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Published November 06, 2013, 09:25 PM

Brossart’s attorneys make case for overzealous arresting officer

The deputy who arrested Lakota, N.D., farmer Rodney Brossart in 2011 was put on trial by defense attorneys in the second day of the actual trial — of Brossart on terrorizing law enforcement officers and theft of cattle.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

The deputy who arrested Lakota, N.D., farmer Rodney Brossart in 2011 was put on trial by defense attorneys in the second day of the actual trial — of Brossart on terrorizing law enforcement officers and theft of cattle.

Sgt. Eric Braathen of the Nelson County Sheriff’s Department, was a prosecution witness but was on the stand for nearly three hours, grilled mostly by Mark Friese, who with Bruce Quick is defending Brossart.

The linchpin of their defense is that Braathen’s violent arrest of Brossart June 23, 2011, in which he shocked him with a Taser several times, leaving him whimpering and at times apparently unconscious, was the real crime and done over a relatively minor complaint of a neighbor’s stray cattle, found penned up on Brossart’s land.

The jury watched the video of the arrest taken from Braathen’s squad car, seeing little of the arrest which happened off-camera in a farm ditch off the road, about four miles from Brossart’s farmstead, southeast of Lakota, N.D.

But the jury could hear it, including shouted commands from Braathen to “get on the ground, get on the ground,” and Brossart screaming back questions about why he was being arrested and inarticulate moans and cries as he’s shocked by the Taser.

Braathen testified he and brand inspector Fred Frederikson had driven separately to Brossart’s place to ask him about a complaint from neighbor Chris Anderson about three cows and their calves that had wandered onto Brossart’s land.

Unusual arrest

Frederikson, a sworn peace officer with the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, testified Wednesday that within a half-minute or less of meeting Brossart, things went south.

“I said can we go look at (the cattle) … and it was just … like it lit him. He said ‘If you go on my land you won’t walk off,’ something on that order.”

Frederikson said in 30 years in law enforcement he’s gotten into a few fights, but he had never seen an incident escalate so fast into what he described as a “deadly threat.”

“Mr. Brossart seemed like he was ready for a fight, or wanting to hurt somebody. He was tight, like he wanted to square off on a guy.”

On the video, Braathen can be heard telling other county officials, after Brossart was handcuffed in the back seat of his squad car, that he had “Tasered” Brossart “seven, eight, 10 times.”

He testified Brossart complained of chest pains and appeared to go unconscious for a time and he called for an ambulance.

Brossart was taken to Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake for a cautionary check then to the regional jail, Braathen said.

‘Armed family’

Under cross-examination by Friese Wednesday, Braathen acknowledged that after reflection and watching the arrest video, he’s sure he only shocked Brossart five times.

Also under defense cross-examination, Frederikson said he probably wouldn’t have arrested Brossart for making the threat and that such stray cattle issues were common in his work and usually worked out quickly with no legal problems.

Friese pressed Braathen on why he didn’t let Brossart finish his field drainage job and come back later to ask about the cattle.

Braathen said because of his experience with Brossart, he knew “I would be coming back to an armed family.”

That’s what happened later that day, as Brossart’s three sons brandished long guns when deputies tried to drive into their farmstead after Rodney Brossart had been booked into jail, Braathen said. The next day, Jacob, Thomas and Alex Brossart were arrested and charged with terrorizing.

Deputy’s record

Outside the jury’s presence, the defense team argued before state District Judge Joel Medd that Braathen’s job history was relevant because it showed a propensity for arresting people wrongly, without evidence and a lack of investigative ability or just plain “common sense,” according to supervisor’s evaluations from a decade ago.

With Braathen back on the stand with the jury in the courtroom, Friese pressed him about being dismissed from the Devils Lake Police Department in 2003 after only five months. Braathen said it was his first law enforcement job, that he later worked as a police officer in Hatton, N.D., and made sergeant in Nelson County in 2009.

Friese questioned Braathen about his 2006 arrest of Brossart over a road maintenance dispute in which he used a pressure hold while another deputy handcuffed the farmer.

Prosecutor Cameron Sillers initially sought to include the incident at trial to show Brossart was a longtime problem for law enforcement.

But the defense saw it as evidence of Braathen having a history of going after Brossart.

His June 23, 2011 arrest of Brossart led to a the unusual five-month stand-off of sorts, as the Brossarts, bailed out, refused to show up for court dates or to let deputies on their farmstead. Brossart’s mother brought groceries to the farm.

Defense plans

On Wednesday, after the jury was dismissed for the day, both sides argued over how far the defense could go in presenting to the jury its argument that Braathen’s actions, not Brossart, caused the whole conflict.

“The defense wants to blame law enforcement for not doing its job,” Sillers told Medd. “They want to blame (neighbor) Chris Anderson for letting his cattle go astray. They want to blame anybody but Mr. Brossart.”

Quick said the heart of their defense is what he called the improper arrest of Brossart by Braathen.

Judge Medd told the jury the trial likely will end Thursday and they should expect to work late, if necessary, in their deliberations.

Defense attorney Quick told Sillers after recess that he had three witnesses to call Thursday. It was not clear if Brossart himself will testify.

Brossart’s three sons’ trials on terrorizing charges have not been scheduled. Brossart’s wife, Susan, and his mother, as well as the Brossart’s three youngest children, all school-age, sat in the gallery Wednesday behind Brossart and the defense table.