Last summer, Amber Rinehart and her partner, Gregg Allred, were working at the same machine shop in Ramsey, Digital Tool and Automation. She was an accountant, he was a machine operator, and both were having a series of weird encounters with their boss, owner David Ackland.
One day, Ackland allegedly texted Rinehart that it was “time to drop the big hammer on [the New York debtors],” whatever that meant. A couple weeks later, he texted Allred that his “NY guy” was “sliming out,” and that it was time for “Plan B.”
Allred asked what exactly “Plan B” was. According to a complaint filed in Anoka County District Court in June, Ackland asked him the following morning if he’d go to New York state to collect on some debts “through the use of intimidation, coercion, or physical violence if necessary.”
Allred refused and left his office. Later that same day, Ackland talked to Rinehart about the upcoming payroll. He allegedly told her not to pay his employees until “a number of problems at the business were fixed.” She told him that would be illegal.
“After briefly arguing with Rinehart, Ackland stormed off,” the complaint says.
The things took a turn from merely weird to all-out frightening. About an hour after that conversation, Ackland allegedly marched back up to her – this time with “a pistol on his hip” – held up a belt of shotgun shells, and said he was going to “clear the place out.”
Afterward, while she was “sitting in shock,” remembering that her boss kept a shotgun in his office, Allred walked by and asked her what was wrong. When she told him what happened, he recalled Ackland’s request about the New York debtors and hurried them both out of the building. Once they felt safe, they both called 911.
Anoka County deputies showed up at the shop. According to the report, the officers were immediately met by three employees in the parking lot who all confirmed Ackland was acting “strange” and that they’d never seen him walking around the office with a gun. The police had the workers take cover behind a nearby concrete wall and went inside to help the four remaining employees.
They never arrested Ackland because “he was within his rights to wear a gun on his own property.” He didn’t respond to interview requests, but according to the complaint and Ackland’s own response, he later claimed it had all been a joke.
Still, his workers were well and truly spooked – and some expressed worry via text about Rinehart and Allred having blown the whistle in the first place.
The pair never returned to work. Now they’re suing Ackland and the shop for making terroristic threats against employees.
“They stood up to their employer by calling the police,” attorney Ross Stadheim says. Even if they hadn’t been fired, he says, no one should be expected to go to work when they fear for their lives, where “this kind of conduct is allowed.”
Ackland has denied the duo's claims. He said he only wanted Allred to collect the debts through “legal means,” he hadn’t suggested Rinehart withhold workers’ pay, and that she had “no genuine or reasonable fear for her safety.”
He also countersued, accusing Rinehart of stealing from the company by failing to clock out for lunch or make appropriate deductions from her payroll.
“He’s basically trying to paint her as a criminal,” Stadheim says.
It will be at least a year before the case goes to trial, but Stadheim already predicts it’s going to be a “battle.” He’s handled plenty of whistleblower cases over the years, but never one quite like this.