LaMoure police chief accused of sexual abuse of a child pleads not guilty
DICKINSON, N.D.—The former LaMoure, N.D., police chief accused of continuous sexual abuse of a child, with charges spreading across four counties in southwest North Dakota, pleaded not guilty to all charges during a joint preliminary hearing in Dickinson, N.D., on Monday afternoon, Oct. 2.
James G. Watson, 52 of LaMoure, was originally charged with the following charges:
• Stark County, N.D.: One count of continuous sexual abuse of a child, a Class AA felony.
• Golden Valley County, N.D.: One count of continuous sexual abuse of a child, a Class AA felony.
• Hettinger County, N.D.: Three counts of gross sexual imposition, two of these counts were Class AA felonies and the other was a Class A felony.
• Billings County, N.D.: Two counts of gross sexual imposition-sexual act by force, both Class AA felonies and one count of gross sexual imposition, a Class A felony.
State's attorneys in each county were present including: Stark County state's attorney Tom Henning, Golden Valley state's attorney Christina Wenko, Hettinger County state's attorney Amy Pikovsky and Billings County state's attorney Jay Brovold.
North Dakota Bureau of Investigations special agent Timothy Helmer painted a disturbing picture for the court, as he described interviews with the victim. Helmer said the victim told him the abuse began when she was in first grade and her family lived in a different state.
At various points throughout the abuse, Helmer said Watson had allegedly made threats against the victim if she did not comply. The victim also told Helmer that Watson would allegedly choke her to make her comply at times.
Helmer said the family moved to North Dakota around fall 2011 when the victim was about 13 years old and said the family lived in a tent for about three weeks near Patterson Lake in Dickinson. According to a complaint filed in Stark County, Watson allegedly "willfully engaged in any combination of three or more sexual acts or sexual contacts with a minor who was under the age of 15 during a time period of three or more months."
The family then moved to Buffalo Gap Ranch in Golden Valley County in September 2011. There the victim told Helmer about a similar set of events. Helmer said this occurred on a weekly basis until the family moved again around January 2012.
The family then moved to Medora, in Billings County, where more of the same acts occurred. This abuse also continued on a weekly basis until the family moved again in April 2012.
At one point the victim said they had to continue to do the acts "or else," though it was not clear exactly what that may have meant, but the victim told Helmer she believed that potentially meant physical harm.
The family then moved to South Heart, located in Stark County, where the alleged abuse continued on a weekly basis.
After a year the family moved again, this time to Mott, located in Hettinger County, in April 2013. Again, Helmer said the victim told him the abuse continued on a weekly basis. However, at this point the victim had said her "will was gone" and she "reluctantly" consented. During this time either Watson or his wife allegedly told the victim they would kill her if she ever told anyone about the abuse. The victim ran away from home the day she turned 18 and did not speak to them after that.
Watson's attorney, Kevin McCabe, said he believed Hettinger and Billings counties did not have enough probable cause to charge Watson with gross sexual imposition, noting that according to Helmer's testimony it was not clear exactly who threatened the victim with potential death if she told someone. He also noted it was not clear when or where the alleged choking of the victim took place.
Southwest District Judge Rhonda Ehlis dismissed one Class AA felony and one Class A felony in the Hettinger County case, as she believed there was not enough probable cause presented by the state to prove that the victim was "forced" to perform the acts. In Billings County, Ehlis dismissed both Class AA felonies, again citing lack of probable cause.
Watson pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Ehlis also indicated that each case will have its own separate trial in its respective county, dates for those trials have not been set.