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N.D. rancher takes case against Sheriff's Dept. to Supreme Court

Rodney Brossart claims a Nelson County sheriff’s deputy used excessive force when he shot the rancher with a Taser in a dispute over cattle and has taken his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

LAKOTA, N.D.—A northeast North Dakota rancher who claims a Nelson County sheriff's deputy used excessive force when he shot the rancher with a Taser in a dispute over cattle has taken his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court docketed Rodney Brossart's civil case on Jan. 2, according to the court's website. Brossart, his wife Susan and their son Thomas, are asking the Supreme Court to reverse lower court rulings that kept their case from going before a jury.

"They want their day in court," said Timothy Lamb, a Grand Forks attorney who is representing the Brossarts.

The lawsuit comes nearly seven years after a confrontation between the Nelson County Sheriff's Department and Rodney Brossart led to the Lakota rancher's arrest. The Brossarts said they discovered stray cattle June 22, 2011, on their property and corralled them for safe keeping until the owner was found. The next day, Chris Anderson came to claim the cattle.

Investigators said in court documents Rodney Brossart told Anderson he would have to buy the cattle back, but the brief filed with the Supreme Court claims Anderson never asked for the return of his cattle.

Then-Sheriff's Deputy Eric Braathen and North Dakota Stockmen's Association Officer Fred Frederikson eventually approached Rodney Brossart, asking him about the cattle. Braathen threatened to take the rancher to jail if he didn't let them search his property, according to the brief. Lamb said Braathen didn't have a search warrant.

Dash cam video from Braathen's vehicle shows the confrontation, most of it off-camera with audio. At one point, Rodney Brossart said, "If you can step foot on that property, mister, you're not going to be walking away." That escalated to shouting from both Braathen and Rodney Brossart until Braathen used his Taser on the rancher.

"In total, over the course of six minutes, Deputy Braathen pulled the trigger at least seven times for a total of at least 19-21 seconds of 'riding the bear,' as he described it," Lamb wrote in his brief.

The brief also claims Braathan used a Taser on Thomas Brossart when the rancher was arrested June 24, 2011, while he was handcuffed in the back of a sheriff's vehicle.

Rodney Brossart's arrest led to several standoffs involving his family. During one of the standoffs, law enforcement used a Predator drone from Customs and Border Protection—at the time, it was thought to be the first time an unmanned aircraft was used to assist in the arrest of U.S. citizens.

The rancher was found guilty of a terrorizing charge in November 2013, but that ruling was reversed in another trial in September 2015. The Brossarts attempted to sue Braathen, former Sheriff Kelly Janke and Nelson County, claiming Braathen used excessive force.

A federal judge dismissed the civil case, saying in part, "(Rodney Brossart) engaged in conduct during the course of his encounter with law enforcement officers that renders Braathen's conduct reasonable."

The Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed that decision twice.

Grand Forks attorney Howard Swanson, who is representing Braathen, Janke and Nelson County in the case, filed a waiver Tuesday, Jan. 16, to the Supreme Court saying he did not intend to respond to the brief.

About 7,000 petitioners ask the high court to review cases every year, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The justices hear about 100 to 150 of those cases.

Lamb said he didn't want to speculate on whether the Supreme Court would take the Brossart case, though Swanson said the chances of the case being reviewed at the top level is "extremely unlikely."

It's uncertain when the Supreme Court will announce whether it will consider the case.

Janke, who was the sheriff at the time of Rodney Brossart's arrest but was not present during the incident, resigned in early 2014.

Braathen left Nelson County after Keith Olson was appointed the county's sheriff. He took a job as police chief in Killdeer, N.D., in 2014.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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