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Published April 13, 2012, 07:49 PM

ND Family Involved in Standoff Wants Charges Dismissed, Trial Venue Moved

LAKOTA, ND (WDAZ-TV) The Lakota-area farm family accused in an hours-long armed standoff last June has filed motions in court to move their trial from Nelson County and have all criminal charges dismissed.

By: Rick Abbott, WDAZ

LAKOTA, ND (WDAZ-TV) The Lakota-area farm family accused in an hours-long armed standoff last June has filed motions in court to move their trial from Nelson County and have all criminal charges dismissed.

The Brossarts had their failure to appear in court charges dismissed earlier. The family farms a few miles south of Lakota, ND. They have not made pleas in the case yet.

Drone use in arrest

But now the defense has filed motions to dismiss other charges. According to the motion, the case has received "extensive" local media coverage and increased exposure by the use of unmanned aircraft and the "guerrilla-like police tactics (that) resulted in substantial local and nationwide publicity."

In a recent interview with US News and World Report, the father of the family, Rodney, said he had "no clue" that an unmanned drone was used during the June standoff. Brossart said he believed what the SWAT team did was "definitely illegal."

The family's counsel echoed that view in the recently filed motions. They say the drone was dispatched to collect intelligence data on the family and authorities had no judicial approval or warrant.

Since it was revealed that a drone was used in the arrest, the case has garnered national attention. But John Villasenor, an expert on drone use with the Brookings Institution, told US News that he would be "floored" if the court throws the case out based on the drone use. He also said using a drone is no different than using a helicopter.

According to the motion filed by the Brossart attorneys, the drone wasn't visible or detectable by "ordinary observation."

After the drone pinpointed three unarmed suspects the day after the initial standoff, officers swarmed the area and made the first known arrests of US citizens with help from a spy drone.

Officials had cited "interior law enforcement support" as part of the overall Predator drone mission. The FBI and DEA have used Predators for other domestic investigations. Predators are also used in military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Cattle concerns

The entire ordeal started last June when six cattle wandered from a neighbor's property onto the Brossart's land. Law enforcement claimed the cattle were strays, requiring notification of the sheriff or chief brand inspector. But the Brossart attorneys say the cows were not stray because they had a known owner who knew where they were. They allege the cows ate feed on Brossart property and thus caused damage, allowing Rodney to "take up the offending livestock" according to the North Dakota Century Code.

Attorneys argue that because the Brossarts were in lawful possession of the cattle, and that officers at the ranch were trying to retrieve the cattle, the officers should be charged with Class B misdemeanors.

Original arrests, video evidence

Officers with the Nelson County Sheriff's Department approached Rodney and Jacob Brossart after they received the report of the wandering cattle.

According to the motion, Rodney wouldn't release the cattle without payment for the damages. Officers insisted that they would go onto the property, to which Rodney replied that they would not return if they went onto the property without permission.

Rodney told the officers the cattle were trespassing and attempted to return to work pumping water. According to the motion, a sheriff's deputy tried to arrest Rodney, who resisted. Attorneys filed video of the arrest in Nelson County Court and shows, according to the motion, a sheriff's deputy shocking Rodney with a Taser while he convulsed in a puddle of water.

Rodney's son Jacob ran to his father but was blocked, handcuffed and locked in a squad car. A short while later, Abby and Thomas Brossart arrived at the scene.

According to the motion, Abby "pushed (a) deputy's hand away from her face." The original criminal complaint says Abby struck the deputy on the arm, but the motion said "no reasonable person" would claim that injury or pain resulted.

She was arrested and charged with felony assault. She was also charged with harassment in a later incident where she allegedly called 911 and falsely reported Sheriff's Department officers had made death threats against her.

After Abby and Rodney were placed under arrest, officers returned with a search warrant for the cattle. The warrant was for the stretch of land near an abandoned missile silo where the cows were penned. That site is at least one-half mile from the Brossart home.

According to the motion, when told of the search warrant, the Brossart brothers told the officers they had no right to be on their property. Officers observed the brothers had firearms, but the motion leaves out some important information in the criminal complaints against the brothers. The complaints allege that the brothers pointed firearms at the officers and were running towards them. The motion says the brothers returned to the home and left the firearms inside.

Officers retreated from the area and called in reinforcements. The SWAT team from Grand Forks, a Predator drone and other agencies were mobilized, but the operation was called off overnight.

The next morning, the motion alleges officers arrived at the missile site where the cattle were, cut a lock and secured the cow-calf pairs. While officers were loading the cattle, a farm tractor with two of the Brossarts and an ATV with one passenger approached the far end of the missile site. Officers seized the two vehicles, allegedly pulling the occupants from the vehicles and arresting them.

Officers obtained a second search warrant for the entire farmstead to look for more firearms.

Attorneys allege that Rodney's seizure and arrest were unlawful and that police provoked him and used excessive force against him. They say the arrests of Abbey and Jacob Brossart show unreasonable law enforcement conduct.

Attorneys also say the warrant-less entry onto the Brossart property requires suppression of the resulting evidence and that "outrageous police conduct" requires dismissal of all the charges.

Implications

The fight over the use of evidence gained by unmanned aerial drones could have far-reaching legal impacts. Brossart attorneys say the use of the drone was unlawful and argue that, even in an instance where a search is warranted, if the warrant is executed in an "unreasonable" manner, the resulting evidence will be suppressed.

On May 14, the government will begin issuing permits for drone use by law enforcement, according to US News. About 300 law enforcement agencies, including the Grand Forks SWAT team, have temporary licenses from the FAA.

The Brossarts are scheduled to appear in court on April 30.

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