Online searches of Heather Veld's name tell two stories.
One shows her barrel racing. Veld has been riding and racing her whole life.
“My dad has me on a horse when I was 2,” she said.
The other shows a mugshot and articles about a bogus theft charge that's impacted her mental health and her children.
“I keep my shades down," Veld said. "I don't sleep well. I have nightmares. I wake up punching and kicking.”
Five years have passed since Veld was accused of theft in Mason City.
The charge and subsequent arrest lead to a civil lawsuit, which was settled just weeks before her trial in December 2018.
Cerro Gordo County agreed to pay Veld, 41, of Brandon, South Dakota, $260,000 to end the lawsuit. Days before the check was cut, the charge was also dropped.
“I don’t think you can put it all behind you knowing that you did nothing wrong,” Veld said.
Veld’s attorney, Jack Bjornstad of Spirit Lake, claims Cerro Gordo County violated her constitutional rights.
On Jan. 4, 2014, Veld traveled to Mason City to buy a truck. She, with assistance from investors, was starting a horse training and boarding company.
Veld wrote a check for the truck, and the auto dealership agreed to hold the check until she confirmed with the dealership that funds were moved into her account.
She was waiting for funds to be put into her bank account by an investor.
The dealership promised it would “work with” her, according to Veld.
“They knew that I did not have the funds available” at the time, she said.
After she left with the truck, she and the dealership discovered that her financing fell through.
She had the truck for three days total, put $500 into work on the truck and drove a few hundred miles.
When the investor bailed, Veld arranged with the dealership to return the truck to a Ford “repo” agency in Sioux Falls. The lawsuit states Veld returned the truck, as agreed, on Jan. 22, 2014.
Veld had no prior criminal record, and she left a front and back copy of her debit card, personal references and her personal banker's info with the dealership.
“I don’t go around stealing cars or trucks,” Veld said.
She contacted the dealer after she returned the truck and apologized, saying she would do what she could to “make it right.”
The day after returning the truck in Sioux Falls, Veld’s vehicle slid into a mailbox on a gravel road in South Dakota. The owner was not home so she wrote a note with her information for the owners to contact her for payment.
A Brandon Police Officer drove by and asked for her license and registration. The officer said she had an outstanding warrant from Cerro Gordo County, confusing Veld.
The officer told her that the charge was equivalent to a “grand theft” charge in South Dakota, she said.
The criminal complaint filed by Mason City Police Officer Cam Theilen on Jan. 22, 2014, the day Veld took the truck to Sioux Falls, charged Veld with felony first-degree theft. The complaint said Veld wrote a bad check for $65,058 to purchase a pickup from Mason City Ford.
According to the original warrant, the warrant was "statewide" and indicated Veld could be held for $10,000 cash bond upon arrest.
The officer did not arrest her because the warrant was for Iowa only, Veld said. She drove to feed her horse and tried to call the Cerro Gordo County Attorney’s Office.
“The secretary kept blowing me off,” she said.
Veld picked up some groceries and drove home in Brandon.
Law enforcement vehicles, with lights and sirens, boxed her vehicle in when she arrived. Her four children, ranging in age from 4 to 17 at the time, watched from their home.
“They had their heads glued to the big picture window,” Veld said.
Veld was taken inside to take her medication and say goodbye to her crying kids and now ex-husband before arrest.
The South Dakota law enforcement officers placed her in handcuffs outside, away from her children, but she knows they saw everything from the window.
Veld was arrested Jan. 23, 2014, on an Iowa-only warrant for first-degree theft, a Class C felony, for allegedly writing a bad check to purchase a pickup truck from Mason City Ford.
She was taken to the Minnehaha County Jail in Sioux Falls, 10 miles southwest of Brandon.
Behind bars, her main concern was safety.
Veld previously worked for seven years at a South Dakota prison, and she was concerned that she would interact with inmates and parolees who might know her from that time.
She left the corrections job in May 2013 to be at home with her children and focus on barrel racing.
Veld voiced concerns at the jail and was placed in the “drunk tank,” away from the general population.
“But they put my name in big bold letters where anyone could see,” she said. “Right away, they put me in danger.”
Her first court hearing was Jan. 24, 2014.
Veld says her public defender urged her to sign an extradition order, poorly explaining to her that it would "make it go faster." Veld took that to mean that the issue would be resolved quickly.
She spent 12 days in the drunk tank crying as she waited for the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff's Office to transport her.
Veld suffers from severe migraines, requiring medication. She did not receive medication until her 10th day in jail.
Cerro Gordo County Corrections Officer Brenda Crom transported Veld from South Dakota to Cerro Gordo County Jail on Feb. 3.
“The emotional damage that has happened since I was in the jail for 12 days has been horrible,” she said.
Cerro Gordo hearing
Veld made her initial appearance before Cerro Gordo County Magistrate Patrick Byrne on Feb. 4, 2014. She was released on her own recognizance.
Byrne also ordered Cerro Gordo County Attorney Carlyle Dalen answer, in writing, how Veld was arrested in South Dakota on a warrant valid only in Iowa, according to court records.
No written report was ever filed, according to court records and to Bjornstad, Veld's attorney.
He believes the Cerro Gordo County Attorney and Sheriff’s Office changed the warrant from a statewide warrant to a nationwide warrant.
“They believe it’s in their power to change something that a judge ordered,” Bjornstad said.
Dalen dropped the charge against Veld on Feb. 18, 2014, citing insufficient evidence.
Cerro Gordo County's chief prosecutor deferred comment to Smith, Mills & Schrock, the firm that represented the county’s insurance carrier in the lawsuit.
Some of the questions asked of Dalen and the law firm included: why was the document explaining the warrant arrest never filed and why was the statewide warrant not obeyed?
“They would be the best source of information regarding this case,” Dalen said.
The law firm did not return a request for comment Friday afternoon.
Lawsuit and settlement
Bjornstad, Veld's attorney, noted that the civil lawsuit was a slow process, covering about three years.
The key questions about the range of the warrant and the prosecutor's ignorance to the court order remain.
Bjornstad said it is “very odd” for a court order that direct to not be followed.
“When a judge orders me to do something, I do it,” he said.
Theilen and Crom were both named individually as a defendant in the lawsuit. Attorneys for the Mason City and Cerro Gordo County called the lawsuit “baseless” in court documents.
In the civil lawsuit, Veld sought compensation for “mental and emotional harm and anguish, anxiety, fear, depression, loss of enjoyment of life, degradation, disgrace, uncertainty, apprehensiveness, grief, restlessness, dismay, tension, unease, and pain and suffering…”
“The trauma this has caused I will be working through for a long time,” Veld said. “It’s not something you get over.”
The trial for Veld's civil claim was scheduled for Dec. 11, 2018.
Veld dropped the civil suit with prejudice following a settlement with the county, meaning the lawsuit cannot be filed again. She was awarded $260,000.
While the settlement provides Veld with some compensation, she said no amount will make up for what she went through.
“Jack and I have done something incredible,” she said. “We have held them accountable for what they did.”
Bjornstad said Veld's strength was the key.
“That took so much courage,” he said of sharing her story and pursuing a lawsuit. “She fought for her right to be heard.”
The settlement didn't end the impacts.
Veld said she still has nightmares that the police are at her house. From her incarceration, she recalls her daughter bawling and her son seeing the school counselor every day.
And today, there are reminders.
Her youngest child is scared of police.
“How do you explain that to a child?” she asked.
And then there's the internet.
Veld has an associate’s degree in criminal justice, serving as dispatcher and prison counselor for years before her arrest. To get a job in the field now would almost be impossible, she said.
Veld, currently working at a senior living facility, said applying for jobs can be difficult even though the charge was dismissed. She believes she's lost out on job opportunities.
Her children are also challenged.
“My 14-year-old son has to do a project for school, has to Google his mom,” she said.
Right now, Veld is looking forward to barrel racing season. Most of her competitions are with the Better Barrel Racing Association.
She and her horse Angel, also known as BA Daddy Wuza Rocker, share a special bond.
“She don’t talk back,” she said, laughing.
Shortly after the charges were dismissed, Veld went to a competition in Texas. She said she was nervous and traumatized. She frequently turned to see what was behind her.
But racing with BA Daddy Wuza Rocker gave her confidence.
“When I was on her back, nobody could touch me,” Veld said.