No charges will be filed in October fight at REAProsecutor: Not enough evidence
Prosecutors have opted not to file criminal charges against an Oslo, Minn., man involved in an altercation outside the Ralph Engelstad Arena that left another man with a fractured skull, Grand Forks County Assistant State’s Attorney Nancy Yon said Monday
By: Archie Ingersoll, Grand Forks Herald
Prosecutors have opted not to file criminal charges against an Oslo, Minn., man involved in an altercation outside the Ralph Engelstad Arena that left another man with a fractured skull, Grand Forks County Assistant State’s Attorney Nancy Yon said Monday.
“When I look at the evidence, all I can say is that I think there’s not evidence for me to proceed with criminal charges,” Yon said.
After the Oct. 16 UND-Minnesota men’s hockey game, Peter Chwialkowski, 28, was arrested at the scene of the scuffle on suspicion he punched 34-year-old Jason Smith, who hit his head on the ground, suffering injuries to his skull that required the insertion of plates and 65 screws.
Explaining why the state’s attorney’s office did not announce a decision on whether to file charges until Monday, Yon said prosecutors had the time-consuming task of sorting through statements from about 20 people who witnessed the fight. Prosecutors also had to wait to receive word on Smith’s medical condition, get his medical records and determine if he could be interviewed, she said.
Yon said that because of Smith’s medical treatments, investigators were not able to interview him. She said Chwialkowski, the sole person prosecutors considered charging in the incident, cooperated with several interviews.
Yon said that, at this point, unless new evidence is revealed, the case is closed. As a result of that closure, two synopses of the incident — compiled by UND Police Lt. Dan Lund shortly after it occurred— were made public. Yon points out that the synopses do not represent all the findings of the investigation, the majority of which was done by an officer other than Lund.
According to Lund’s incident report dated Oct. 16:
UND police officers, Altru Ambulance workers and Grand Forks firefighters were called to the northeast corner of the Ralph at about 10:11 p.m. on Oct. 16 “for an assault that had just occurred.” Dispatchers said “the victim, Jason Smith, was on the ground, unconscious, and possibly not breathing.”
When Lund arrived, firefighters and paramedics were attending to Smith, who was unconscious, and officers were trying to gather statements from witnesses. Chwialkowski was handcuffed and put in the backseat of Lund’s patrol car.
Lund spoke with two witnesses before talking with Chwialkowski. Chwialkowski told Lund he and a friend were leaving the game when a man on crutches, Smith’s brother, Aaron, started to argue with Chwialkowski’s friend, who was wearing a Gopher’s jersey.
“The argument turned physical and (Chwialkowski) tried to stop it. He stated he was struck in the face, by Jason Smith, swung back and connected. Jason Smith then fell backwards and struck his head on the concrete,” the report reads.
Chwialkowski’s account of the altercation is somewhat at odds with a version Smith’s father, John, told the Herald on Oct. 18. John Smith, who did not witness the fight but had spoken about it with his son Aaron Smith, said the confrontation began when Chwialkowski’s friend pushed Aaron Smith, who was on crutches because of knee surgery, after the two exchanged words over the game. Jason Smith stepped in and Chwialkowski “sucker-punched” him, John Smith said.
The other synopsis released Monday — an affidavit of probable cause dated Oct. 19 that Lund submitted to prosecutors — says several witnesses reported that Chwialkowski struck Smith in the face, causing him to fall backward and hit his head on the concrete. The affidavit also says Chwialkowski knocked Smith out while he was still on his feet.
After the incident, Chwialkowski was booked at the Grand Forks County jail on an allegation of aggravated assault. He posted $1,000 in bail and was released Oct. 18.
Smith underwent emergency surgery at Altru Hospital and spent about three weeks there. John Smith has said his son shows no signs of permanent brain damage. Jason Smith is now recouping at home as he undergoes therapy, his CaringBridge Web site says.
The news release from the state’s attorney’s office, as a reason for the office’s limited comments on the matter, cites “the possibility of future litigation,” a phrase that apparently refers to the chance that civil complaints, which would not concern criminal prosecutors, could still be filed in this matter.
Chwialkowski declined to comment on the decision Monday evening. A message left at the home of Smith’s parents was not returned.
Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to email@example.com.