honesty, trust and the belief that it takes a village to raise a child. Mr. Paul was a part of that trust. He would walk his dog; he was friendly; he had a pool that the neighborhood kids liked to swim in — we had no idea what a monster he was.”

Macaulay noted that Paul appeared to be “genuinely shamed, remorseful and interested in taking his life in a different direction,” but said he agreed with Berg that Paul’s actions were “bold, brazen and significantly victimized [Berg’s] family and the community as a whole.”

Macaulay increased the 30 days in jail suggested in a pre-sentencing report to 120 days. The sentence, however, will be staggered.

Macaulay told Paul he was to serve the first 30 days in the Carlton County Law Enforcement Center starting immediately – actually, only 16 days with credit for four days served and time for good behavior.

Additional 30-day increments could be avoided, provided Paul follows his 21 probation conditions. He will also serve three years of supervised probation.

The probation conditions include a number of provisions related to substance abuse. In addition, he must have no contact with the Berg family nor go within 500 feet of their property.