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Third McKenzie County officer embroiled in charges

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- A McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department deputy has been charged with criminal behavior, and the case has been assigned elsewhere due to prosecution and judicial conflicts. In November, the county's sheriff was charged with misusing public funds.

Deputy Travis Bateman is the latest of three cases brought against personnel in the department. He was charged Friday with felony reckless endangerment for using his vehicle to crash into a fleeing motorcycle, ejecting and injuring the motorcycle driver and his passenger, according to the affidavit filed in court.

Meanwhile, McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger pleaded not guilty Monday to a misdemeanor for allegedly misusing nearly $1,000 in public funds to buy his wife’s airfare, golf fees and a casino dinner during a law enforcement conference in Las Vegas. The sheriff, who is in his first year in office, was charged Nov. 4.

In the Bateman case, a Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agent said the incident occurred in late August, when a North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper was trying to stop a motorcyclist for speeding. The trooper alerted Bateman, who was heading toward the situation on Highway 85 south of Watford City. Bateman came head-on in the trooper’s lane, sandwiching the motorcycle between the two enforcement vehicles. When the motorcycle turned to avoid a head-on with Bateman, the deputy is accused of turning his vehicle into the motorcycle, ejecting the motorcycle driver and his passenger and injuring both, the affidavit says.

A body video camera recorded Bateman shrugging his shoulders and calling the motorcycle driver an idiot, the affidavit says. A preliminary hearing is scheduled Feb. 4 in the case.

In another case, McKenzie County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Schmitz was charged in August with two misdemeanors for lying to officers about his alleged prescription drug use and about his role in a domestic and divorce case in which he apparently aided an ex-husband by following and photographing the ex-wife. His case is scheduled for trial in May.

Divide County State’s Attorney Seymour Jordan is prosecuting the cases against deputies Bateman and Schmitz, to avoid ethical conflicts with the McKenzie County prosecutor. Assistant Attorney General Paul Emerson is prosecuting Schwartzenberger and, because of a judicial recusal in the sheriff’s home court district, his appearances are in South Central District Court in Bismarck.