The birthday party, the choke-hold, and running for Burleigh County Sheriff.

//You can read various updates at the bottom of the post. There is also a related post on some of the online behavior stemming from this here.//

A story broke on the local Minuteman Blog regarding one of the candidates for Burleigh County Sheriff. The race is between Nolan Canright and Kelly Leben. Leben is likely the "favored" candidate (and received more votes in the June primary) because he has been with the BCS office for many years.

According to several sworn police reports and subsequent medical records, Leben used a potentially damaging choke-hold on his nephew who asked him to stop, as did other family members. One of the statements was by a former County Sheriff (i.e. law enforcement officer). Surely they understood the severity of making false statements to law enforcement.

The young man was taken to the hospital. The result of all of this was a neck/spine injury that ultimately kept him from joining the Marines, which had been a dream of his.

The family didn't press charges. There are some hints as to why (i.e. the medical expenses were paid for). The young man is now 18 and is talking.

In this era of #MeToo and apparent awareness of abuse and abusers, you'd think there would be a resounding response. Well, there is a resounding response in the comments section, but nothing that makes me too proud. Basically:

1. "It was just roughhousing."

My father used to wrestle around with my brother. My brother never ended up in the hospital. Law enforcement officers are trained in lethal methods, and as such, should know better than using those techniques, such as choke-holds, on teenage boys at a family birthday party who are asking it to stop. At best, that's a completely stupid decision by a law enforcement officer who let his judgement slip or lacks judgement to know better. At worst, it's abuse.

2. "This is a family matter!"

All domestic abuse is a family matter. That doesn't change anything. That is not a legitimate reason to dismiss the possibility of abuse, or an investigation.

3. "That kid isn't hurt that bad. Look, here are photos of him on Facebook having all kinds of athletic fun!"

You don't have to be in a wheelchair to have your life dream of being a Marine taken from you. Back and spine injury is common for soldiers due to the heavy loads they have to carry in full gear in the field. There is likely no way a person with a pre-existing neck/spine injury will be allowed in the Marines. There is medical documentation. The Marines rejected the young man. Clearly, there was a serious enough injury, whether or not he dared to enjoy life after the incident like a normal person.

How odd is it that we sort of expect a victim of possible abuse to live the rest of their life in some kind of misery, or we don't believe they were abused or assaulted? Dismissing this young man's dream as "oh, that's just roughhousing you pussy" is disgusting, and those who are doing so would likely think differently if they or a close loved one received an injury that kept them from doing something in life they had dreamed of doing.

4. "I was there and that's not what happened!"

There are FOUR SIGNED STATEMENTS TO LAW ENFORCEMENT, including one by a former sheriff (the grandfather of the victim). They described what they saw happen. So when I read comments like this, I have to laugh:

"All of a sudden I turned around..." (i.e. I wasn't looking for most of it.) "...and I heard Kelly playfully tell his nephew..." (what's with the adverb? maybe the nephew and others didn't find it so playful). Nothing like a Facebook comment as a serious legal document.

Ultimately, what I see is the usual: dig up dirt on the victim. Discredit the victim. Investigate the accuser.


I'll tell you why: because all of those who are big fans of the accused are busy circling the wagons above all else. We see a riot of various family members and friends choosing sides, some swearing that none of that happened, others shredding the young man and questioning his motives, honesty, and worse. 

"He's my friend, I've known him for years, he's a stellar officer, he'd never do anything like this."

I don't know--do you think it's possible that there are people who have been found out for various crimes and abuses who have friends and family who would say the same? Good grief, look at the recent years of abuse scandals. How many times were the victims blamed and dismissed until suddenly people close to the abuser realized, wow, he/she actually did it! We are biased towards our own.

The Minuteman Blog raises some very good questions. I guess I'd like to know a few more:

1. Why did the family drop the charges, after all of those sworn statements to the police? Was there familial pressure to drop them and not rock the boat? Was there monetary pressure? Pardon me for stating the obvious, but someone who goes around seeking random choke-hold opportunities is someone who has a domineering and authoritarian personality, i.e. people with different personalities might easily cave to that. That alone makes me wary of giving them a position of authority at the level of county sheriff, if any sense of domineering or pressure was used to drop the charges.

2. What do the boots on the ground police officers think of those involved and those defending it? During the lead-up to the primary election were they visibly supportive of Leben, or were they visibly supportive of Canright? What do they think of those public figures supporting Leben? Has the current Burleigh County Sheriff come out in strong support for Leben, and what does he have to say about all of this? I'm highly interested in what the officers in the various departments think, because they tend to know some realities that the PR-soaked public isn't made aware of.

I've seen some of the comments online in support of Leben. It's been interesting, because many were part of various social media groups and pages that were dedicated to supporting law enforcement during the protest.

As I wrote in my book about the protest, I support law enforcement. This is a nation of law and order, and I want the officers of the law to enforce that law. However, as I also wrote in my book, I expect those officers to uphold the law themselves. They do not have the right to bend or break it, and if they do, they must receive the same punishment as anyone else.

If this was anyone else besides a law enforcement officer, would these same supporters be so dismissive of what happened to this young man?

In many of the social media community groups I'm in, I see people post articles about someone being arrested for assault against a child, or a DUI that hurts someone, and they say things like "kill him" or "cut off his balls" or "lock her up for life" and the like.

Why so flippant about the injury to a then fourteen-year-old boy? Why make excuses for a grown officer of the law if he injured a young teen boy in a permanent way? Why would that young man's potential abuser get a free pass on this?

Because I guess some really want him to win the upcoming election, that's why.

It's politically motivated.

Ironically, though, that seems to be the accusation towards those who broke the story.

Seeing a former police chief, one I interviewed for my book on the protest, behaving questionably on social media, is disappointing to say the least.

Sure, the timing is inconvenient for the election.

It might have been better for Leben to come clean on his own long ago to talk about what happened. But now is when the story broke (I'd like to point out that it is my understanding that other news outlets had it, but chose to do nothing with it until the Minuteman Blog made it public).

But stating that the Facebook page is no longer showing support for law enforcement is strange. Does support mean blind adoration? I certainly don't find it odd for a law enforcement social media group to post an article about a current law enforcement issue, nor do I find it worthy of "losing respect" for those who maintain a strongly pro-law enforcement page.

Might I dare suggest that if you truly support law enforcement, you want to make sure the bad players are exposed because all they do is make life hell for the good players? Might I dare suggest that supporting law enforcement doesn't mean blind support of those in positions of power, but instead, supporting the ideal of law enforcement?

Frankly, there are few things worse for the citizenry than having all the good pals in all the positions of power.

After all, Leben may be a potential future county sheriff. There are fair questions to be asked about whether or not he makes wise judgements when it comes to how force is used. Is he a good choice, just because he's been on the police force for X years and his friends say he's great? I mean, birthday party. Nephew. Choke-hold. Why?

You do not circle the wagons when there is a potential victim, especially if you are a former officer of the law. You let the investigation proceed, and if the accused is innocent, wonderful. There is plenty of documentation out there that warrants a real investigation, for the benefit of both parties.

That young man has some courage, as does any person who was abused or hurt by someone else. They know they will be mocked and ridiculed by the friends of the abuser, and their personal life and pretty much everything they've ever posted on social media will be brought out as a weapon against them to negate what they've gone through. A woman claims she was raped, and every photo of her in a bikini on her Instagram is used as proof she's a slut. A young man hurt his back, and photos of him not in a wheelchair or not in a traction bed every day for four years means he wasn't injured.

I am very sorry he has to go through this, and cannot join the Marines. He wanted to serve his country. I am very sorry that he will likely have future neck/spine problems as he gets older, and that for some reason, family members and local community leaders are more concerned about an election of their favored choice than this young man's health and future. I imagine family reunions will be awful now, but that young kid back at that birthday party didn't ask for this to happen. An adult made the decisions that got everyone to this point, and if the law isn't upheld, that's an incredible injustice.

For what it's worth, I am not friends or close to any of the people involved in this. I have no horse in this race.


UPDATE AUGUST 15, 2018: Well. I posted this around midnight, and by this morning, already, I had some messages sent to me about it. I'm not going to go into detail about each message, nor use people's names, but the pattern seems to be those who are friends with Leben feel I should reach out to him because they know him and he's a great guy.

Maybe he is. Maybe this young man is a great guy, too. Maybe the four people who gave statements to law enforcement are great people as well. I couldn't say; I don't know any of them.

If you'd like to know how this story looks to someone with zero dogs in the fight with any of the parties involved, this blog post shows you. It looks bad. And telling me I should believe that Leben is a great guy means I have to dismiss the claims and statements of five people as a lie, one of whom was a retired law enforcement officer. Why would I do that? I'd never do that in another case of a similar nature.

If nothing happened, it would have been better to have not had the charges dropped and let the investigation happen at the time. No justice was served to anyone by not having that go through to conclusion. As it is, this whole thing is unresolved, and the young man has no recourse (except civil, probably) since his case was closed before he became an adult. We ought to have a law that lets youth who become adults who have been involved in incidents as a minor pursue justice on their own if other adults, for whatever reason, chose to drop charges at the time of the incident.

Adult man with lethal defense training grabs a 14-year-old boy with what seems to be described as a neck nerve point hold before going to a choke-hold. Four witnesses and the victim himself attest he asked it to stop. Adult man doesn't stop, and brings the youth to the ground. Youth ends up going to hospital and has negative lingering physical effects.

Look at that story.

It may have been a one-time fluke thing, not indicative of a good or bad person, but it sure reads like an assault to me.

The second thing addressed in these various messages to me is the timing of the report, and that the Minutman Blog released it to harm Leben because the blog had had it for a while. As I indicate in my blog post, I was aware they had it; from my understanding, other news sources, including some well-known North Dakota radio personalities and bloggers with a significant platform, had it as well. Perhaps the timing was for maximum damage, but I guess my question is why these media outlets with known readership and audience neglected to report it.

"Well Julie, it's because it's garbage and lies and not worth reporting, and the people spreading it are just trying to smear the guy."


But I think it's worth reporting.

As a citizen, I want to know this kind of thing before going to the polls and voting on someone sworn to uphold the law. Who endorses them means very little to me.

What are we to do if we know something and we provide that information and documentation to various news outlets and no one does anything with it? How many pointless news stories have we had about the hot summer weather and dog parks and art fairs and this was sitting in their lap?

I've said it before, but if you're running for office and you have ANYTHING in your background, you're better off bringing it to the public early on and freely before anyone else does.

Bring all things out into the light. See how it stands up. There are still about two months to the election. That's plenty of time to see where this goes, and let it all shake out for the local voters.

Call me unimpressed, however, if the public attack on the young man causes him to be silent instead of tell his story to authorities as an adult. That should be something we all ought to be ashamed of.

UPDATE, AUGUST 16, 2018: It appears the Post Board will investigate the incident. I hope they do a fair and thorough job for the sake of all involved, and that the matter can be put to unquestioned rest at the end of the investigation. If there's nothing to see here, then the investigation -- and the system we use determine justice -- will hopefully clear it up.

I hope all parties get a chance to speak freely without fear of retribution for their jobs, online attacks, or other pressures.

UPDATE, AUGUST 22, 2018: Oh look. A swamp that needs draining.

And also, congrats bullies and cronies:

"At their meeting last Wednesday, August 15th, the Post Board went into Executive Session to consider how to proceed with the allegations against Leben. Two sources have told me that Brant Thomson didn’t attend their regular meeting as he had planned. Allegedly, the backlash towards him and his family for speaking out was severe enough that he didn’t feel comfortable going."

UPDATE, OCTOBER 30, 2018: 

The Schulz profile was voracious in going after anyone who didn't support Leben, but I could not see much other Facebook activity. Since it was clear that Adam Schulz was a fake profile I was interacting with, I decided to ask if the person was Dean Mastel, who is helping run the Leben campaign. I had someone indicate to me they believed it was Mastel because of something he had said elsewhere that possibly indicated he had forgotten that the Facebook encounter he, Dean, was referring to was actually between "Adam Schulz" and another person, not Dean and the other person. It can be tough to remember who you were when you had conversations if you are using a fake profile, perhaps.

Dean said it wasn't him. I'm not fully convinced, based on what the person told me, but here is the conversation.

After this inquiry, Adam Schulz no longer interacted with me on Facebook, despite the previous days in which Adam's main interaction appeared to be about nothing by defending Leben.

Since then, I've been alerted to a couple of things.

Letters without return addresses were sent out to a few people who are vocal in a local Facebook group in which there are about 20,000 members. The letter had no return address and basically rehashed the negative information about Leben that was found in the original Minuteman article, i.e. no new information that was damaging. This lends the appearance of dirty campaigning by Canright, the man running against Leben. The Canright campaign said they did not send the letters out, and someone in the group shared that information in a screenshot. Some speculation that I've been privy to is that the Leben campaign sent a few letters out as a kind of false flag specifically to people in the local Facebook group. I don't know if this was true, but the conversation I'm seeing in the group is that a number of people are assuming it was Canright and are using the opportunity as a pro-Leben platform in the large local group (full of Burleigh county voters) which is supposed to avoid politics.

I'm curious as to how campaign law plays into this activity, both the letter lacking a return address, and the use of a local Facebook group.

I was also told of someone named "John Smith" calling around to local agencies digging for information on Canright in what appears to be a last-minute smear campaign attempt from what I could tell based on what was described to me. Oddly, I was also told of damaging information about Leben's behavior at conferences, etc. in which photos were taken, which makes me wonder what kind of sum zero game this "John Smith" person is playing. It is a good indicator of a sketchy campaign when you have people working for it who aren't using their own name calling around trying to package up some info to release right before election. It would be a shame if voters selected Leben as a new sheriff only to have deputies and other witnesses testify in front of the post board a month or so after the election regarding some of the known information that is apparently out there. This is getting ridiculous. I don't want my lead law enforcement officer in my county running a campaign with operatives using pseudonyms and anonymity to smear an opponent. That disgusts me, if that is what is happening.

A few weeks ago, there had been a radio interview/debate on KFYR between Leben and Canright, and some heated comments afterwards may have been the instigator of this "John Smith" calling around to various agencies looking for information.

It will be interesting to see how this election, and the months following it, shake out.


  1. I can tell you that out of the about 90 people that work for the Burleigh Morton Detention Center, which is ran by the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department, there are only a SMALL few that support Leban. and its not because of this incident. The good Ole boys club reins supreme and always will with them until it is changed by someone outside.


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