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Our view: Rolette County deserves better

Rolette Mayor Blaine Scott had the same reaction we did upon hearing of a murder in that northeast North Dakota community.

"Everyone is in shock," he said. "All you can hear on Main Street is 'Wow, I can't believe this happened in our town.'"

But it did, and the public deserves to be notified in a timely manner. Mayor Scott was open to reporters about the incident and told us what he knew. Unfortunately, Rolette County State's Attorney Ryan Thompson evidently isn't so interested in informing the public that pays his salary.

When the Herald first heard of a possible death in Rolette, we asked Thompson for information. Thompson responded by email that there were "no serious injuries sustained during, or as a result of, the standoff."

That was it.

Yet the Herald learned later that a murder had indeed occurred. Thompson declined to comment when reporters in court asked him about that earlier statement, but he noted in a news release that James Pochant's life-ending injuries were inflicted before the standoff. Ronald Wootan has been charged with murder in connection to Pochant's death.

Thompson's coy skirting of the question may seem cute, but it continues an alarming trend of keeping the public in the dark.

In January 2017, Rolette County Sheriff's Deputy Colt Allery was killed by Melvin DeLong, who subsequently was killed when other law officers shot more than 80 times into his pickup.

The public immediately should have been given pertinent information, yet Thompson delayed, saying the case was still open. This lasted months — DeLong's name was not officially released until the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation closed its investigation four months later. Thompson seems to be cherry-picking pieces of Marsy's Law — a law we consider deeply flawed — to keep the public in the dark.

Again: A man killed a policeman and was subsequently killed by other officers. Yet for four months, the public was not given official information on the identity of the officers involved or even of the man who killed Allery. Information that was released came from the BCI Investigation. But as recently as this summer, Thompson still would not say whether the Allery case is closed.

Same goes for a deadly shooting that occurred near Rolla, in Rolette County, during a home invasion in January 2017. The public still has not officially heard the name of the suspect—who was killed—in that case, nor do we know who fired the shots that killed the intruder.

And last week, a man murdered another prior to the standoff but Thompson was mum when asked. Essentially, Thompson is withholding the names of criminals.

Through a Freedom of Information request, the Herald now is seeking documents and emails from the Rolette County State's Attorney Office from the day of the standoff. Also, the Herald seeks documents related to the Allery and home intrusion cases. As of Wednesday morning, Thompson hadn't yet responded. It probably will take months.

Basic information about violent cases shouldn't take this long. State's attorneys are elected to serve the people of their county.

Rolette County residents should not have to accept this.