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North Dakota man accused of running down teen after street dance now charged with murder

Shannon Brandt faces up to life in prison for the death of 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson.

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Shannon Brandt appeared in court via videoconferencing from the Stutsman County Jail on Sept. 19, 2022.
WDAY
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CARRINGTON, N.D. — A 41-year-old accused of killing an 18-year-old is now charged with murder after an autopsy found the teen was on the ground before h e was run over after a street dance in central North Dakota.

Shannon Joseph Brandt, of Glenfield, reappeared Friday, Sept. 30, in Foster County District Court via videoconferencing from the Stutsman County Jail in Jamestown for a bail hearing on the new charge. Judge Daniel Narum set Brandt's bond at $1 million.

Brandt was initially charged with criminal vehicular homicide in connection to the early Sept. 18 death of Grace City resident Cayler Ellingson. That charge is expected to be dropped.

“This was a very intentional act by the defendant,” Foster County State’s Attorney Kara Brinster said Friday in court.

A boy with glasses and braces smiles and poses for a photo.
Cayler Ellingson.
Contributed photo

The incident allegedly happened about 2:40 a.m. Sept. 18 after a street dance in McHenry, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

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Brandt told law enforcement he hit Ellingson after a political argument, according to a criminal complaint. The Glenfield man claimed Ellingson was a "Republican extremist" and had called people to come get Brandt before the crash, the complaint said.

Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind previously told The Forum there was no evidence to support Brandt’s claims that there was a political argument before Ellingson's death. The state trooper declined to comment Friday and referred questions to Brinster.

Brandt told dispatchers he didn’t mean to hit Ellingson but he was scared, according to a court document released Friday. Brandt claimed Ellingson wouldn't let him leave, the document said.

"I hit him, I didn't mean to," Brandt said, according to the court document. Brandt told the dispatcher Ellingson is "subdued, ... he can't do anything to me now, so this is why I am calling you."

Brandt asked the dispatcher if he was going to jail, the document said.

Brandt allegedly left the scene but returned, court documents said. State troopers said that's when he called 911 and left again before law enforcement arrived.

He also is charged with failing to immediately stop and report Ellingson's death. He was arrested at his home, where he was “visibly intoxicated,” according to court documents.

The Forum submitted a public records request for the 911 call and transcripts of Brandt's conversation with the dispatcher, but authorities said the call and transcripts are sealed since the case remains active.

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According to an autopsy report described in court documents, Ellingson died from being run over by Brandt's vehicle while he was on the ground. It's unclear how Ellingson ended up on the ground.

Law enforcement found no skid marks on the gravel road where Ellingson was located, court documents said. Troopers also said they found little to no damage on the front of Brandt’s vehicle.

Ellingson called his mother, Sheri Ellingson, at about 2:30 a.m. Sept. 18 and asked if she knew Brandt, saying that Brandt said he knew his parents, court documents said. The teen called his mother a second time, saying maybe he should call his cousins or a "posse," according to court documents.

Sheri Ellingson said he didn’t need to do that and that she was on her way to pick him up, court documents said.

In another call, Cayler Ellingson told his mother "they are after me or he is after me" before the call was dropped, court documents said.

Cayler Ellingson’s death has sparked national attention and criticism from well-known Republicans , including former President Donald Trump. Some questioned why Brandt wasn’t initially charged with murder and was released on what they called low bail.

Brandt previously posted a $50,000 bond after he was charged with criminal vehicular homicide. That is a large bail amount for the circumstances of Brandt's case and his light criminal history, his attorney Mark Friese said in court.

“This has been very emotional and stressful for him, as well,” Friese said.

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A search of criminal records revealed that Brandt had a DUI conviction in 2002 in Stutsman County.

Friese said the murder charge contradicts court documents that describe what Brandt told dispatchers. Brandt said Cayler Ellingson's death was an accident, Friese noted.

When Brandt told dispatchers the incident was more than an accident, he meant that alcohol was involved, Friese said. The prosecution is trying to use those words to say it was intentional when it wasn't, the attorney argued.

“He was scared to death,” Friese said of Brandt. “He was trying to get away.”

Friese also questioned whether public opinion influenced the more serious charge, but Brinster argued that evidence has made it more clear that a murder charge is warranted.

“At any point, he could have hit reverse," Brinster said of Brandt. "He was in a car, and that young man was on foot.”

Brandt turned himself in on Friday to the Stutsman County Jail once he learned of the more serious charge, Friese said. Brandt, a welder, is a lifelong North Dakota resident who has multiple family members in the area, including his parents, Friese added.

The defense attorney asked Judge Narum to order the same bond amount for the murder charge. Friese said Brandt should be allowed to use the money he posted previously for the new charge. Brandt can't reasonably afford $1 million bond, Friese said.

Brandt remained in custody as of Friday afternoon.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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