Chris Bieri, Forum Communications Co., Published April 17 2012
American Crystal union leader accused of lyingGRAND FORKS – A vocal member of the locked-out Bakery Worker’s union has been charged with lying to authorities about an incident between picketers and a female replacement worker at the American Crystal Sugar Co. plant in Hillsboro.
Scott Joseph Ripplinger, of Manvel, told a Traill County Sheriff’s deputy that on the evening of March 5, a van drove through a crowd of picketers at a high rate of speed, nearly running him over.
But according to the sheriff’s office report, video of the incident shows Ripplinger jumping on the hood of the slow-moving van, then walking to the driver’s side of the van as it “creeps through the crowd,” where he pounded on the window and yelled.
Ripplinger is facing arraignment today in Traill County District Court on misdemeanor charges of giving false information to police and disorderly conduct in the incident.
A message left for Ripplinger was not returned.
American Crystal employees have been locked out for more than eight months, during which hundreds of replacement workers have been hired.
Ripplinger, who has been on past union negotiating teams, has been quoted extensively in stories and had two published letters to the editor in the Grand Forks Herald regarding the lockout.
Union spokesman John Riskey said he had no comment on the case since it was still pending.
According to an affidavit, Ripplinger spoke to the sheriff’s deputy to report a reckless driver that ran down a group of protesters while driving into the plant.
Ripplinger, born in 1961, wanted to press charges and was questioning the deputy’s investigative methods, according to the affidavit.
In his written statement of the event, Ripplinger claimed he had to jump on the van to avoid getting dragged underneath it. He said the van sped up once he was on it and he managed to slide off the side.
“I believe my actions prevented serious injury and left me with only a slight bruise,” Ripplinger wrote in his statement, which he emailed to authorities.
In his statement, he said he believed the driver made a deliberate attempt to “cause injury to me or my fellow picketers,” and that the incident was “a case of hit and run with a motor vehicle.”
The affidavit said the deputy interviewed the driver, who was still shook up over the incident.
She said she slowly turned toward the entrance as she was going to work at the plant. Her van was surrounded by a bunch of men, who were yelling at her and pounding on her vehicle. She told authorities she kept honking her horn for them to move, but they wouldn’t so she continued to slowly drive through the crowd.
After speaking to the deputy, the woman decided she didn’t want to work that day and was escorted out of the plant by the officer.
According to the deputy, the video corroborates the woman’s version of the events.
There have been at least two other cases of union leaders being charged in incidents involving replacement workers.
Bradley Knapper, of Moorhead, a member of the union’s negotiating team, is accused of “keying” a vehicle as it went through the gate at the American Crystal plant in Moorhead on Dec. 15.
Knapper faces two charges of damage to property in state District Court in Moorhead, one felony and another misdemeanor. That case is scheduled to go to trial May 8 with a settlement conference scheduled May 3.
Assistant Clay County attorney Gregg Jensen said the settlement conference is a standard scheduled appearance in the process, and he said he didn’t believe a settlement was imminent.
In Pembina County, Brad Nelson, the vice president of the union in Drayton, N.D., is charged with spitting on a replacement worker. According to the complaint, on Dec. 14 at the outside Drayton, Nelson verbally assaulted and began spitting onto the passenger side of a pickup, hitting its occupant.
Nelson is facing a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and is scheduled to go to trial May 2.
Chris Bieri writes for the Grand Forks Herald.
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