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Former ND law officer found guilty of having sex with minor

Bryton Dahl, who was charged in August 2017 with corruption or solicitation of a minor, testifies in his own defense during his trial Wednesday. Williston Herald photo

WILLISTON, N. D. -- A 24-year-old former law enforcement officer was convicted of corruption or solicitation of a minor by a jury Thursday, Nov. 1

Bryton Dahl was found guilty after a jury of nine men and three women deliberated for nearly six hours. The verdict follows a trial that began Monday.

Dahl was arrested in August 2017 and accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy he met online. Dahl was 22 at the time of the alleged sexual contact.

Dahl worked as a Williston police officer from November 2015 until March 2017. From March 2017 until June 2017, he was a McKenzie County Sheriff’s deputy. He also worked as a substitute teacher at Williston Public School District No. 1.

Dahl had no reaction when the verdict was read and said nothing, apart from answering “Yes” when Northwest District Judge Benjamen Johnson asked if he understood he had the right to file an appeal.

Dahl’s wife, who sat in the front row during closing arguments and when the verdict was read, cried quietly after the conviction was announced.

Johnson said he was prepared to hold sentencing in the case after the verdict was read, but agreed to delay the sentencing so a pre-sentence investigation could be ordered. Sandy Jones, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, requested the PSI.

Johnson ordered Dahl be taken into custody until a sentencing date is set. He told Chapman that he would be willing to hold a bond hearing once a date has been set.

Jones declined to comment after the verdict.

Chapman said the defense was disappointed in the outcome.

The prosecution and defense painted different pictures of the evidence Thursday morning during closing arguments.

In her closing statement, Jones said there were vastly different maturity levels between Dahl and the teenager he’s accused of having sexual contact with.

Kevin Chapman, one of Dahl’s defense attorneys, however, called the story from the teenager, “a trail of lies.”

Jones repeatedly pointed to text messages that Dahl and the teen exchanged. One exchange was presented as a screenshot the teen took on Feb. 28. On the stand, the young man testified that he generally took screenshots of messages immediately after he received them, but the defense highlighted the fact the text messages themselves weren’t found on the phone, only the screenshots.

In the screenshot, the teen wrote about the alleged relationship between the two.

“It’s just this scandalous and risky situation and I don’t know how it could work,” his message reads in part.

The last message in the screenshot is from Dahl, who wrote the teen, “Snapchat delete your messages on your phone.”

On the stand Wednesday, Dahl testified that he meant the teen should delete his messages on Snapchat, while the teenager testified he took the message to mean he should delete his text messages and instead message Dahl on Snapchat.

During her closing, Jones questioned why Dahl would tell the teen to delete his Snapchat messages, since Snapchat messages disappear after a period of time.

“Why is he having him delete his messages?” Jones asked.

She also pointed to copies of text messages recovered from the teen’s phone where Dahl said he wouldn’t do anything with another person he’d been chatting with and another where he told the teen he was the “hottest guy I’ve met.”

“Is this conversation from someone who had just engaged in a platonic relationship with someone?” Jones asked.

In his closing, though, Chapman attacked the teen’s credibility. He said the young man had never set foot in Dahl’s home. He said the evidence had been misrepresented and that the teenager was lying.

“This is untrustworthy, concocted and unbelieveable,” Chapman said. “Untruthful.”

Chapman said the teenager hadn’t been able to describe Dahl’s penis and wasn’t able to identify Dah’s penis as being one of the ones law enforcement found photos of on his phone.

He said the prosecution said the teen hadn’t been shown all of the photos of penises found on his phone, but questioned why, since charges were filed in August 2017.

He pointed out that the teen admitted once to creating a fake Facebook profile to get a friend in trouble. He also pointed out that until days before the trial, the teenager said he and Dahl had three sexual encounters between January and March 2017. During the trial, though, the young man testified that all three encounters happened in January and February.

“You cannot explain the difference without concluding that (the teenager) is lying,” Chapman said.

In her final closing statement, Jones argued that while the timeline might have changed, the basic details in the teen’s story remained the same and that it matched up with the evidence available. She also defended the teenager, saying that he admitted doing things he wasn’t proud of, but that he never tried to hide that from police or the jury.

Dahl faces up to five years in prison.