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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published November 28 2012

Ex-Grand Forks cop charged with terrorizing

GRAND FORKS - A former Grand Forks police officer appeared in court Wednesday accused of holding a handgun to another man’s head at a party in August.

Jace Austin Prelip, 27, is charged with terrorizing, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. Because the alleged crime involves a gun, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of two years, according to the judge.

Prelip, who had worked for the police department nearly three years, resigned a few days after the Aug. 29 incident, Police Chief John Packett said Wednesday.

According to the affidavit of probable cause from Special Agent Shelby Franklin of the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Prelip invited several fellow law enforcement officers to his Grand Forks apartment after 2 a.m. bar closing that morning.

Once inside, Prelip held a handgun against the head of a UND aviation student, who is about 20, the affidavit said. Among those present was city police Officer Wesley Vert, who had about as much time on the force as Prelip.

After a few moments, Prelip lowered the gun and showed Vert and the student that the ammunition magazine was not in the handle of the semi-automatic.

Besides Vert, witnesses listed by the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Paul Emerson, included other city police officers, a UND police officer and a Grand Forks County Sheriff’s deputy, according to court documents.

Packett told the Herald that once he learned of the alleged incident, he started an internal investigation and put Prelip on administrative leave pending the results. He also called in the BCI, which is under the state attorney general’s office, to investigate any possible crime involved.

But, before the department’s internal investigation got far, Prelip resigned.

Prelip turned himself in Wednesday morning after learning of an arrest warrant issued a few days ago, and appeared in court via interactive TV from the Grand Forks County jail. He listed his attorney as Cash Aaland of Fargo, who was represented by a Grand Forks attorney in court Wednesday.

His preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 28.

Prelip was released Wednesday on a personal recognizance bond of $5,000.

According to statements in court, Prelip’s job with the Navy Reserve requires him to travel to the service’s center in Minneapolis. State District Judge Lawrence Jahnke told Prelip to stay in North Dakota and Minnesota until his case is resolved.

Prelip also was a member of the local chapter of the Blue Knights, made up of active and retired law enforcement officers who like to ride motorcycles.