Police interview raises questions in Grand Forks burglary case
Michael Lankowicz, 18, appeared for a preliminary hearing on charges of burglary, robbery, misdemeanor assault and misdemeanor domestic violence. A judge found enough probable cause to proceed with the case, but an accomplice's interview with police raised questions about whether a jury could find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the pair had intended to commit a robbery.
A Grand Forks man accused of breaking into a woman's apartment and assaulting her pleaded not guilty to the charges against him on Friday, Feb. 19.
Michael Lankowicz, 18, along with co-defendant Floren Crossdog, 19, intended to rob the woman, prosecutors argued at a preliminary hearing on Friday. Assistant Grand Forks County State's Attorney Ashlei Neufeld said she believes the only reason the men weren't successful was because they did not expect multiple people to be in the apartment.
Crossdog and Lankowicz are charged with burglary and misdemeanor assault. Lankowicz also has been charged with robbery and misdemeanor domestic violence, and Crossdog has been charged with armed robbery. If convicted of robbery, the most serious of the charges, Lankowicz faces up to 10 years in prison and Crossdog faces up to 20 years.
Grand Forks Police Officer Ryan Wadlow testified that officers were dispatched to a Grand Forks apartment on Nov. 19 for a report of domestic violence. When Wadlow made contact with the victim and entered her apartment, he said there were blood drips covering the kitchen floor.
According to the victim, she answered a knock on her door around 9 p.m. When she opened the door, Lankowicz and Crossdog pushed their way into the apartment, and Lankowicz grabbed the woman's jaw and began striking her head and face. Hearing commotion, the victim's friend, who was also in the apartment at the time, attempted to intervene and shove the men out of the apartment.
Crossdog and Lankowicz struck the friend multiple times before fleeing the apartment, according to court documents.
In an affidavit of probable cause, Wadlow wrote that he believes Lankowicz and Crossdog intended to "roll" the victim, or aggressively rob her of drugs or money. He testified that Crossdog told him that was the intent in an interview after the pair were apprehended. However, Lankowicz's attorney, Matt Paulson, argued that the interview wasn't actually so cut and dry: Crossdog repeatedly said he didn't know what the plan was and that he accompanied Lankowicz because the two were friends. When asked if they were there for drugs or money, he responded that he didn't know, and when asked if they were there to "roll" the victim he replied "I guess I don't know."
Paulson argued that too much is left unclear by the interview, and because nothing was actually stolen, prosecutors were leaning on the interview too heavily in their pursuit of the robbery charges. Although District Judge Jay Knudson ultimately found enough probable cause that Lankowicz could have committed the crimes, he noted that the issue would likely have to be vetted in a trial.
"This interview is not as clear-cut as the state is indicting," Knudson said. "The word 'rob,' the word 'steal' is never used, but the word 'roll' was used. Of course the court understands that 'roll' means to rob somebody particularly possessing or selling drugs to get drug money. There's sufficient indication here that Crossdog has indicated that that was at least perhaps the plan when these two went to this apartment, but it can be argued that's not what he meant. There very well may be reasonable doubt here in front of a jury that's not what the intent was."
Lankowicz is next scheduled to appear for a final dispositional conference on April 29. Crossdog is scheduled for a final dispositional conference on March 4.