Back in August, we published an article about then Burleigh County sheriff’s candidate Kelly Leben and an incident he had with his 14-year old nephew in April of 2014. In a nutshell, Leben put his nephew, Brant Thomson, in a headlock at a family birthday party. Though he was repeatedly told to stop and that the young man couldn’t breathe, Thomson’s father ultimately had to push Leben off of him. The result was injuries, a trip to the ER, and a police report. But in the end the parents dropped the issue, didn’t pursue charges, and Leben paid the medical bills. You can see the police report from his mother here.
The situation left some – including Leben himself – claiming it was an accident as a result of horseplay. Others view it as a case of domestic violence. And at its worst, some classify it as an assault.
In submitting a letter to the North Dakota POST Board back in August, the now 18-year old Thomson expressed his feelings that “no justice was served” and that “no one stood to protect [him] as a child”. He then called for an investigation into the incident. The POST Board oversees the standards, training, and certification of North Dakota’s peace officers and with this authority made the determination that they would wait until their next regular meeting to address the issue.
The problem with waiting until their next meeting is that — at the time– it wasn’t set to take place until December 6th. Back in August, Leben was campaigning to become Burleigh County Sheriff against opponent Nolan Canright. We expressed our view, in a follow-up article, that the POST Board’s decision to put this on the back burner until after the election reeked of putting their proverbial fingers to the wind in order to see where voters stood on the issue. Nevertheless, they stuck with their decision.
With Leben now sheriff-elect, after pummeling Canright in November’s general election, the POST Board met last week in their regular meeting. And after hearing testimony from both sides of the issue for a couple of hours, they cleared Leben of any wrongdoing. I’m sure Thomson’s own father expressing his view that the incident was “horseplay” and that its reporting was “politically motivated” didn’t help his son’s quest for “justice”.
Was the board’s decision surprising? Not at all. In fact, it was to be expected. Yet, the vote clearing Leben wasn’t unanimous. POST Board member Tom Falck told those in attendance:
“In a confrontation that should’ve never have happened with a trained law enforcement officer, at the very minimum it was bad judgment to allow this to get to where it got.”
Falck is absolutely correct. I’ll remind readers that the incident wasn’t one that 14-year old Brant Thomson initiated. It was Kelly Leben who did that. And it was Kelly Leben who refused to stop the use of physical force on Thomson after it was made clear – more than once – that he should stop. That brings with it very serious implications for a man that is set to be sworn in as Burleigh County’s new sheriff. But none of that seems to matter now — not that it ever did — to the majority of the POST Board and 64% of Burleigh County voters who cast their ballot for Leben.
Regardless of how people feel about the outcome, at least everyone involved can now move on.