MANKATO — A nurse who was charged with stealing drugs from a Mankato senior care facility is suing her accusers and her former employer.
The criminal charges against Sharon Kay Byro, 58, of New Ulm, were later dismissed by the prosecutor.
Byro is now suing for financial damages in Blue Earth County District Civil Court. The recently filed lawsuit claims defamation and negligence by two of her former co-workers and the company that owns the Autumn Grace senior facility, for which Byro no longer is an employee.
Bryo was charged with felony burglary and theft in November 2017 after painkillers went missing from Autumn Grace. Co-workers Bonnie Christen and Lana Steuck identified Byro as a suspect after reviewing surveillance video.
One of the employees initially identified a different suspect, according to court documents. A Mankato police officer interviewed the first suspect and determined that person was not the culprit.
After the surveillance camera was moved to a different angle, Christen and Steuck identified Byro as one of two people seen on video trying to access the medicine cabinet. A male accomplice was not identified.
The charges were dismissed in May 2018.
“Upon review of the video by law enforcement and the prosecution, it became clear that the person in the video was not the plaintiff,” Byro’s lawsuit claims.
She also provided “evidence she was working elsewhere at the time the video was taken,” the suit says.
Prosecutor Chris Rovney told The Free Press at the time he dismissed the charges after Bryro’s attorney provided alibi evidence that made him believe he could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Byro maintains she is innocent and the false allegations cost her her job, “lost her ability to work as a nurse elsewhere” and she “suffered a loss of standing and reputation in the community.”
In addition to identifying her to law enforcement, the suit claims Christen and Steuck repeated the false allegation to other people at the senior complex and in the community. The charges were covered by multiple media outlets, the suit also notes.
The attorney representing the defendants did not respond to an invitation to comment on the lawsuit.
Attorney Mark Anfinson, who is not involved in the case but is an expert in defamation and libel law, said such lawsuits stemming from a criminal charge are uncommon.
In Minnesota there is libel and defamation protection, called “qualified privilege” that can include people who report suspected criminal activity to authorities. But the requirements for qualifying for protection “aren’t very precise,” Anfinson said.
The protection only applies, Minnesota appellate courts have ruled, when a claim is made in good faith, with probable cause, with “proper motive” and on a “proper occasion.”