FARGO — A North Dakota Air National Guard member who raped his subordinate has been sentenced to five years in prison.
Erik Eldon Clemenson, 45, of Glyndon, Minn., was taken into custody immediately after the sentencing hearing Tuesday, July 6, in Cass County District Court. A jury found him guilty in April of sexual imposition, a Class B felony that carried a maximum punishment of 10 years behind bars.
Clemenson coerced a woman into having sex with him in early November 2019 at her home in Fargo, the jury found. At the time, he was a technical sergeant for the Fargo-based 119th Wing, also known as the Happy Hooligans.
“Emotionally, this crime has torn me to pieces,” said the woman who was of lesser rank than Clemenson when he sexually assaulted her.
The Forum typically does not name survivors of sexual assault.
Clemenson, the woman and other guard members went to a restaurant and bar on Nov. 7, 2019, after receiving the night off. She did not have alcohol since she wasn’t of legal drinking age, but Clemenson did, according to court documents.
He asked her for a ride and to stay on her couch, court records said.
The woman told Clemenson to sleep on the couch once they got to her apartment, but he later came into her room and said he was sleeping with her, she testified during the trial. Despite saying no several times, Clemenson raped her, she said.
Clemenson told police the sex was consensual.
The woman said Tuesday she still has nightmares and flashbacks.
“He took my right of feeling safe and secure away from me,” she said. “It angers me that he made me go through this and made me believe that I deserved this, somehow making me think this is all my fault.”
The assault also has impacted her view on her career in the military, she said. She previously was passionate about the Air National Guard, but now she is reminded of her assault whenever she works, she said.
“He took away my love for my career,” she said.
Clemenson hadn’t apologized before Tuesday because he was under orders from the Air National Guard not to, his attorney Mark Friese said. The guard member has admitted that his actions were illegal, unprofessional and wrong, the lawyer said.
“I am truly sorry,” Clemenson said Tuesday. “I had no clue I had hurt someone that I had considered a dear friend.”
Friese asked for 180 days in jail for Clemenson.
Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Younggren noted previous misconduct incidents and said Clemenson should get five years in prison.
Clemenson was fired as a Lisbon, N.D., police officer after being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and making false reports to law enforcement in 1999. The case was sealed after being dismissed, a fact that should make the contributing case inadmissible for consideration in sentencing, Friese said.
The National Guard also confirmed several reports of sexual harassment regarding Clemenson after he made inappropriate comments, Younggren said. In 2012, Clemenson was investigated by the Guard for making sexual jokes in 2007 around another female guard member, Younggren said.
Clemenson reportedly said if she couldn’t handle it, she was in the wrong career, the prosecutor added.
Younggren also detailed sexual comments Clemenson made around the woman he raped.
In July 2020, months after the assault, Clemenson said in front of the woman: “If rape is a part of entry into the military, I want to be the first on board,” Younggren said, citing a military investigation.
A presentencing report indicated Clemenson showed signs of narcissism and distorted reality to confirm his beliefs, Younggren said. That could include Clemenson saying someone who finds his “jokes” offensive is too sensitive, Younggren said.
Clemenson joined the Guard in 1994. He resigned from full-time service to part-time in November, and he was demoted from his position as a technical sergeant, a Guard spokesperson said.
Friese said his client has lost his part-time status and is in the process of discharge proceedings, meaning he is likely to lose his military benefits.
“In large part, your honor, Mr. Clemenson has lost his entire identity,” Friese said.
Clemenson has taken little to no responsibility for his actions, Judge Steven Marquart said. The guard member was offered rides from friends the night of the sexual assault, Marquart said. Clemenson also claimed his friends ditched him when he asked to stay at the woman’s house, but he actually turned down the rides from others, Marquart noted.
“He specifically wanted to ride home with (the woman), knowing what he was going to do,” Marquart said. “He had no intentions of sleeping on the couch. He had sex against her will.”
Once released from prison, Clemenson will serve 10 years of supervised probation. He will have to register as a sex offender.