A chapter closed in a four-year odyssey when a 12-member jury found Lakota, N.D., farmer Rodney Brossart not guilty Wednesday of threatening two police officers in a 2011 encounter.

Brossart, whom a Grand Forks jury acquitted after deliberating for slightly over an hour Wednesday, was all smiles after the not guilty verdict was read in his second trial.

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He thanked departing jurors outside the courtroom, who hugged him in return and stayed to chat with him, while Brossart's family was circled around.

Brossart was initially charged in June 2011 with terrorizing, a Class C felony, in Nelson County District Court after a dispute over stray cattle ended in an altercation between a Nelson County Sheriff's deputy and Brossart, who was ultimately arrested.

For more coverage on Rodney Brossart, click here.

 

Brossart was later found guilty by a jury of the terrorizing charge in November 2013, a conviction which the North Dakota Supreme Court overturned earlier this year, saying the 2013 jury had not been instructed as to what constitutes a "true threat," as opposed to free speech.

"I feel like I've been terrorized for four years," Brossart said minutes after the not guilty verdict was delivered. "It's finally over."

The charge stemmed from a 2011 incident in which six cattle wandered off a neighboring farmer's property and ended up in an abandoned missile site on Brossart's property. When the farmer found the cattle and asked Brossart to return them to him, Brossart told the farmer he would have to buy them back, at which time the neighboring farmer called law enforcement.

Nelson County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Braathen, along with peace officer and North Dakota Stockmen's Association inspector Fred Frederikson, approached Brossart while he was pumping water from a field to ask about the stray cattle. Brossart wanted to finish his work and told the officers he would deal with the cattle when he was finished.

When Braathen insisted they take care of the cattle immediately, Brossart told him, "If you step foot on my property, mister, you're going to not be walking away."

The situation escalated, with Braathen trying to place Brossart under arrest, Brossart resisting and Braathen ultimately using a Taser on Brossart at least five times before handcuffing him.

The trial revolved around the question of whether Brossart's statement of "If you step foot on my property ..." amounted to a "true threat."

Ultimately, the jurors unanimously decided Brossart's words were constitutionally protected as free speech.

"Personally, I didn't feel it was a true threat," juror Bailey Davis said after the verdict had been delivered.

Davis and other jurors, gathered outside the courtroom after the trial had ended, agreed Brossart's statement was ambiguous and could have meant anything.

Brossart himself took the stand Wednesday and testified when he uttered those words, he meant to convey there would be consequences if the officers went on his property without permission.

Davis said she also agreed with the defense's argument that Braathen had not felt threatened by Brossart's words, pointing to how when Braathen was describing what happened to former Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke on the phone nearly an hour after the incident, he did not bring up the threat until a while into the conversation.

Juror Chris Perry also pointed to the lack of evidence gathering, how Braathen had not taken into evidence or taken pictures of the rifles found in Brossart's pickup, and how he had not interviewed the suspect or anyone else there at the time of the incident, including Jacob Brossart, Rodney's son, and a neighbor.

Jurors also cited testimony by Mike Argall, a former captain with the Cass County Sheriff's Department and law enforcement officer of 35 years, as influential in their decision.

Argall told jurors he reviewed the video from Braathen's patrol vehicle of the incident, which mostly happened off camera but was audible. Argall took Brossart's statement not as a threat but as cause for concern and reason to ask Brossart what he meant.

He testified law enforcement officers must have a thicker skin under the law and let some statements "roll off (their) shoulders," saying he has been told by suspects they knew where he lived and knew where his children went to school.

Argall told jurors he believed Braathen was trying to antagonize Brossart and push his buttons, saying it seemed like Braathen had "tunnel vision" at the time and Braathen had no reason to arrest Brossart.

Bruce Quick, Brossart's private attorney, argued throughout the trial Brossart's arrest was not the sign of a crime, but rather part of a pattern of Braathen's, in which the officer would detain or arrest a person and ask questions later.

Quick pointed to Braathen's performance reviews from his first job at the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office in the early 2000's, when supervisors wrote Braathen would not question witnesses or suspects, would not gather evidence, could not determine with what crime to charge an arrestee and would not try to familiarize himself with his equipment.

Quick ended his closing arguments before the case was handed to the jury by saying the blindfold over Lady Justice's eyes is meant to symbolize the impartiality of justice, but that in Brossart's case "the blindfold on the Lady of Justice is because she is embarrassed."

But Brossart's days in court are not over.

Brossart filed a civil lawsuit against Braathen and former Nelson County sheriff Kelly Janke in June 2014 in U.S. District Court in Fargo, alleging the deputy used excessive force when he shocked Brossart with a Taser to the point of "torture," as attorney Timothy Lamb wrote in the civil complaint. Brossart is demanding damages for physical and emotional pain suffered from the incident, medical expenses incurred, loss of wages and loss of earning capacity.

A trial in the civil matter is scheduled for March 29.