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Slow progress made in two-month Lakota standoff

RURAL LAKOTA, N.D. -- Rodney Brossart talked to the Nelson County sheriff Thursday for the first time during the two-month standoff with authorities.

Brossart family
From left to right, Alex, Jacob, Thomas, Rodney, Abby and Susan Brossart.

RURAL LAKOTA, N.D. -- Rodney Brossart talked to the Nelson County sheriff Thursday for the first time during the two-month standoff with authorities.

"I just talked to Rodney on the phone for an hour," Sheriff Kelly Janke said. "That's progress."

Brossart wants to get his soybeans and corn harvested before it's too late, but has feared being arrested on the outstanding bench warrants issued against him and four of his children more than a month ago.

More felonies were filed last week.

Family members face felony charges that include terrorizing and assault after officers responded in June to a dispute between Brossart and a neighbor over stray cattle.


Janke met with Brossart's mother, Antonia, Thursday afternoon on a county road next to a field a few miles from Brossart's farmstead. She helped Janke get in contact with Rodney.

The sheriff said he hopes this is a thawing in the standoff that will lead to a peaceful resolution.

News reports about the situation have made the Brossarts feel more beleaguered, Janke said. "But I'm comfortable with how it's going today," he said, clearly wanting to see the situation, which started with scuffling and firearms being brandished, resolved peacefully.

Eager to harvest

On Thursday, the Brossarts were busy around their farm yard, hoping, Brossart said, to start harvesting.

A John Deere four-wheel drive tractor stood ready, hooked to a big grain cart. Augers were lined up along bins. The thin rope that has been stretched across the double-driveways here was laid down as one of his sons, Alex, had a combine running, apparently ready to leave the yard.

"We have about 375 acres of beans that are ready to go and about 120 acres of corn," Rodney said, taking a break from working around his "bin site" on the north end of his sprawling farm.

Brossart, 55, his wife, Susan, and seven of their eight children live about seven miles southeast of Lakota on a farmstead that includes a house, a trailer home and two RV trailers.


They have been more or less holed up there the past two months.

After generally declining comment to the news media for months, Rodney agreed to talk to the Herald. He seemed eager to explain his side of things and said it seems his neighbors are acting like "vigilantes," and don't want him to get his harvest in.

Neighbors nervous

His neighbors also are finishing up harvest and field work Thursday.

Asking that they not be identified, they say they don't talk to the Brossarts. Although Rodney has feuded with some of them for two decades or more, often over property lines, they say he's grown increasingly wary and unfriendly in recent years.

"It's worrisome," said one neighbor.

The neighbors say they hope the standoff ends without anyone getting hurt.

Brossart, for his part, wonders why his neighbors seem so belligerent. Why, for example, does one of them drive by his place every day when there's no real reason to drive that way, he said.


Catholics, the Brossarts quit going to Mass in their parish in Lakota.

Rodney explained why: "The priest came out and told me, 'Rodney, you need to go to confession.' I said, 'Father, what do you say I did wrong that I need to go to confession?' He says, 'You are creating a public scandal.' Well, we're not."

He said he emailed the bishop in Fargo and met with the bishop's top assistant, who said the parish priest "had no business" talking to Brossart that way.

No shows

The stand-off started with an incident in June.

A neighbor complained to authorities that three of his cows with calves had strayed and the Brossarts had chased the cattle into one of their fenced enclosures and wouldn't return them.

According to the charges, Rodney threatened people who tried to retrieve the cattle.

When sheriff's deputies came to talk to him, they ended up arresting him. While scuffling with them, he allegedly yelled at his son to get a long gun from a nearby pickup. The deputies Tasered, subdued and handcuffed him. But once inside the squad car, according to the court complaint, he caused $1,000 in damage to it.


His daughter, Abby, hit deputies during the arrest and was arrested, too.

Rodney and his children, Alex, Thomas, Jacob and Abby -- all adults -- were charged variously with Class C felonies, including terrorizing and resisting arrest and assault. His wife, Susan, was charged with a misdemeanor of lying to law enforcement.

After initial appearances in the weeks after the first scuffle, the Brossarts have refused to show up for court.

Last week, he and his four children were charged with jumping bail, also a Class C felony, for not appearing a month ago when they had promised to appear on the previous felonies.

The Brossarts claim they have appeared, via their written responses filed with the court.

Counter claims

Brossart, with the help of his daughter and wife and without the aid of an attorney, has been typing up legal documents and filing them, a dozen civil cases against people involved in his arrest last summer, as well as responses, mostly as letters to the court, in the criminal cases against him and his family members.

He has to pay $80 for each civil case he files, said Ruth Stevens, county register of deeds. Brossart's mother brings in the documents to the courthouse in Lakota, or Brossart mails them or sends them via UPS, Stevens said.


On Aug. 25, for example, Brossart filed a civil complaint against Fred Frederikson, a state livestock regulator and law enforcement officer, alleging he helped a deputy Taser Brossart "multiple times in the chest," requiring an ambulance to take Brossart to St. Joseph's hospital in Devils Lake for emergency treatment.

Brossart cited a criminal statute of reckless endangerment, in effect claiming Frederikson had created "substantial risk of bodily injury or death" to Brossart.

In other filings, Brossart has accused Sheriff Janke of altering court documents, in one case because he says Janke crossed out the term "search warrant," and wrote in that it was a "search pursuant to bond conditions."

That made the search, done in late August and resulting in the confiscation of several rifles and shotguns and airguns from the Brossarts, illegal, Brossart claims. He asked the court to dismiss the terrorizing case against him "and charges be put against Sheriff Kelly Janke for these heinous crimes."

However, bond conditions on defendants facing felony charges typically include provisions allowing law enforcement to do random searches without warrants.


The terse asperity of the response from the local prosecutor, Nelson County Attorney Doug Manbeck, to Brossart's filings seems to reveal the frustration of county officials over the unusual situation that seems to carry the possibility of unhappy endings.

Two weeks ago Manbeck filed a response to Brossart's civil court motion against Frederikson by saying Brossart's claim didn't follow state rules requiring it to ask for a certain sum of money or to demonstrate he is entitled to relief in the matter.


"To the contrary, (Brossart) purports to charge (Frederikson) with a crime. (Brossart) of course, lacks authority to commence criminal actions. Furthermore, a civil action is not the method to prosecute alleged criminal conduct," Manbeck wrote. "(Brossart's) action is a patently absurd attempt to usurp the authority of the state by abusing the civil process to file bogus criminal charges."

Brossart acknowledged that his way of dealing with the court system "is not the common one."

He questioned why so many people seem worried about how he might react to being apprehended.

Since Sheriff Janke confiscated his family's guns, they have no guns, he said. "We are good people, we are not violent people."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send email to slee@gfherald.com .

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