Farmer accused of terrorizing goes on trial
GRAND FORKS — A Lakota, N.D., farmer accused of stealing cattle and threatening deputies who tried to arrest him is a victim of “government on steroids,” his attorney said Tuesday in Grand Forks while the prosecutor said it was the farmer who provoked deputies.
Rodney Brossart was arrested in 2011 after a standoff of several months during which he and his family refused to allow deputies on their farmstead and failed to appear for court hearings.
Defense attorney Bruce Quick of Fargo criticized deputies, saying they didn’t provide the paperwork to justify Brossart’s arrest and didn’t give him a chance to comply.
Prosecutor Cameron Sillers of Langdon said Brossart refused to cooperate and threatened the deputies.
Both said they will present video and audio recordings from the arrest.
A jury was selected earlier Tuesday.
The trial is being held in Grand Forks rather than Lakota because Quick said Brossart couldn’t get a fair trial in his home county after longtime feuds with neighbors and local officials.
The county’s new prosecutor would agree to the job only if he would not have to handle the case, which led to Sillers’ appointment as prosecutor.
Brossart is charged with two felony counts of terrorizing law enforcement officers and the theft of $6,000 worth of cows and calves. Each count carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. He’s also charged with a misdemeanor for causing damage to a deputy’s vehicle.
His sons Alex, Jacob and Thomas each face a felony count of terrorizing after Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke and his deputies alleged they brandished weapons on the day of the arrest.
‘Had to get control’
Attorneys from both sides described Brossart’s arrest on June 23, 2011, as a quick one after a verbal exchange escalated between him and Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Braathen.
Neighbor Chris Anderson talked to Brossart after identifying his missing cattle by their ear tags and following the animal’s tracks, which led to Brossart’s hay bale storage corral on a former missile site near his farm, Sillers said.
Anderson noticed four-wheeler tracks near the animals’ footprints and believed Brossart, who denied knowing about the cattle and later refused to return them, had chased them in, Sillers said.
After Anderson brought along law enforcement officers to help retrieve the animals, Brossart refused to cooperate, Sillers said. “This escalated from a simple ‘Can I look at the cattle?’ to a brawl.”
Sillers described officers attempting a few times to reason with Brossart, but the fight grew so intense that Braathen used a stun gun to prevent it from escalating. Other members of Brossart’s family had tried coming to their father’s aid, and Brossart’s daughter, Abby, was charged with hitting a deputy.
“What are they going to do? They had to get control of the situation,” Sillers said.
Quick described a different scene, saying Brossart was approached by Braathen and “someone he didn’t know,” and they immediately interrogated him about the lost cattle.
Brossart wasn’t even aware of the cattle, as two of his children found the animals the night before and saw they had independently wandered into their open corral, Quick said. One of them used a four-wheeler to check on the cattle, he said.
“They weren’t chased by anybody, they simply walked in,” he said.
Brossart, who was operating farm equipment when approached by officers, told them several times he would respond to their request once he finished up, but Braathen demanded it happen that minute, he said.
Quick also brought up Braathen’s career in law enforcement, saying he was fired in Devils Lake for several reasons including having difficulty “figuring out the crime.”
When Brossart asked deputies several times why he was being arrested, Braathen didn’t provide paperwork, Quick said. “Lessons in high school government class tell you you can’t just arrest someone” without authorization.
Although the verbal exchange between them lasted a minute or so, Brossart was “brutally manhandled” for a much longer period of time and shot with the stun gun “eight to 10 times,” Quick said.
Sillers said Brossart was given the opportunity to work with law enforcement several times, but instead threatened them.
“It is chaos, utter chaos,” Sillers said. “All of this happened because Brossart made some choices. He’s the one who started this.”
Quick said state law protects his client. It allows residents to detain lost cattle as a safety measure, because the animals may get run over or hurt other people, he said. “This is not a crime, this is a civil matter.”