Charges filed in City Hall fight

by April Scheinoha

Charges have been filed against a Thief River Falls City Council member and a former council member after they were involved in an altercation during a city committee meeting Tuesday, July 10.

Joshua Mark Hagen, 38, Thief River Falls, has been charged with fifth degree assault. Jerald Dean Brown, 73, Thief River Falls, has been charged with disorderly conduct. Both charges are misdemeanors. The complaints were signed Wednesday, July 18. They are both set to appear in court Monday, Aug. 6 at 1 p.m.

Brown hadn’t returned a phone message from the Northern Watch as of presstime Thursday morning. The Northern Watch attempted to leave a message for Hagen, but his voicemail box hadn’t been set up.

The charges stemmed from an incident Tuesday, July 10 at the Thief River Falls City Hall. The men had gotten into a fight during an Administrative Services Committee meeting. At the time, both men were serving on the council. Brown was chairing the Administrative Services Committee, and Hagen was a committee member. Hagen resigned from the council at its regular full council meeting a week later. Two other council members and three city employees were also present during the public committee meeting. No members of the public were present.

The complaints indicated that both men suffered minor injuries in the fight. Brown suffered injuries to the left side of his face. Hagen suffered several abrasions to his back and chest.

The following day, the sheriff’s office learned that Hagen and Council Member Curt Howe had gotten into “a verbal argument over city business.” The argument ended and Hagen left the meeting for a short time. Witnesses reported that Hagen continued making comments after returning. Hagen allegedly told Chief Deputy Seth Vettleson that he took “a couple of shots” at Howe for not paying attention during the meeting.

Brown allegedly became angry about Hagen’s remarks regarding Howe. Witnesses heard Brown telling Hagen to shut up. Brown allegedly told the investigator that he informed Hagen that he was “sick and tired” of Hagen and was “going to take him outside.”

Witnesses reported that Hagen replied, “Make me” and “let’s go.” With the exception of Hagen, all of the remaining six people attending the meeting said that both men then stood up and walked toward one another. With the exception of Hagen, the other six people said a shoving match ensued behind Council Member Jason Aarestad. He was sitting between the two men.

Two witnesses said Brown picked up a chair to defend himself after being shoved by Hagen. One of them said Brown eventually threw the chair at Hagen. Hagen said Brown held the chair and swung it at him. The two men then ended up on the floor with Hagen on top of Brown. Three of the four council members present – Howe, Aarestad and Brown – said Hagen physically assaulted Brown while the two men were on the floor. Aarestad allegedly said Hagen was “pounding on [Brown’s] head as hard as he could.” Howe allegedly said Hagen was kicking Brown in the face while Brown was on all fours.

Hagen told Vettleson that he thought it was a serious threat when Brown grabbed the chair. He allegedly said he then grabbed Brown by the back of the neck, kneed him and threw him to he ground. Hagen said he continued hitting Brown in order to have Brown release his legs. (Hagen suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which affects his legs.) None of the other five people in the room saw Brown trying to hit Hagen.

City Administrator Rod Otterness then attempted to restrain Hagen by placing him in a bear hug. He was apparently assisted by Howe and Aarestad. Multiple witnesses reported hearing Hagen tell Howe that he would punch him if he didn’t get out of Hagen’s face. Despite the number of people restraining him, Hagen continued to resist and kick in the air.

Hagen apparently told law enforcement that someone had attempted to punch him. The complaint indicated that no one saw anyone attempting to punch him. Things apparently calmed down at some point, and the meeting ended.

“Witnesses stated that both Hagen and Brown could have avoided this altercation and were acting like two children on a schoolyard,” the complaint said. “Hagen told officers that after the altercation, he called everyone in the room a derogatory name and then left. Witnesses stated that many people have been disgusted with Hagen’s behavior in these meetings and it has been going on for too long.”