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McQuillen retires from ADA position

Dave McQuillen has retired after more than 20 years as an assistant district attorney at the St. Croix County Government Center. For the last decade he has concentrated on drug prosecution. Photo by Jon Echternacht

Dave McQuillen once wanted to be an archeologist. And he tried his hand at farming. But most of the time he has been a lawyer who served more than 20 years as an assistant district attorney.

On Jan. 9, he punched the clock for the last time at the St. Croix County Government Center and retired.

He has devoted the better part of the last 10 years to prosecuting drug crimes, a task that got rather overwhelming when methamphetamine plagued the area.

"I believe we (St. Croix County) were targeted by organized crime," he said during a conversation at a local coffee and bagel house recently. "The meth labs weren't the problem as much as the imported stuff."

The whole meth scene at its peak was a severe drain on the county's resources, he said.

"It got to the point that I wasn't even prosecuting possession cases, just trafficking and manufacturing," he said, which was enough to keep him more than busy for four to five years.

McQuillen said a lot of people in the law enforcement and criminal justice system were involved in reducing the meth problem. "I believe meth use locally is way down," he said and attributed much of the change to education.

However, the county is by no means drug free. "We still have drug problems with pills, marijuana is stronger, and alcohol," he said.

McQuillen said that a bright spot in the system was the development of drug court.

"It was a great satisfaction to see lives turned around with people that nobody would believe. It took the worst cases, people who continually commit crimes, and addicts, and turned them into productive citizens," he said.

Also those involved in drug court become tax-paying citizens. McQuillen said participants have to bring their taxes in, file and pay them by April 15.

"This county is fortunate to have quality prosecutors and public defenders," he said. "Any one of them could have made a lot more money in private practice."

But it has come time for the former prosecutor to decompress and find a new path for the future.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm just getting used to retirement. I have thought about the Peace Corps."

McQuillen, 61, hails from Indiana. He started college, then dropped out in 1966 and did a four-year hitch in the U.S. Marine Corps that included a tour of Vietnam. He returned and earned a bachelor's degree from Indiana University in 1975.

"My degree was in anthropology. I wanted to be an archeologist," he said. But one thing led to another and he attended New York Law School in Manhattan and received a law degree.

McQuillen said he came to Minneapolis as a VISTA volunteer and worked in legal aid until budget cuts came down. He started in the DA's office in 1988.

McQuillen, who lives in New Richmond, gave into his country boy roots and tried his hand at raising beef cattle and farming on 130 acres of land near Deer Park some years ago.

"I guess after the military and seeing all that destruction I wanted to grow something," he said.

McQuillen continues to honor the memory of his uncle, Elmer Lowe, a U.S. Marine who was killed in the Battle of Peleliu in World War II.

He has traveled to the tiny island in the Western Pacific three times and has a trip booked again in September.

A memorial plaque has been placed at the spot where his uncle fell in battle. "The clan that owns the land has adopted him and will take care of it," he said.

McQuillen was also known to provide a cake for the Marine Corps birthday in the DA's office on Nov. 10. Future plans for the celebration have not been firmed up.