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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published September 10 2012

Men allegedly attack personal injury lawyer in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS – The three out-of-state laborers charged with beating a Grand Forks man unconscious downtown after bar-closing Saturday morning and stealing his iPhone may have picked the wrong guy.

The alleged victim happens to be a personal injury lawyer.

“Absolutely,” said the attorney about whether he plans to sue the three men, who appeared in state district court Monday on felony charges. “I’m already working on it.”

The attorney and his wife asked not to be identified, partly out of concern that the three men might revisit them violently.

“That would be a big mistake,” the lawyer said, but also pointed out: “These guys are not the sharpest knives in the drawer.”

Sneak attack

According to the attorney, he heard Jason Gore, 27, James Costello, 35, and Alexander Forrest, 26, yelling and throwing bottles and saw them urinating on a building and a parked car about 2:15 a.m. Saturday in the 200 block of Third Street North down town.

He confronted them.

While the man he later came to know was Gore talked to him, “the other two snuck up behind me,” said the attorney.

He said Costello and Forrest punched him in the face, choked him, went through his pockets, stole his iPhone and kicked him into unconsciousness.

The lawyer’s wife said she witnessed part of the attack; she also attended Monday’s court hearing, in which the three men made televised appearances from the Grand Forks County jail.

Cellphone tracking

After the attack, the couple watched the three men drive off in a Ford pickup, Gore at the wheel.

The lawyer’s wife remembered the “Find My iPhone,” feature on her husband’s phone and used hers to locate his on a GPS-like screen map.

“We watched them drive down (U.S.) Highway 2,” said the lawyer. “So we drove out there to see if it was them.”

The couple found the trio at McDonald’s on Gateway Drive where the drive-through window is open all night.

“They were shocked that we found them,” he said.

The couple called police.

The men denied it was them. They had handed the iPhone to a McDonald’s employee in the drive-through window, telling her not to tell the police.

“But she did,” said the attorney.

Felony charges

The men soon were in the Grand Forks County jail awaiting their first appearance Monday.

Costello and Forrest each face three Class C felonies, each with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine: aggravated assault, theft and interfering with an emergency phone call. They also each face a Class B misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct for the alleged public urination.

Gore faces two Class C felony charges: interfering in an emergency telephone call and theft; he also faces misdemeanor charges for the alleged public urination and for driving with a revoked license.

All three have been working in Grand Forks painting at the new Howard Johnson’s motel downtown, the former Townhouse, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Tom Falck. They also recently have worked in western North Dakota on painting and water-proofing jobs, he said.

Kids to feed

Judicial Referee John Thelen set bail for Forrest at $5,000 cash or surety, at $7,500 for Costello based on what Falck called his “substantial criminal history” in several states, and at $3,500 for Gore – less than the others because he’s not charged with assault.

Costello asked for a lower bail, telling Thelen he needed to return to Pennsylvania. “Last year, my wife passed away and my two kids, I’m trying to provide for them. I’m not stupid. I would show up for court.”

But Thelen said Falck’s recitation of Costello’s felony convictions in Delaware, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida as well as Pennsylvania made the $7,500 bond appropriate. He also ordered Costello not to leave North Dakota pending his next court appearance.

Thelen set preliminary hearings for the three on Nov. 26.

Forrest was represented Monday by attorney David Dusek, who successfully argued for a $5,000 bail amount, rather than the $7,500 Falck initially recommended.

By late Monday afternoon, Costello and Forrest had bailed out; Gore remained in jail.

‘Pain and suffering’

The alleged victim was treated for his injuries at Altru Hospital Saturday and released.

“It still hurts,” said the attorney, mentioning a sore neck and a cut on his scalp that likely will leave a scar.

State law requires restitution for any medical bills connected to a crime of violence, he said.

Then there is civil court.

“I plan to sue them for pain and suffering and emotional distress,” he said.

He knows in such cases often there isn’t much money to be obtained, the attorney acknowledged.

“But a judgment can follow them around for the next 20 years, too,” he said. “And if they don’t pay restitution, they go back to jail.”

Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald.

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