ND cop misled woman while searching phone, report says

By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

DELETED PHOTOS: Reports released by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office indicate that an unnamed law enforcement officer mislead a citizen when he told her photos she had taken of a search warrant raid were illegal.

FORBES, N.D. — An unnamed police officer misled a woman by telling her photos she took of officers serving a search warrant was a felony.

He may not be telling the truth about whether he deleted those photos, according to reports released by state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

On May 22, a multi-agency force — including officers from North Dakota, Minnesota and Texas — traveled to Forbes, N.D., to search property owned by Darrell Schrumm for a pay loader, which allegedly was stolen. While executing the warrant an officer, whose name has been redacted from reports by Stenehjem’s office — noticed a woman taking photographs of the search with her phone.

The officer initiated contact with the woman, Margret Rohrbach, and asked that she hand over her phone. The report, which Stenehjem’s office previously refused to disclose citing an ongoing investigation, says the search of Rohrbach’s phone by the officer was voluntary.

A newspaper report after the incident paints a much different picture.

According to a May 23 report in the Fargo Forum, Rohrbach said she was ordered to hand over her phone because taking photographs of law enforcement officers is illegal, and that she did so because she felt intimidated.

“He ordered me to give him the phone — what was I going to do?” Rohrbach told reporter Emily Welker, noting officers were wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying guns. “He said, ‘I need to see your phone — give it to me,’ ” Rohrbach said. She told Welker her photographs had been deleted.

An audio recording of the interaction between Rohrbach and the officer — obtained from Stenehjem’s office via an open records request — is largely inaudible, but the unnamed officer can be heard telling Rohrbach it’s a felony to photograph police officers.

The initial BCI report does not mention the officer telling Rohrbach her photos were illegal, nor does it mention the officer deleting any files, but a report on a follow-up visit to Rohrbach by BCI Supervising Agent Arnie Rummel says she was given “misinformation” about her photography.

“(C)ontrary to what was told by the police detective to Rohrbach on May 22nd, 2014, referencing it being a felony to take pictures of officers conducting a search, it actually was not a felony offense,” Rummel’s report, dated June 11, states.

The “police detective” referenced by Rummel is the unnamed officer from the May 22 report.

Rummel’s report says disclosing the identity of undercover officers can be an offense, but that concern “didn’t apply to this investigation.”

The question of whether Rohrbach’s photos were deleted remains. In his report, Rummel says the unnamed officer maintains that he did not delete any pictures, but Rohrbach disagrees. According to the report, Rohrbach declined an offer from Rummel to examine the phone for deletions.

Rohrbach was contacted to comment on this story but did not respond.

The Forbes search resulted in the seizure of a pay loader, thought to be stolen from Texas-based Pyramid Trucking but, according to a June 19 Associated Press report, law enforcement officers wrongfully returned the property.

Southeast Judicial District Judge Daniel Narum ruled the loader should be held by the Dickey County Sheriff’s Department in North Dakota. A lawyer representing Schrum has asked that BCI Agent Rummel, who supervised the search, be held in contempt of court for returning the loader to Pyramid Trucking.

You can reach Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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