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Crookston man files police brutality complaint

As Jon Stronstad looks through the police reports, his mother, Kathy Stronstad gives her account of what happened the night he was arrested. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
Jon Stronstad recounts the night he was arrested by Crookston Police. He has been charged with fourth-degree assault on a peace officer, a felony, but he says officers used excessive force. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 3
Jon Stronstad describes the mesh hood that officers placed over his head to prevent him from spitting. After he was sprayed with Mace, Stronstad said he couldn't see where he was spitting and accidentally spit on an officer's leg. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

CROOKSTON—Jon Stronstad is beat up. A green-tinted sore still shows on his wrist, where he was handcuffed after he was sprayed with Mace and arrested early this month — in front of his home and while his parents watched.

Hospital discharge papers say he suffered a fractured rib, which Stronstad says happened when Crookston Police officers kneed his midsection in the early morning hours of April 2.

Today, facing a charge of fourth-degree assault on a peace officer, a felony, and obstructing the legal process, a gross misdemeanor, Stronstad said he's scarred and scared.

Stronstad and his family claim officers used excessive force during the arrest, and they have submitted formal complaints to the city and Polk County Sheriff Barb Erdman.

In a criminal complaint, Crookston Police described Stronstad as a unruly citizen who would not comply and who left officers no choice but to take physical action.

Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier declined to comment when reached by the Herald, citing an open case. Requests for video or audio of the arrest also were denied while the case is ongoing.

'Escalated so quickly'

On April 1, Stronstad said he went to the IC Mugs bar in Crookston to watch the NCAA basketball tournament. He said he had two drinks and stopped drinking at midnight. He then drank some water over the next couple of hours before heading to his place on James Avenue Northeast about 2 a.m., he said.

"I was completely safe to drive by the time I left," Stronstad said.

He took what he described as a "nice, slow route," home.

Officer Andrew Goodman, a second-year officer, saw a white hatchback moving at a "high rate of speed" about 2:20 a.m. April 2, according to a criminal complaint. He pursued the vehicle and noted it took an "odd" route that doubled back at times and moved about 10 mph under the speed limit at other times. Goodman decided to initiate a traffic stop.

"Goodman believed the combined driving conduct, suspicious and odd driving behavior, and route indicated that the driver might be impaired, lost or eluding detection of other criminal activity," a criminal complaint stated.

Goodman turned on his lights on Alexander Street, Stronstad turned left onto James Street Northeast, where he lives in a downstairs apartment in his parents' home, and stopped.

His mom, Kathy Stronstad, saw the lights and came out.

Stronstad said he immediately asked Goodman why he was being pulled over and was told that it was for "suspicious behavior."

Police wrote in charging documents that Stronstad kept talking over Goodman and initially refused to provide an ID and insurance.

Stronstad said he never was asked if he had been drinking.

"I said 'If you don't have any legal reason to detain me, I'm going to go to bed,'" he told the Herald.

When he reached for his wallet to present his ID, Stronstad said Goodman grabbed his arm and told him he was being detained.

"It just escalated so quickly," Kathy said.

Stronstad acknowledged he became agitated.

"I was defensive," he said. "I wanted to know why I was being stopped and why I was being detained."

Police wrote that Stronstad tried to push past Goodman when he was told he was being detained and pulled away when Goodman grabbed his left arm, at which point the two men went to the ground. Stronstad said Goodman kicked out his knees to get him to the ground.

More officers arrived on the scene.

"The thing I remember most from that night was saying over and over again, 'Please stop hurting my son,'" Kathy said.

She said the officers were kicking Jon, kneeing him in the ribs and stepping on his hands. When officers threatened to taze him, Kathy told them he had a pacemaker and begged them not to. Instead, Goodman pulled out Mace and sprayed it into Stronstad's face.

Police wrote that the Mace had "no effect" on Stronstad but said it did affect Goodman.

Stronstad said the Mace had a profound effect.

He said he was spitting everywhere and unintentionally spit on an officer's leg. He said any resisting he did was a natural response to protect himself from physical harm.

Criminal complaint

Police had a different interpretation in a criminal complaint, writing: "While officers were holding Stronstad in the sitting position, Stronstad looked over to his right where Officer (Taylor) Znajda's right leg was. Stronstad then spit on Officer Znajda's upper right leg and stated, 'Oh, I'm sorry, that's a ... shame of mine. I can't see because you sprayed my eyes with (expletive).'"

Stronstad said he never said that, and his mother said he couldn't have.

"Truly at that point he was screaming, 'Help, call ambulance!'" Kathy said. "I don't think he could have said that."

Officers then put Stronstad in a "spit mask," a mesh hood used to "prevent him from spitting on them any further" police wrote in the criminal complaint.

An ambulance was called, and Stronstad was taken to a hospital before being booked in jail. No tests were conducted to determine if he had been driving under the influence, according to court documents.

A performance review for Goodman filed in September 2016 indicate supervisors see him as a young officer who is learning quickly on the job.

Stronstad's next court date is scheduled for May 2. He is being represented by a public defender, Corey Harbott, who did not respond to requests for comment on this story. If convicted, Stronstad could face up to three years in prison and a $6,000 fine.

The family is hopeful the legal system will resolve the situation, but they said they are scared.

The Stronstads said they've always gotten along well with law enforcement, but now they feel threatened. They said they wish they'd been filming on their cellphones.

"Our fear is more of police than we feel protected by police," said Jack Stronstad, Jon's dad.