Judge explains Isle Days verdict
Mille Lacs Messenger
Byline: Brett Larson
District Court Judge Steven Ruble released findings of fact last week supporting his not guilty verdict in the May 10 trial of Sean Connolly, an Isanti County deputy accused of assaulting three people at Isle Days on July 14, 2007. Connolly, who accused former Isle Mayor Mike DeCoursey of assaulting him on the same night, was tried in a one-day “bench trial,” meaning it was heard and ruled on by the judge, not a jury. Thirteen witnesses testified for the state and one for the defense. The state was represented by Richard W. Curott, a special prosecutor hired by the Isle City Council in late 2008. Connolly, who was represented by Earl P. Gray, was charged in January of 2009 with assaulting Audrey Tramm, Elizabeth (Betty) DeCoursey and Russell Sahlstrom. At the conclusion of the state’s case, Ruble dismissed the charge that Connolly assaulted Sahlstrom.
On May 17, Ruble released his verdict, with the factual findings and legal conclusions coming out a week later. The findings presented the factual background and summarized testimony of Tramm, Sahlstrom, Mike and Betty DeCoursey, and police officers Mark Reichel, Mike Krebs and Jesse Barnes, the sole defense witness. Barnes was working with Connolly on the night of the incident. Both were hired by Mike Krebs, the Isle police chief at the time, as extra security for Isle Days. In his conclusions, Ruble cited Minnesota Statute 609.224, which says reasonable force may be used by a public officer in the exercise of duties. He cites testimony that Tramm was “upset,” “loud” and “firm,” and that the crowd of 30 to 40 people was “hostile, comprised as it was of many who had been consuming alcohol all evening.” Tramm testified that crowd members were shouting “police brutality.” Barnes and Reichel both pulled their tasers but did not use them, indicating the level of hostility. Connolly and Barnes were justified in creating a “zone of safety,” the findings state. The findings also point out conflicting testimony as to whether Connolly or Barnes initially grabbed Tramm by the arm, and whether Betty DeCoursey pushed Connolly first, as Barnes testified, or Connolly pushed DeCoursey. “Just as the State was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Michael DeCoursey assaulted the officer, the testimony here contains too many inconsistencies and raises too many reasonable doubts to find that the State has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” the findings state.
“Considering the nature of the conflicting and contradictory testimony regarding the demeanor and conduct of the victims, the hostile and belligerent crowd, the need for the officer’s (sic) to establish a ‘zone of safety’ around themselves while effecting an arrest, and Barnes’ testimony that it was he who initiated contact with Audrey Tramm, the State has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed an assault within the meaning of the statute against either Audrey Tramm or Elizabeth DeCoursey. “Defendant is hereby found NOT GUILTY.”