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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published January 17 2014

ND county sheriff resigns, cites investigation over 'romantic relationship'

LAKOTA, N.D. - Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke announced Friday he is resigning immediately to avoid criminal prosecution over a charge involving an extramarital affair.

Janke made the national news as being in charge of the arrest of Lakota farmer Rodney Brossart and several family members in 2011 over a neighbor’s stray cattle Brossart refused to return. Brossart was sentenced Tuesday to six months in jail for terrorizing a deputy and stock detective during his arrest.

Walsh County State’s Attorney Barbara Whelan was appointed prosecutor in Janke’s case in late November after state police had spent nearly two years investigating allegations about Janke’s behavior with women.

Whelan said Friday that she would have charged Janke with a misdemeanor charge of stalking a woman, but that the criminal investigation now was closed upon his resignation.

In a news release Friday morning, Janke, a former Grand Forks police officer, wrote that he was resigning after eight years as sheriff in Nelson County.

“Two years ago I made a serious error in judgment and entered into a romantic relationship outside my marriage. It was wrong, as I knew then and know now. We ended the relationship and since then, I have worked hard to repair the hurt I caused to my wife and children, to make amends and to strive to be a better person. I am blessed beyond words to have a forgiving and loving family and I am grateful for their support today,” he wrote.

“But during the past two years, the details of the relationship and how it ended came to the attention of the state. They conducted an exhaustive two-year investigation, running down to ground virtually any allegation or rumor anyone managed to dig up about me. I cooperated with the investigation fully, and hid nothing. At the end, I was given a choice of either resigning, or battling a single misdemeanor charge in court. Rather than put my family through the pain of my betrayal once again, I chose to resign.”

“I made a mistake, and have apologized to my family, an apology they’ve accepted. Legally, I would like to believe I could have won a trial on the charge in question. But as a husband and father, that would have been a second mistake. Resignation is the best course for our family.”

Investigation

In a letter to Nelson County State’s Attorney Jayme Tenneson and Janke’s attorney, Whelan said Janke’s affair with the woman actually began in mid-2010.

According to Whelan’s letter, after their relationship ended, Janke stalked the woman using dozens of text messages in January and early February 2012. The woman, called “Jane Doe #1” by Whelan, said she and Janke had a three-month affair in 2010, when the woman “was vulnerable due to her divorce,” and that Janke used his county cell phone to contact her.

In late 2011, the woman told investigators she again had intimate contact with the sheriff when she was “scared of Janke,” and worried he might harm the man she was dating.

Whelan said Janke’s text messages to the woman “represent the classic manipulation used by a jilted lover,” and that records show the woman did not respond. Whelan also said Janke abused his authority as sheriff by using official resources to check on people for personal reasons.

A letter of complaint over Janke’s alleged harassment of Jane Doe #1 was sent in February 2012 to Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s office, which contacted the woman. Janke also apparently became aware of the governor’s office involvement because the woman said at that time Janke stopped all contact with her, according to Whelan’s letter.

Whelan said in her letter that the investigation found reports of Janke harassing other women, some of the accounts not corroborated by any solid evidence.

But in one case, Whelan said she thought there was probable cause to charge Janke with gross sexual imposition involving another woman who was intoxicated at the time.

But Whelan said she declined to prosecute that matter due to “the delay in reporting” the incident by the alleged victim and “the consumption of alcohol by the parties.”

She told the alleged victim, “Jane Doe #2,” and her husband of her decision not to prosecute and of Janke’s decision to resign. The couple told her they “are deeply disappointed in Sheriff Janke, who they once considered a friend. Nevertheless, both Jane Doe #2 and her husband were satisfied with my decision, indicated they wanted the issues put to rest and did not want to participate in a criminal trial,” Whelan told county officials.

Whelan said Jane Doe #1, the alleged victim of the stalking, also was satisfied that Janke resigned and “would like to put these matters behind her and avoid a criminal trial.”

Janke, through his attorney, Daniel Traynor of Devils Lake, “has expressed deep remorse for this situation,” Whelan wrote.

Traynor told Whelan that Janke maintains his innocence of stalking Jane Doe #1, but “has chosen to resign from office to avoid a criminal trial and that he will not be seeking future employment in law enforcement,” Whelan said in her letter to county officials.

Interim appointment

In his resignation letter, Janke wrote:

“To the people of Nelson County, I also offer my apology. I let down the public trust. For that I am sorry. I pledge to continue to contribute to the community as a private citizen, and hope that my mistake does not make that more difficult in the future.”

Janke also asked the news media to respect the privacy of his family regarding details of the investigation. He said he would have no comment outside of his press release.

Janke received international attention in the Brossart case when he allowed U.S. Border Patrol agents to use a military drone to observe Brossart’s sons before their June 2011 arrest.

Janke’s resignation was effective Friday and Chief Deputy Sgt. Eric Braathen was named acting sheriff, said Nelson County Auditor Jack Davidson.

Nelson County officials can appoint an interim sheriff to replace Janke until the next election in November. Petitions to run for sheriff must be filed by April 7.

Braathen is one of four deputies in the department and the one who arrested Rodney Brossart.

Braathen also Friday picked up petitions to circulate as a first step to getting on the June primary ballot for sheriff, said Davidson, who expects others also to run for the position.

County commissioners will meet Tuesday to officially appoint an interim sheriff, Davidson said.

Janke was making $53,647.56 a year, Davidson said.

No severance package was given, except for the state requirement that Janke’s health insurance be paid through February.

Reporter Kevin Bonham contributed to this article.