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Published December 04, 2013, 09:23 AM

Terrorizing trial of ex-Grand Forks cop starts

The defense lawyer for a former Grand Forks police officer on trial for allegedly terrorizing a man by holding a gun to the man's head said Tuesday that even the victim thought it was only a joke.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

The defense lawyer for a former Grand Forks police officer on trial for allegedly terrorizing a man by holding a gun to the man's head said Tuesday that even the victim thought it was only a joke.

Testimony from a friend of Jace Prelip painted a picture of a long night of drinking that led up to the incident in Prelip's house.

Prelip, who had been on the police force about three years, quit within days of the Aug. 28, 2012, incident, as the department began its internal investigation into the matter.

Prelip was charged with felony terrorizing in November 2012 in state district court in Grand Forks. The crime carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, but also includes a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison because it involves a firearm.

Prelip now lives in Savage, Minn., near the Twin Cities.

The jury of nine men and four women, including an alternate, may get the case Wednesday. Court officials cautioned jurors, however, to check early to see if bad weather postpones the trial.

'10, 12 drinks'

According to Wesley Vert, a city police officer who was a close friend of Prelip's, a group of law enforcement officers that included Vert, Prelip, at least one more city police officer, a UND police officer and a Grand Forks County Sheriff's deputy began their night out at about 8 p.m. Aug. 27, 2012, at Wild Hog.

The group then went to the Tavern United bar at the CanadInn about 10 p.m., staying until it closed near 2 a.m., Vert said.

Under questioning from Paul Emerson, an assistant state attorney general prosecuting the case, Vert said he had "10, 12 drinks," including "beers, mixed drinks and shots," by the time the group left the Tavern in a hotel shuttle taxi to go to Prelip's house at 1310 15th St. S.

Everyone was too drunk to drive, Vert said.

The drinking continued at Prelip's house. Within about a half-hour, Prelip went to his bedroom, returned with a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun and held it up to, or against, the left side of Jeremy Linn's head "for one or two seconds," Vert testified.

"He made some sort of comment, which we all perceived to be a joke and kind of just laughed it off," Vert said. Linn laughed, too, and the talking and drinking went on for hours after the incident and Linn did not appear angry or upset, said Vert.

He and Prelip had never met Linn before that night, but were introduced to him by Cheryl Sevigny, a UND police officer they ran into at the Tavern, Vert said.

Linn, who attended UND's aviation school at the time, is expected to testify Wednesday.

Recollection

Cash Aaland, the Fargo attorney defending Prelip, asked Vert if the heavy drinking that night might affect his memory and perceptions of what happened at Prelip's house.

Probably, as well as the 16 months since the event, Vert said.

Vert said he was carrying his off-duty handgun at Prelip's and took it off and kind of "hid" it on a shelf during the early morning party.

Why, Aaland asked.

Because he had been drinking and "alcohol and guns don't mix," Vert said.

Had Vert himself violated any departmental policy on carrying a gun while drinking off-duty, Aaland asked him.

No, Vert said.

Aaland asked Vert if he had the authority, even when off-duty, to arrest anyone if he saw a crime being committed.

Yes, Vert said.

"You didn't see any crimes committed in your presence (that night), correct?"

"I guess not," Vert said.

Emerson, the prosecutor, had one question for Vert: "Is there any doubt in your mind that the defendant put a handgun to the head of Jeremy Linn that night?"

No, Vert said.

Aaland punched right back in his cross-examination: "Is there any doubt in your mind that it was a joke?"

"No, sir," Vert said.

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