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PORT Group Home for Girls worker faces charges for helping runaway

The defendant's mother confirmed that the man who was at the motel to take the girl matched the photograph of her biological father.

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A 23-year-old Brainerd woman — who works at PORT Group Home for Girls in Brainerd — is accused of helping a 17-year-old girl run away from the facility.

Samantha Marie Kouba was charged Wednesday, Sept. 15, in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd for one felony count of depriving custody/parental rights, which caused a child to be a runaway; and two gross misdemeanors of contributing to the need for child protection or services and endangering a child through harm or death.

According to court records, the custody of the 17-year-old girl was transferred in May 2016 from her biological parents to relatives in Beltrami County District Court. The girl was later placed in voluntary foster care through Hennepin County District Court. Although the Hennepin County Juvenile Court ordered the placement of the minor child into an out-of-home placement, the relatives maintained legal custody of the 17-year-old.

Samantha Marie Kouba
Samantha Marie Kouba

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Kouba’s charges stem from a runaway report at 3:26 p.m. Sept. 11 from PORT Group Home for Girls in Brainerd. Officers checked the area but were unable to locate the 17-year-old. A day later, Brainerd police received a report from PORT containing information that Kouba, a worker at PORT, assisted the girl in running away and possibly transported her to an unknown hotel located near the southern Minnesota town of Franklin, the complaint stated.

Law enforcement obtained information from another PORT resident who exchanged Snapchat messages with the girl after she ran away. In the conversations, the 17-year-old told the resident Kouba helped facilitate her running away. A screenshot of this conversation was provided to police.

In another message, the resident asked Kouba on Snapchat if she was tired this morning after dropping the girl off last night. Kouba replied, “What..how do you know? Don't say nothing….I already feel sick to my stomach,” the complaint stated. The resident responded to Kouba saying the runaway girl “told me I knew the whole time.”

On Sept. 13, an investigator met with PORT staff, who stated Kouba's mother had possibly dropped the girl off somewhere near Franklin. The investigator and PORT staff interviewed Kouba. The investigator advised her he was a police officer, she was not under arrest and was free to leave. Kouba agreed to talk and stated she was confronted about assisting the girl with running away from her court ordered placement at PORT. Kouba denied any involvement.

Kouba stated she left work at about 3 p.m. Sept. 11 and went home. She was called back to PORT to assist the workers due to the girl running away. Kouba stated she went back to PORT and assisted with the runaway investigation of the girl. Kouba then became upset and walked out of the meeting after she was told she was terminated from her employment at PORT, the complaint stated.

Kouba’s mother stated her daughter called her at about 3-3:30 p.m. Sept. 11 and asked her to meet at the Memorial Gardens Cemetery near Wise Road and Crow Wing County Highway 3. Upon arrival, Kouba told her she had the 17-year-old with her and the girl needed help getting somewhere. The girl exited Kouba's vehicle and used Kouba’s mother’s phone to contact someone in Sauk Rapids. The initial plan was to take the girl to Sauk Rapids. The mother stated the girl then told her she wasn't able to go to Sauk Rapids and asked her for a ride to St. Cloud.

The mother stated she didn't have a good feeling about it and felt something was wrong but didn't know the circumstances as to why Kouba asked to take the girl somewhere. The mother brought the girl to St. Cloud. The mother stated Kouba then told her she needed to get back to PORT because the worker there was unfamiliar as to how to process the girl as a runaway. The mother stated on the way to St. Cloud, the girl used her phone to call her biological father. The girl also used the phone to access GPS to navigate to a motel in Morton.

Through the investigation, it was later determined Kouba accompanied the mother and the runaway girl during the drive to the motel in Morton. The mother confirmed the man who was at the motel to take the girl matched the photograph of her biological father.

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A review of the father’s criminal history indicates he has at least five felony convictions. Most recently, the man was sentenced to 90 months in prison for a controlled substance offense and was released from confinement on June 14, 2021, in Beltrami County.

The relatives who have custody of the girl told police they are familiar with the biological father and they do not want the girl to be with him. According to the complaint, the whereabouts of the girl are currently unknown.

Kouba’s next court hearing is scheduled Dec. 9.

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