Spitting on an officer nets a felony charge; Dickinson police: Incidents are increasing but still rare
It might happen in a fit of rage and seem like a disrespectful but harmless way to show distaste, but spitting on a police or correctional officer carries jail time and a hefty fine, officials said.
Two such incidents occurred in Stark County in the third week of June, according to court documents.
Contact by bodily fluids or excrement is a Class C felony in North Dakota, and can carry a penalty of up to five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine, according to North Dakota law.
These types of incidents don't happen that often, Dickinson Police Department Capt. David Wilkie said, with one happening to DPD in 2011.
"Part of the reason it doesn't happen a lot is because they usually get charged out for it," he said. "And it's just another charge that they don't need and they know that our state's attorney will charge it out."
The first happened June 17 against Stark County Sheriff's Office Deputy Tim Josephson. While the deputy administered blood-alcohol level test, Ronald George Himmer Jr., Dickinson, allegedly spit in Josephson's face, according to the criminal complaint.
The second incident occurred June 19 at St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center in Dickinson when Kelly Sturgis, Rathdrum, Idaho, allegedly spit in the face of DPD officer Todd Weiler while being arrested for actual physical control, according to the criminal complaint.
Capt. Fern Moser of the Stark County Sheriff's Office said spitting in the face of an officer is rare for his office as well. The SCSO had two incidents in 2011.
"Some of the increase in some of the kinds of offenses we are seeing reflect a little bit on the times," Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said.
In the Stark County incident, the defendant was arrested for a DUI, Moser said. If it was his first offense, it would have been a lighter maximum sentence than spitting carries.
People charged with this offense are usually either locked away or in trouble with law officers to begin with, and spitting on an officer only adds fuel to the flames, Henning and Moser said.
"You had a small charge on you -- a serious charge -- but it's still a small charge," that was increased five-fold, Moser said using the first time DUI offense as an example.
A felony also takes away the privilege of an arrestee to post bond and leave immediately, he said.
The contact by bodily fluids or excrement law was enacted by the North Dakota Legislature in 1999.
Not knowing what diseases an arrestee could be spreading is the biggest fear when coming in contact with bodily fluids, even saliva, Moser said.
"In law enforcement, you can't really ask anybody their medical background," he said.
Beyond the medical worries, officers can feel scorned when someone spits on them, Wilkie said.
"It's a form of disrespect," he said. "It's something we talk about when it does happen, because it doesn't happen very often."
Listings for Sturgis and Himmer could not be located.