By Ivan Raconteur
A bad day at work led to a free trip from Hutchinson to Hollywood for McLeod County Sheriff’s Deputy Jen Mueller.
Last June 18, Mueller was dragged by a car driven by Jerry Dean Burt of Olivia, when he tried to flee during a traffic stop.
The entire incident was caught on Mueller’s squad camera.
Seven months later, Mueller re-enacted the scene, this time in front of television cameras.
Late last fall, Mueller was driving home to Hutchinson with her husband, Nathan (who is a Carver County sheriff’s deputy), when she received a call from McLeod County Sheriff Scott Rehmann.
Rehmann asked Mueller to return a call to a representative from Court TV. He told her that the network wanted to fly her out to Los Angeles for three days for an interview and to re-create the scene from last June.
Mueller told Rehmann there must be something wrong with her cell phone, and said she would call him back when she got home.
She was sure that either she had not heard correctly, or someone had put Rehmann up to playing a joke on her.
When she got home, she called Rehmann back, and he convinced her that what he had said about the trip was true.
Court TV became aware of the incident after the original video footage of Mueller being dragged was shown on local television news programs, and was picked up by some national outlets. Mueller said she has heard from friends in other states who saw the clip. She said it is still in rotation on Court TV.
Although the incident appears quite serious in the video, Mueller received only minor injuries, and returned to work two days later, as soon as doctors allowed.
Mueller and her husband talked about the trip, and he asked her to see if she could get the network to pay for him to go with her. When Mueller called the representative from Court TV back, she did some fancy negotiating.
The network proposed to fly her to Los Angeles on one day, do the interview and filming the next day, and fly her home the following morning.
“I told them, ‘I’m just a small town girl from Minnesota, and I don’t fly without my husband,’” Mueller laughed.
Then she told them she had never been to Hollywood before, and if she was going to travel that far, she wanted to spend a couple of extra days there to see the sights.
Court TV agreed to pay for her husband to join her, and they got to do their exploring.
When Mueller told her parents about the trip, her father responded in classic parental style.
“He said, ‘Jen, next time you want to take a trip, why don’t you do it the old-fashioned way, and save up for it instead of getting dragged by a car to get there,’” Mueller recalled.
The trip was scheduled, and Mueller said it was a perfect week to get out of Minnesota.
When they left the morning of Jan. 20, it was 22 degrees below zero in Minneapolis. It was 55 degrees when they landed in Los Angeles. The locals were complaining about the cold, but to Mueller, it felt wonderful.
A production assistant picked them up at the airport and took them to the Hollywood Celebrity Hotel.
“It was right behind the Kodak Theater and Hollywood Boulevard, and we could see the Hollywood sign from our hotel,” Mueller said.
The first day, they spent their time wandering down Hollywood Boulevard and doing “touristy things.”
They explored the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Mueller had her husband take a photo of her with her hands in Marilyn Monroe’s handprints.
That Monday morning, the production assistant picked them up, beginning what Mueller described as “a surreal day.”
The show they were working on is a new program called “Crisis Point.”
Mueller said some of the other officers brought in for the show had been involved in violent cases such as armed bank robbery and officer stabbings.
“I kept asking them, ‘are you sure I’m supposed to be here?’” Mueller said.
First, she was taken to wardrobe, where she was fitted with a replica of her duty uniform. She had sent McLeod County patches and logos ahead of time, and said the uniform created by the wardrobe people looked just like the real thing.
Next, she sat in a studio crowded with lights and cameras, where she was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours. There were three cameras focussed on her the whole time to catch every angle, and she had her own “lighting guy” and “sound guy.”
Then came the re-enactment.
They had to drive for an hour-and-a-half to find a place that would pass for the scene of the incident in rural McLeod County.
The site that was chosen was actually a sod field.
Once there, Mueller learned that the filming process takes much longer than real life.
“An event that took maybe seven minutes in my life took four-and-a-half hours to film,” Mueller said.
In addition to Mueller, the cast included her stunt double, and actors playing the parts of Burt, and McLeod County deputies Brian Stiles and Paul Sherman.
Every scene was shot from the perspective of the officer.
The most difficult part for Mueller was taking it seriously.
“The actor playing Brian Stiles was SO serious,” Mueller said, imitating the intensity of the actor’s performance.
“The director kept telling me, ‘Jen, that was great, but you have got to stop laughing. Let’s do it again,’” Mueller said.
Although the incident that they were re-creating was extremely dangerous, and Mueller could have been injured, she takes the risks of her job in stride.
“I am not a serious person. You can’t do this job if you are a serious person; you’d never get out alive,” Mueller commented.
The filming was done in small segments.
First, they put Mueller in a generic squad car (McLeod County graphics will be added through the magic of editing) and told her to drive down the road three miles and back, acting like she was on patrol.
In the car with her were the cameras and a dog that was playing the part of her K9 partner, Jake.
Then, they filmed the traffic stop, and the fight scene, and a scene with Mueller running down the road next to the car and dropping to her knees.
Then, the stunt double was brought in for the dragging and falling shots.
“I am looking forward to seeing how it comes out,” Mueller said.
She added that the filming was actually hard work, and they had to run through each scene many times until the director was satisfied.
Mueller was exhausted at the end of the long day of filming and driving.
The next morning, with the work done, they became tourists.
The highlights included a trip on a subway (something Mueller had never done before) and a visit to Universal Studios.
“I am a TV nut,” she confessed, and said one of her favorite ways to escape is to spend a couple of hours watching TV or a movie.
Because of the writers’ strike, there was not much work going on at the studio, so they were able to see almost everything.
Mueller said she is a fan of “Desperate Housewives,” so she had to tour Wisteria Lane, and check out the houses of all of the main characters in the series.
“How cool is that?” Mueller commented.
She also took photos of the sets of many of her favorite movies, including the cabin from the John Candy movie, “The Great Outdoors,” the Bates Motel from “Psycho,” and the set of “Jaws.”
The next day, Mueller got to the main event.
“I really wanted to go to Disneyland. I had never been there, and that is all I really wanted from this trip,” she explained.
The forecast was for rain all day, but Mueller told her husband she was going to Disneyland, with or without him. They went together.
The first thing she did was get her photo taken with Mickey Mouse, which will be the basis for her Christmas cards this year.
“It was the off-season, so we saw everything,” Mueller said. She added that she took a lot of photos for her scrapbook along the way.
“I went through more memory cards there than I did at my wedding,” Mueller said.
“We packed everything we could into those days,” she added.
They were lucky. It turned out to be a gorgeous day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then it started to rain, and, once it started, it rained for a week.
They flew home the following morning.
Mueller said the film crew was very pro-law enforcement, and it was very important to them to get all the details from the officer’s point of view.
“Crisis Point” is a show designed to let the public know what law enforcement officers see in the course of their work, according to Mueller.
She said filming of the show will continue into February, and then all of the segments will be edited.
“At the earliest, it will premiere in mid-March,” Mueller said.
“Crisis Point” will air on trueTV (Court TV became trueTV in January).
Mueller said producers will send her a DVD of the show and let her know when it will air once it has been scheduled.
“It was a win-win situation. I didn’t get hurt, I got to go to L.A., and I got to see Disneyland,” Mueller said, reflecting on her experiences.
Mueller has been employed by the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office for seven years.
“Nothing surprises me anymore, either good or bad,” she commented.
Burt, the suspect who dragged Mueller with his car, was originally charged with two felony counts. The assault charge was dropped, and Burt pled guilty to fleeing a police officer, and is currently serving two years in jail.