Lakota, N.D., farmer Rodney Brossart was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison, with all but six months suspended during 2.5 years of supervised probation for terrorizing law enforcement officers who arrested him over a neighbor's stray cattle in June 2011.
The unusual case attracted wide attention because Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke took up the U.S. Border Patrol's offer of live video surveillance from a large drone of Brossart's three sons before arresting them at their farm southeast of Lakota the day after he was arrested.
"This case should have never happened," state District Judge Joel Medd said. "Chalk it up to stubbornness, to stupidity, to being at odds with your neighbors or any combination of those. We should never have been here if the cows would have just been returned."
Brossart was convicted in November of terrorizing two law enforcement officers who arrested him June 23, 2011, over a neighbor's three cows and their calves that strayed on to his farm. It's a felony with a top sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Also Tuesday, Brossart's three sons -- Thomas, Alex and Jacob, all in their 20s -- pleaded guilty each to a misdemeanor charge of menacing law enforcement officers, reduced from the felony terrorizing charge, in an agreement with prosecutors.
It meant a possible maximum jail sentence of one year instead of five years in prison. Medd deferred imposition of any sentence to the brothers. If they complete a year of probation, the charges will be dismissed.
The hearings took place in district court in Grand Forks because the Brossarts feared they would not get a fair trial in their home Nelson County.
Reading from a prepared statement, a chastened-sounding Brossart told Medd: "I recognize that I should have handled the situation differently. I take responsibility for my actions and I will do what I can to ensure it won't happen again."
Medd told Brossart it was so clear that if he had simply responded like most neighbors would do and allow Chris Anderson to load up his stray cattle and take them home, "You wouldn't be here today."
"You knew they weren't your cattle, that you couldn't keep them," Medd said.
"Obviously," Brossart said quietly.
Chris Anderson was in the court room Tuesday, as were other neighbors of the Brossarts who had publicly opposed any plea deal for him a year ago.
Asked by Medd why he didn't simply turn over the six head of cattle to his neighbor, Brossart said, "Sometimes things don't make sense. ... And we do things that we wish we had done differently."
Medd told Brossart he will serve the first 90 days -- minus credit for 16 days already served in 2011 -- in the Lake Region jail in Devils Lake starting Jan. 21, and the remaining 90 days under work release from the jail. The judge also fined Brossart $1,000 and prohibited him from possessing firearms during his probation.
On two misdemeanor charges of preventing arrest and violating the state's stray cattle law, Medd sentenced him to serve shorter sentences at the same time.
Bruce Quick, Brossart's attorney, asked Medd to defer imposition of the sentence or reduce it to a misdemeanor or let him serve any time at home or on work release.
Quick told Medd that Brossart is a successful farmer in charge of a "million-dollar-plus business," of 3,600 acres that supports Brossart, his wife, Susan, and seven of their eight children.
"It's possible that there are many people that frankly don't like Mr. Brossart," who can be "disagreeable and perhaps is a square peg in a round world, but the court can't sentence him on that," Quick said.
Cameron Sillers, the Langdon, N.D., attorney appointed as a special prosecutor in Brossart's case, had asked for a three-year sentence with two years suspended. The prosecutor said Brossart had been "a bully" for years to neighbors and Nelson County officials and his late apology rang hollow.
What started as a common deal between farming neighbors of cattle straying turned into a violent resistance to law enforcement, then months of a slow-motion standoff as the Brossarts refused to answer orders from law enforcement or the court, Sillers said. Brossart threatened and fought the officers who arrested him, and his sons carried weapons later that day in turning away law enforcement from their farmstead. The sons were arrested June 24, 2011.
"The good news is that nobody really got hurt," Sillers told Medd. "But it's not because of Rodney."
Sillers said Brossart had a record of misdemeanor convictions going back years, including disorderly conduct and preventing arrest, but he had never faced serious consequences.
"If we don't do something here today, why would it change? He's been acting this way for years."
Sheriff Janke and several residents of the county protested a plea deal reached a year ago that would have reduced all charges against the Brossarts to misdemeanors. Neighbors said they especially wanted felony convictions so the Brossarts could not possess firearms.
Medd threw out the plea deal early last year and slated the Brossarts for trial.
Brossart's sons Alex, Thomas and Jacob, as well as his wife, Susan, daughter Abby and three younger children and his 84-year-old mother sat behind him in the courtroom.
After the sentencing hearing, Brossart and his family declined comment.
State stock detective Fred Frederikson, of Carrington helped arrest Brossart and attended the hearing. He said the sentence seemed fair.
"I just hope everybody can get along out there and be safe."
Brossart's sons earlier Tuesday admitted they had carried firearms out to confront law enforcement officers, who had a warrant to search their home June 23, 2011, hours after Rodney Brossart had been arrested.
Medd imposed the plea deal for the Brossart brothers, deferring imposition of a lesser charge for one year, during which they cannot possess firearms.
In the end, the use of the drone to surveil the Brossart brothers was rendered irrelevant to the cases by Judge Medd in August 2012.
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