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Published January 17, 2014, 01:23 PM

Nelson County sheriff resigns, citing investigation over 'romantic relationship'

Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke abruptly announced today he is resigning immediately to avoid prosecution over a charge he says involves a former romantic relationship outside his marriage.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke abruptly announced today he is resigning immediately to avoid prosecution over a charge he says involves a former romantic relationship outside his marriage.

Janke was in charge of the arrest of Lakota, N.D., farmer Rodney Brossart and several family members in 2011 over a neighbor’s stray cattle Brossart refused to return.

Walsh County State’s Attorney Barbara Whelan has been working on possible charges against Janke for months based on an investigation in which the Nelson County prosecutor would have a conflict of interest.

Whelan said today that Janke had been facing a possible misdemeanor charge of stalking but that the criminal investigation now was closed upon his resignation.

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

“I have worked diligently thoughout that time, including recently when I saw to the successful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of Rodney Brossart. I’m happy to have been reelected by the people I served twice, by comfortable margins,” he wrote.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

More information from Whelan’s office over the pending charge and the deal he struck with prosecutors will be available later today.

Janke also, in his news release, 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 after a deputy, on his orders, arrested Brossart June 23, 2011, over a neighbor's stray cattle that Brossart didn't immediately return. Later that day, Brossart's three sons carried firearms when Janke and other law officers tried to serve a warrant at their farm home southeast of Lakota. Not wanting to provoke violence, Janke backed off and the next day, took up the offer from U.S. Border Patrol agents to view live video of Brossart's sons to make sure they weren't carrying weapons before he arrested them June 24, 2011. That was touted by reporters world wide as the first use of a military drone in the arrest of a U.S. citizen. However, North Dakota District Judge Joel Medd, who sentenced Brossart Tuesday to six months in jail, rendered the drone use moot in the case by throwing out a motion challenging it in August 2012.

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. The primary election is June 10.