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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published November 04 2013

Lakota farmer goes on trial for terrorizing, theft in 2011 incident

GRAND FORKS – When Rodney Brossart’s trial on charges of terrorizing of deputies and theft of cattle opens here Tuesday, the prosecutor wants to introduce evidence that the Lakota farmer resisted arrest years earlier by the same deputy who shot him with a stun gun and arrested him in June 2011 over six stray animals.

It wasn’t clear Monday if the judge will allow it.

Brossart’s 2011 arrest over a neighbor’s six stray head of cattle he had penned up on his land led to several months of a low-grade stand-off in which Brossart and his family refused to allow deputies on their farmstead and didn’t show up for court hearings.

The use by Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke of live video offered by the U.S. Border Patrol from a Predator drone observing Brossart’s sons just before their arrest June 24, 2011, got international attention as one of the first uses of a military-style drone in the arrest of a U.S. citizen.

But North Dakota District Judge Joel Medd threw out the drone issue in 2012, saying it was irrelevant to the case.

Earlier this year, Medd also threw out a plea deal that would have dismissed the felony charges against Brossart and his three sons in exchange for their guilty pleas to misdemeanor charges that would mean no jail time.

That set up the schedule for this week’s trial with Medd determined to see out the case, despite his Sept. 1 retirement.

Trial history

Controversy over the case and the Brossarts led Nelson County State’s Attorney Doug Manbeck suddenly to resign earlier this year and Grand Forks State’s Attorney Peter Welte to decline to give further help in the prosecution.

Nelson County had to appoint a special prosecutor for the case, Langdon attorney Cameron Sillers, when its new state’s attorney only took the job if he didn’t have to handle the Brossart case.

Brossart is charged with two felony counts: terrorizing law enforcement officers and the theft of $6,000 worth of cows and calves. Each count has a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of doing $1,000 damage to the inside of a deputy’s vehicle.

His sons, Alex, Jacob and Thomas, each face a felony count of terrorizing. Their trials have not been scheduled.

Janke and his deputies allege Brossart threatened violence against them and that Brossart’s sons brandished weapons on the day their father was arrested in 2011.

The trial is in Grand Forks because Medd moved it last year from Lakota when Brossart’s attorney, Bruce Quick, argued the farmer couldn’t get a fair trial in his home county because of years of feuding with neighbors and local officials.

Alleged threat

That feuding, in fact, was part of Siller’s motion last month seeking permission to use “prior bad acts” to show the jury why law enforcement officers feared Brossart’s alleged threat made against them during the violent arrest June 23, 2011.

During Brossart’s 2011 arrest, Nelson County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Braathen shot Brossart with a stun gun and, with another officer’s help, handcuffed him. Braathen alleges Brossart said if they went on his property to check the stray cattle, “You’re gonna not be walking away,” according to court documents.

Sillers argued in his motion that Braathen’s confrontation with Brossart in 2006 explains why the deputy went to the extent of stunning and handcuffing Brossart in 2011 over what was only a misdemeanor offense at that point.

In April 2006, Deputy Braathen responded to complaints Brossart was illegally blocking and maintaining a township road with his tractor.

Braathen testified Brossart refused to comply and with another deputy’s help, handcuffed Brossart, who in August 2006 was convicted of preventing arrest, a misdemeanor.

His sentence was deferred for two years and then dismissed.

But not before Brossart appealed it to the state Supreme Court, arguing his rights were violated. In 2007, the high court agreed with the lower court’s sentence.

Only days ago, Brossart’s attorney, Quick, filed a reply opposing Siller’s motion about using the 2006 arrest information. On Thursday Medd filed a decision on the question.

But Medd also last week ordered his decision as well as Quick’s motion and Siller’s – which previously had been available to the public – sealed from public view as jury selection loomed.

The trial opens today with jury selection. The prosecution lists only four witnesses in pre-trial filings, and Sheriff Janke is not one of them.

Medd earlier dismissed charges against Brossart’s wife, Susan, and their daughter, Abby, related to the 2011 incidents after pre-trial conferences.