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REGIONAL BRIEFS: Red Lake man pleads guilty to assault with vehicle

From the Forum News Service

Duluth head shop ordered closed until next court date

DULUTH -- The Last Place on Earth head shop on Superior Street in Duluth’s historic district will remain closed for at least the next 3½ weeks, a judge has ruled.

Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke on Friday granted the city of Duluth’s motion for a temporary injunction closing the business pending a court trial scheduled for Aug. 19-20 on the city’s nuisance complaints against the store and its owner, Jim Carlson.

The city obtained a temporary restraining order to close Carlson’s business July 19 after Duluth police made a controlled buy of synthetic drugs from the store, which isn’t licensed to sell them. The city sought the temporary injunction to keep the store closed until legal questions are answered.


Red Lake man pleads guilty to assault with vehicle

DULUTH -- A Red Lake man pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Duluth to running a vehicle off the road at the Red Lake Indian Reservation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota.

Tony Lee Lussier, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of assault with a dangerous weapon. He was charged May 21.

In his plea agreement, Lussier admitted that, while driving a motor vehicle May 12, he chased another vehicle with four people inside. He crashed into their vehicle, causing it to roll into a ditch. Then he attempted to assault the people from the other vehicle before returning to his vehicle and driving away.

Lussier faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. His sentence will be decided later.


North Dakota

Anti-abortion group passes out toy fetuses at state fair

MINOT, N.D. -- An anti-abortion group is taking heat for handing out small toy fetuses during the parade at this year’s North Dakota State Fair.

North Dakota Right to Life and other local chapters have since stopped passing out the dolls, said fair General Manager Renee Korslein. She said fair officials were not aware the group planned to hand out the toys during the State Parade on July 20 and at fair booths earlier this week.

The small toys reportedly represent a fetus at 12 weeks.

Korslein said parade organizers may work up an application for exhibitors to list what they’ll hand out for the 2014 parade, but wouldn’t say whether North Dakota Right to Life would have been allowed to pass out the dolls this year had the group asked.

North Dakota Right to Life did not respond to a request for comment.

In response to a critical comment posted on the Facebook page of Minot Right to Life – one of the local chapters that reportedly helped pass out dolls – the group wrote that it handed out the dolls to “show a visual that at 12 weeks, the baby is a baby.

“People could take them if they chose,” the group wrote. “No abortion talk had to come … with any children that picked one up.”

Earlier this week, a federal judge halted a law passed by the North Dakota Legislature that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.


Offutt wants potato price-fixing lawsuit dismissed

FARGO -- Business magnate Ron Offutt formally has denied wrongdoing in a potato price-fixing lawsuit, asking that the case be dismissed or that it go to jury trial.

Offutt is among the defendants in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. against United Potato Growers of America, its affiliate United Potato Growers of Idaho and other parties.

Plaintiffs allege price-fixing in the fresh potato market. Offutt’s formal denial offers 406 separate responses, many repetitive. Offutt is founder of R.D. Offutt Co., reputedly the largest independent potato producer in the nation, at times producing 66,000 acres under irrigation. Most of his potatoes are in processing for frozen products, and relatively few are in the fresh market. He is connected with the suit primarily because of ownership interest in some dehydration plants.

In his response, Offutt says he is “without sufficient information or knowledge to adequately respond regarding the truth” of many of the allegations he says are directed to other defendants, and denies them. Offutt says the complaint “improperly groups all defendants together as part of its allegations.”

Offutt also denies being a member of either UPGA or UPGI, and denies that he agreed to any alleged price-fixing scheme.


ExxonMobil and employees donate $38K to N.D. colleges

WILLISTON, N.D. -- ExxonMobil and its employees, including those from XTO Energy, have donated $38,640 to colleges in North Dakota.

ExxonMobil Foundation contributed $28,980 to match donations of $9,660 from employees, retirees, directors and spouses of employees to North Dakota institutions. XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, has 40 employees in North Dakota with offices in Alexander, Killdeer and Williston.

The campuses that benefit from the donations are Jamestown College, Mayville State University, North Dakota State University, the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University.

Over the past five years, ExxonMobil and its employees have given $195,941 to North Dakota campuses.


Teen shot at Spirit Lake; five people in custody

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. -- A 16-year-old boy was shot Thursday at the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation, according to the FBI.

Kyle Loven, a spokesman for the agency in Minneapolis, said the teen was airlifted Thursday to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

A nursing supervisor said Friday that she could not issue a condition report or provide other information without a name; the boy was not named because he’s a minor.

Loven said five people were detained after the incident and were in tribal police custody, including a 28-year-old man identified as Nick Jack, whom Loven described as “a person of interest.”

No one has been charged.

Marty Foote, acting Bureau of Indian Affairs Police chief at Fort Totten, said the incident occurred about 4:30 a.m. Thursday in the St. Michael housing area.

The FBI, which is investigating the case with the BIA and tribal police, said charges could come as early next week.


UND's old Ralph Engelstad Arena to face wrecking ball Monday

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Demolition of the old Ralph Engelstad Arena on the University of North Dakota campus is scheduled to begin Monday, the university announced Friday.

The former venue for UND hockey is being razed to provide space for a new indoor athletic practice facility.

The “old Ralph” was built for $2 million and opened in 1972, replacing the unheated 1936 Winter Sports Complex, also known as “the Barn.”

In 1988, the arena was named for former UND goalie and Thief River Falls, Minn., native Ralph Engelstad, who pledged $5 million to the hockey program. He later gave more than $100 million for the construction of the new Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The last game in the old arena was played Sept. 28, 2001.


Spirit Lake police open new jail

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. -- Police in Spirit Lake are celebrating the opening of a newly remodeled jail here Friday.

Officials say the remodeled facility is a far cry from the previous jail, which didn’t even have an air-conditioning system. It will be able to hold as many as 30 prisoners.

“It’s good. It’s monumental. It’s good for the area. Anything new is always beneficial for the area,” said acting police Chief Marty Foote.

Construction isn’t complete yet.

Fort Totten police plan to build an addition and move department offices to the same building as the jail.

All the space will be used. The department plans to bring on three more full-time officers.


Fargo ‘upskirter’ gets 7 days in jail after pleading guilty

FARGO -- A Fargo man was sentenced to seven days in jail after pleading guilty Friday to taking a cellphone photo under a woman’s skirt in a Target store.

Kasey Kitsch, 27, pleaded guilty in Cass County District Court to one count of disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor.

Judge Wade Webb sentenced Kitsch to 30 days in jail, with all but seven days suspended, and a $225 fee. He also required Kitsch to write a letter of apology to his victim, which Kitsch has already done, and to have no contact with her.

Cass County prosecutor Cherie Clark said the conduct amounted to an extreme invasion of the victim’s privacy, but that there were no other options in state law under which to charge Kitsch criminally.

Police have said the conduct appears to be related to a practice known as “upskirting,” in which a person takes a photo or video of a woman under her clothes without her consent for sexual gratification.

Clark said Kitsch had told investigators he had not posted the image of the woman online.



Woman’s death in Deer River ruled a homicide

DEER RIVER, Minn. -- Itasca County authorities say the death of a woman found in her Deer River home Wednesday has been ruled a homicide.

Sonya Ann Smith, 43, died “as a result of multiple traumatic injuries due to assault,” the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office reported Friday. Officials said interviews and forensic evidence collected at the scene have led them to believe Smith’s death was not a random attack, and that they do not believe there is an ongoing threat to public safety.

Sheriff Vic Williams said authorities are not releasing additional details about possible suspects or what kind of weapon was used in the attack as the investigation continues. He said they hope to have more information available early next week.

The case remains under investigation by the sheriff’s office with assistance from the Deer River Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Ramsey County medical examiner.

Authorities received a 911 call just before 9 a.m. Wednesday about Smith’s death in her home in the 500 block of Fifth Street Southeast.


Cloquet man gets nearly 40 years in 2000 murder

DULUTH -- It took him nearly 13 years to admit it, but before a full St. Louis County courtroom, Joseph John Couture testified Friday that he beat and stabbed Trina Louise Langenbrunner to death on Sept. 3, 2000.

Couture, 42, of Cloquet, pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder, first-degree aiding and abetting aggravated witness tampering, and aiding and abetting first-degree arson.

Judge Dale Harris accepted the plea agreement reached between the defendant and the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office and immediately sentenced Couture to nearly 40 years in prison.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Couture was sentenced to 386 months in prison on the murder conviction and 86 months in prison for the witness-tampering conviction, to be served one after the other. He was sentenced to 129 months in prison on the arson conviction, to be served at the same time as the murder conviction.

Langenbrunner, a 33-year-old mother of three, last was seen hitchhiking in the area of Brookston Road between 1:30 and 2 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2000. Couture was a neighbor of Langenbrunner at the time. The victim’s beaten and stabbed body was discovered off a rural road in southern St. Louis County.

The arson charge was related to the burning down of the home of a witness’s relative.


Man accused of driving from Canada to have sex with teen

MOORHEAD, Minn. – A Winnipeg man faces criminal charges in Clay County court after prosecutors accused him of driving here from Canada to have sex with a 15-year-old West Fargo, N.D., girl who was reported by her mother as a runaway.

Samuel Juliann Viviezca Seneres, 27, was charged Thursday with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony.

According to a police report, the girl’s mother contacted West Fargo police Feb. 28 to report her daughter missing. During the search for the girl, Facebook photos of her and a man in a hotel room in their underwear were discovered.

The girl was found two days later. She told investigators she met the man on an adult website, that she lied about her age to get on the website, but later told Seneres she was 15.  

The girl told investigators she had sexual intercourse with the man on two occasions at the Grand Inn in Moorhead.

The police report says officers eventually identified Seneres as the man in the photos, and confirmed with border agents that he had crossed into the U.S. on Feb. 21 and returned Feb. 24. Seneres told police he and the girl were just friends and denied knowing she was under 18.

A warrant has been issued for Seneres’ arrest.


Red Lake women charged with kidnapping

MINNEAPOLIS -- An indictment filed Tuesday charges two Red Lake women with kidnapping for a June 13 incident.

Melanie Rose Benais, 27, and Ronalda Myra Smith, 33, were both charged with one count of kidnapping, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The release said “the defendants kidnapped another person while on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and held that person against their will.”

No further information was provided.

The crime with which Benais and Smith have been charged carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.


South Dakota

Gann Valley now smallest county seat in the nation

GANN VALLEY, S.D. -- Gann Valley, located in Buffalo County in central South Dakota, has replaced a North Dakota town as the smallest county seat in the nation.

A sign outside Amidon, N.D., in Slope County boasts that it's the smallest county seat in the country. But the 2010 census put the town's population at 20. Gann Valley, with a population of 14, now apparently has the distinction of being the nation's smallest county seat.

Buffalo County Auditor Elaine Wulff, a Gann Valley resident, was surprised to learn of her town's new claim to fame.

"I don't really feel like we're the smallest county seat," she said, noting the relatively large rural population in the area. The population of the county, which includes land in the Crow Creek Sioux Indian Reservation, is 1,912.

"We're a close community," Wulff said. "Everyone works together, the rural people and the people that live in Gann Valley."

Although Buffalo County shares an emergency manager and jail with neighboring Brule County, Wulff said Gann Valley's courthouse offers all the services available at other courthouses across the state.

Amidon is near two tourist attractions -- the Burning Coal Vein Campgrounds and White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota. Mayor Jerry Erickson told the Bismarck Tribune that he thinks 33 people are now living in the community.


Blog posts prompt cancellation of event questioning guns

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The pastor of a Mitchell church has canceled an event she planned in response to a gun rights demonstration set for today in Sioux Falls.

At 5:30 p.m., members of South Dakota Open Carry -- a group that supports the right to carry firearms openly in public -- plan to carry guns during an organized walk on South Minnesota Avenue.

On Thursday, the Rev. Kristi McLaughlin, a Sioux Falls resident and pastor at Anew United Church of Christ in Mitchell, began organizing an alternative demonstration. But on Friday, McLaughlin said she canceled her event after reading several posts on blogs.

"It is not worth someone getting hurt," she said in an email Friday.

Though she canceled her demonstration, McLaughlin still says she did not envision it becoming an anti-gun rally.

"My initial intention was to simply ask questions," she said. "It was not to threaten Second Amendments rights."

In South Dakota, any resident who legally buys a firearm is allowed to carry it almost anywhere as long as it isn't concealed. A permit is required to carry a concealed weapon.

"My hope was to question the need for guns in our daily lives," McLaughlin said. "However, there have been some pretty harsh words spoken against it."


Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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