Wadena man gets 6 years for escape, stealing underwear, breaking into historic school building, more

Escaping custody from within the Wadena County Courthouse, stealing women’s underwear and breaking into a historic school house are some of the charges the Wadena man was sentenced for this month.

Ryan Paul Petro
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WADENA, Minn. — With several years of criminal incidents under his belt, a Wadena, Minn., man has been sentenced to nearly six years in a St. Cloud prison.

Ryan Paul Petro, 35, was sentenced Jan. 13 in Wadena County District Court following a laundry list of 14 charges that had piled up since 2018. He was convicted on six of those charges and eight were dismissed.

The following are his charges and the convictions laid out this month:

Aug. 18, 2018: Petro's largest sentence comes from his Aug. 18, 2018, offense of felony first degree burglary. Petro was sentenced to 71 months at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility for that offense with 602 days credit for time served.

In this same incident, Petro was charged with unlawful possession of legend drugs including atomoxetine hydrochloride (can be used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), sertraline hydrochloride (can be used to treat depression/anxiety) as well as having possession of these drugs without permanent labels. All four of those misdemeanor charges were dismissed.


Petro, while on supervision for criminal sexual conduct, was reportedly seen on that August day leaving a home wearing women’s leggings and tank top, carrying a bag. Petro happened to live just down the block from the home. Upon a search of his home 120 pieces of women's’ clothing were found, 113 of which belonged to the family whose home he was recently spotted in. Also in Petro’s room were the legend drugs with no labels, according to the court complaint.

June 24, 2019: Petro was convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, with no sentence pronounced, no further consequences.

Sept. 16, 2019: Petro was convicted of misdemeanor theft, no sentence pronounced. Petro was convicted of stealing nearly $100 in tools from Merickel Ace Hardware in Wadena.

Sept. 28, 2019: Petro was sentenced for gross misdemeanor obstruct legal process; he served 365 days for this offense. Misdemeanor disorderly conduct, misdemeanor fleeing a peace officer, misdemeanor fourth degree criminal damage to property were all dismissed in this case.

Oct. 28, 2019: For his conviction of felony escape from custody, Petro will serve 27 months at St. Cloud with 442 days credit for time served. Petro pleaded guilty to the charge in October 2020.

The incident stems from Petro’s escape from custody at the Wadena County Courthouse Oct. 28, 2019. Petro had just left the courtroom and according to court records, he said he was thinking about how his next court appearance would be more than two months away. He also told officers he was concerned about his girlfriend who he believed was having a serious medical issue. In a panic, he kicked off his jail issued shoes and made a run for it, dashing up the stairs and out the front of the courthouse, leading 30 law enforcement officers, two drones, two dogs, one helicopter and a community of residents watching for his movements.

While the search quickly moved to various parts of the city and eventually across busy Highway 10 and onto the north side of Walmart in Wadena, Petro said he never made it that far. He said he hid inside a dumpster behind Hockerts Cleaners until dark. It’s there he said he found an old pair of scissors to cut the waist belt off that his handcuffs were attached to.

In an interview with a Wadena County Sheriff’s deputy, Petro said he later made his way to his deceased mother’s home where he found clothes in a van. He added that he then went to Walmart with his cuffs still on, where he used a bolt cutter from the shelf to remove his handcuffs. He then went to find his girlfriend.


This part of the story does not line up with some evidence law enforcement got clued in on when they found, stunned and arrested Petro behind a building not far from Walmart the day after his escape. Video evidence did not show Petro enter Walmart, according to officers who reviewed the footage. Petro was found wearing a Wadena County Fair sweatshirt and hat. Also falling from his pocket during his arrest was a key. Officers headed to the fairgrounds and found a fair board member who led officers to the fair’s main office building. It turns out the building, which should have been locked, was not. A new pair of bolt cutters were missing from inside along with a key that opens the historic school house on the grounds.

Inside the school house were more fair sweatshirts, toiletry items, an electric heater (still running), the new pair of bolt cutters, handcuffs once worn by Petro and a note written to Petro’s girlfriend.

For entering the historic school house unlawfully and taking items from the fairgrounds, Petro was charged with and sentenced for felony second degree burglary of a historic building, which earned him 57 months in St. Cloud prison, with 442 days credit for time served. Another charge of third-degree burglary in the case was dismissed.

Adding these sentences would have put Petro behind bars for nearly 13 years, however, he will serve these sentences concurrently, meaning he serves all sentences at the same time. With his longest sentence 71 months and subtracting the credit for time served Petro has an expected release date of May 2023, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

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