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Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald, Published January 24 2013

Brossart family reaches plea deal with prosecutors over stand-off charges

The Lakota, N.D., farmer involved in a months-long stand-off with law enforcement in 2011 has struck a plea deal that would keep him and four of his children from serving any time behind bars or having a felony on their record.

The deal with Rodney Brossart, 56, was reached Dec. 20 but wasn’t filed and available in court records until Wednesday.

Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke accused Brossart of resisting arrest, damaging a law enforcement vehicle and threatening deputies. Three Brossart sons are accused of pointing rifles at deputies and a daughter is accused of assaulting a deputy.

The felony charges the five had faced each carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

On Wednesday, Janke criticized the plea deal: “This case needs to go to trial. Let it go before (Brossart’s) peers. We stand strong on that. Justice will not be served if the Northeast Judicial District of North Dakota accepts such a plea.”

Grand Forks County State’s Attorney Peter Welte, who led the prosecution at the request of the Nelson County state’s attorney, said Wednesday he couldn’t say much until the judge rules on the plea agreement.

But it’s typical before taking a case to trial to try to resolve it, he said.

“We are satisfied that throughout this matter we treated the proceedings in this case the same as any proceedings,” Welte said. “Evidentiary-wise, this is where a Grand Forks County jury would settle on convictions in these cases.”

The long-unfolding case began with Brossart’s refusal June 23, 2011, to return three cows and three calves that strayed from a neighbor’s pasture. It led to the stand-off at their sprawling farmstead southeast of Lakota, about 60 miles west of Grand Forks.

The case garnered international attention because Janke used a drone, proffered by federal agents, to surveil Brossart’s sons before arresting them the day after Brossart was arrested.

It reportedly was the first, or one of the first, cases of a government drone being used to arrest an American citizen.

Plea deal

According to court records, Brossart agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief for damaging a sheriff’s vehicle during his arrest June 23, 2011.

It’s an Alford plea, in which he doesn’t admit wrongdoing, but that there is enough evidence for a jury to convict him.

He will pay restitution of $1,021 for the damage, plus $300 in fines and fees, and serve a year of unsupervised probation.

In exchange, Welte agreed to recommend that imposition of a jail sentence of up to one year be deferred for one year, then dropped.

Welte also agreed to dismiss felony charges against Brossart of terrorizing and theft, and misdemeanor charges of violating state law on stray animals and resisting arrest.

State District Judge Joel Medd still has to accept the plea agreement. The case was moved from Nelson County to Grand Forks County after defense attorneys said the Brossart family’s history of feuding with neighbors and local officials, along with the small population of the county, made finding an unbiased jury pool difficult.

Other charges

In parallel but separate actions involving the close-knit family, Welte also agreed to amend the felony terrorizing charges against Brossart’s sons — Alex, 28, Thomas, 25 and Jacob, 22 — down to misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct if they enter similar Alford guilty pleas. They would serve a year of unsupervised probation and each pay $225 in fines and fees.

Brossart’s daughter, Abby Brossart, 30, faced a felony charge of assaulting an officer. Brossart’s wife, Susan, had faced a misdemeanor charge of lying to deputies about the number of firearms hidden at the family farm.

Both women were offered “pre-trial diversions” of their charges, meaning the charges go away.

Janke and his deputies met with Welte in December to express their concerns regarding plea deals. The sheriff said Wednesday he and other law enforcement officers have filed victim impact statements with the court, hoping the judge will not accept the plea deal.