Case closed: Legal battle over after Dickinson woman drops claims of excessive force, pleads guilty

Jackie Jahfetson, The Dickinson Press, N.D.
·10 min read

Apr. 21—More than 15 months removed from an incident at the Holiday Gas Station in Dickinson concerning alleged excessive use of force by police, the alleged victim dropped her claims and pleaded guilty to the two counts of disorderly conduct and resisting an officer.

Chelsey Borden, a graduate of Dickinson State University, filed a formal complaint alleging that an officer from the Dickinson Police Department used excessive force during her arrest following an altercation early last year. She maintained her innocence and the allegations of excessive force until she and her attorney changed her plea to guilty in a case set for trial. The change of plea on Monday, March 22, brought closure to the city of Dickinson, Dickinson Police and the officer in question.

"Law enforcement's primary function within the judicial system is to gather facts and evidence, present them to the prosecuting attorney and participate in court proceedings. The outcome of cases does not have a bearing on our department's impartiality, and we maintain such when commenting on the outcome of this case," DPD Lt. Mike Hanel said in a statement to The Press concerning the verdict in the case. "Ultimately, this was a misdemeanor-level case that took over a year to adjudicate. The facts and evidence in this case, when reviewed in their entirety and within context, are consistent with the findings in the plea agreement. A review of officer procedure and activity was conducted and affirmed that the officer performed his duties in accordance with policy and legal precedent."

Dickinson Police Officer Chad Hopponen, the subject of the complaint, was cleared of wrongdoing in the excessive force investigation and with the plea change Borden will serve a two-year deferred imposition of sentence.

"A deferred imposition sentence means that for the period of a deferment, it shows on your record. But after the deferment ends, the case is dismissed and sealed pursuant to North Dakota law," Dickinson City Attorney Christina Wenko said in a Press interview.

Prior to the plea change, Borden had contacted members of the media with her allegations of excessive force and The Press covered the case from onset through what was intended to be the misdemeanor trial on March 24-25. In efforts to present the entirety of the public information on the case, The Press reached out to the city of Dickinson and the Dickinson Police Department for comment, but both entities declined to address the matter outside of court.

"From the very beginning of this case, it has been my position that this case would be tried in a court of law not on social media platforms or in the newspaper. This criminal case is concluded, and the criminal judgment speaks for itself," Wenko said in a written statement.

From an open records request filed by The Press in the aftermath, video, audio and print documentation detailed the events that unfolded on Jan. 18, 2020, inside the Holiday convenience store at 231 W. Museum Drive.

Events that transpired in Holiday

At 1:13 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, Borden entered the Holiday store after she left Army's West Sports Bar. A few minutes later, a friend approached Borden along with a male subject. Borden and those with her lingered around the store for more than 20 minutes engaging in conversation with staff. During these encounters, video evidence reveals that Borden and the two individuals were friendly. According to the investigation conducted by Detective Sgt. Kylan Klauzer, Borden can be seen engaging in flirtatious and sexual innuendos with the man in the party.

As Borden continued to walk through the store, another African American woman, with whom Borden had previous disputes regarding cellphone bills, entered the store and was immediately verbally engaged by Borden in a tumultuous exchange.

"I walked in(side) Holiday Gas Station and went to the counter to get smokes. I overheard (our mutual friend) and Chelsey talking about me and I said something and Chelsey got in my face. I pushed her away and said, 'Please get out of my face.' She then stated, 'Or what?' And I immediately threw the first punch and things escalated. During the fight, my hand ripped her earring out and I was wearing my ring on my left ring finger and at that time, it scratched her face. She wasn't able to see it of course because there were no mirrors around. But Officer Chad did not get on the ground until after I noticed she had the scratch on her face," the other woman stated in a written statement to Dickinson Police Department on Jan. 25, 2020.

In a case report documenting the event from Jan. 20, 2020, Hopponen stated that he was called to the scene of the Holiday Gas Station in response to a hit-and-run accident. Dickinson Police Officer Tyler Mahoney asked for assistance for the incident, and as Hopponen arrived at the store, he did not have his in-car video recording.

Hopponen parked his patrol vehicle and exited, and asked a nearby man if he was involved in the accident, before proceeding into the store to locate the original caller.

"As I entered the store, I immediately heard female voices screaming and yelling from a distance. As I rounded the corner of the checkout counter, (the cashier) observed me walking in the store and starting screaming, 'They are fighting,'" Hopponen said.

Hopponen had walked into a dispute between three females, one of which was Borden.

"I radioed to dispatch that there was a fight at Holiday, requesting additional units. I immediately identified myself as a police officer and yelled, 'Stop.' All parties immediately stopped... I used loud verbal commands for everyone to get on the ground..." Hopponen said. "Chelsey who was the aggressor, walked toward me and I again yelled for everyone to get on the ground. All parties ignored my commands.

"Chelsey moved toward me and was close enough to me. I observed a red mark on Chelsey's right cheek and appeared to be bleeding. I removed my handcuffs and attempted to grab Chelsey's left arm to place her in handcuffs."

During this altercation, Borden can be seen in video surveillance footage being noncompliant to Hopponen's lawful orders. The resistance was noted in DPD Officer Bailey Tulius' report of the incident dated Jan. 20, 2020.

"As I entered through the door, I witnessed Hopponen perform a takedown on an African American female who was later identified as Chelsey Borden. As Borden was falling to the ground, I saw her make contact with her right hip first and attempt to get back into a seated position," Tulius said. "Hopponen then straddled her back and attempted to handcuff her."

According to Hopponen's report, he gave Borden verbal commands to place her hands behind her back, but she continued to resist and yell at the officers.

"With my hands on her jacket collar, I pulled Chelsey to the ground. I told Chelsey to place her hands behind her back and quit resisting. Chelsey was actively resisting and I had to physically force her arms behind her back to be placed in PFDL handcuffs. During this time, I attempted to explain the reason for the arrest and tried to read Chelsey her Miranda Rights. Chelsey continued to scream and yell at the top of her lungs, ignoring what I was explaining," Hopponen said in the incident report.

As fellow officers arrived inside the store, Officer Mahoney placed Borden into Hopponen's patrol vehicle.

"... While I was standing there Chelsey continued to yell at us. I told Chelsey to calm down and stop yelling at us. I could see blood was on Chelsey's face and the floor. Chelsey had a cut on the left side of her face that she told police was from the fight," Mahoney said in a case document on Jan. 18, 2020.

Ride to Southwest Multi-County Correctional Center

While in custody before being transported to the Southwest Multi-County Correctional Center, Borden was identified and a search of her person was conducted. It was at this time that Hopponen activated his in-car camera system.

Hopponen attempts to explain to Borden the reason for her arrest, and in the dash camera revealed audio Borden states that the other female scratched her face during the fight inside the convenience store.

"How come when I walked in, you were swinging on her?" Hopponen asked Borden.

Borden fired back with, "Because she swung at me. Look at my face."

Upon arriving at the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center, jail staff escorted Borden upstairs to the jail where she explained her side of the story before being formally cited with disorderly conduct and resisting an officer.

Courtroom turns into social media attack

Following Borden's release on bail, she returned to the Public Safety Center where she filed a report of complaint against Hopponen on Jan. 18, 2020, citing excessive force resulting in the injury to her face.

Shortly thereafter, Borden took to social media in a series of Facebook posts to publicly issue her complaint against Dickinson Police and Hopponen. Borden also contacted members of the media and provided photos of her face, her side of the events that transpired and notified the media that she had filed a complaint with the department.

Borden also sent an email to Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger Jan. 29, 2020.

".... I do believe that the scratch on my face was caused by your officer, but I didn't try and make it seem like it was from a brutal beating but from the mishandling and misconduct brought on by Officer Hopponen. The media and everyone else's opinion took it to these heights that I never thought it would go. I simply wanted to talk to someone from your office without being thrown for a loop or feeling like I didn't matter which is what that whole night felt like," Borden addressed in the email. "Even the discussion I had with (him), I was shut out from the beginning. Your officer didn't want to hear what I had to say, no one wanted to hear anything that I had to say and this lady who took a swing at me wasn't even arrested."

Borden maintained that Hopponen caused the injury to her face for the entirety of the litigation process, lasting over a year.

Attempts to get comments from Borden or her attorney's were non-responsive.

Moving forward

With Borden's change of plea and subsequent finding of guilt in court, Wenko remarked that this will be a new turn for the City of Dickinson's police department.

"I'm happy with the results of the case as it relates to the pleas of guilty. I think the evidence spoke very strongly in this case and I'm happy that this is completed and done, and we are closing the book on this chapter," Wenko noted. "We have secured two guilty pleas for these charges; it just reiterates the work and the commitment the Dickinson Police Department has for the city of Dickinson."

Hanel added, "The Dickinson Police Department remains committed to the values of the community we ethically serve through compassion, respect and partnerships. Our department is comprised of highly-talented and trained officers we entrust with making appropriate decisions to keep citizens safe and maintain peace. With this philosophy as our cornerstone, we dedicate ourselves daily to administer our duties following best practices, training and public expectation."

The City of Dickinson and The Dickinson Police Department have since undertaken the process of securing body worn cameras for officers.