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Details emerge in Swenson domestic assault case

More facts have come to light on the assault allegedly committed by Sebeka Police Chief Eric Swenson on his girlfriend earlier this summer. In a formal complaint submitted to the Seventh District Court Aug.15 by the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office, both Swenson and the girlfriend, identified only as M.H., relate their version of what happened in the incident to police.

According to the complaint, Swenson told authorities that he had been dating M.H. for nine months and on the night of June 27 was supposed to help her move her things to a new residence. When he met up with her, he said, she was drunk and concerned he had been cheating on her.

"The defendant (Swenson) stated that M.H. was 'ragging on him'," the complaint said.

Swenson said that after the couple had arrived at his house, he went to take a shower. He said that while he was taking the shower, M.H. came in and shoved him, after which he told her that she needed to get out and that he would take her home. Swenson said he went into the kitchen, where M.H. shoved him again into a kitchen island. He said he physically moved her outside of the house.

The Otter Tail County sheriff's deputy interviewing Swenson brought up the "numerous bruises and marks" found on M.H.'s body after the incident, "and that it seemed unlikely that if all he did was grab her and remove her from his residence that there would be so many marks and injuries on M.H," the complaint said. The deputy told Swenson that M.H. had recalled him "stomping" on her ribs to authorities. Swenson denied this and said he lost his balance while trying to carry her out.

M.H. said Swenson was drunk that night. She admitted to police that she shoved Swenson once in the shower and again in the kitchen, but said after she shoved him the second time he pushed her down near the living/dining room area and stepped on her ribs on the right side of her body. She tried to get up, and Swenson pushed her again, she said. He then picked her up, carried her outside, and threw her from the front door steps where she landed on the ground nearby, she said. M.H. said Swenson then dragged her by the hair to his SUV and drove her back to the Wolf Lake boat landing where they had met up earlier. When they arrived, M.H. left the car and contacted authorities, the complaint said. M.H. also said Swenson slapped her in the face during the incident.

M.H.'s pants had grass stains on them and there was a rip on one pant leg, the complaint said. Becker County deputies initially responded to the call, but most of the information in the complaint came from interviews conducted by the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office. The Otter Tail deputy said M.H. became emotional when she was interviewed.

"This was obviously difficult for M.H.," the complaint said.

Swenson was later charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic assault: one for Commits Act with Intent To Cause Fear of Immediate Bodily Harm or Death, which carries with it a maximum sentence of 0-90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine; and one for Intentionally Inflicts/ Attempts to Inflict Bodily Harm, which carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Assistant Otter Tail County Attorney Heather Brandborg, who is prosecuting the case, said Monday that a Domestic Abuse No-Contact Order (DANCO) was not issued to Swenson due to an agreement made with Swenson's defense. His defense had challenged the prosecution's request for a DANCO, which legally blocks a defendant accused of domestic violence from contact with their alleged victim, Brandborg said. Instead of a DANCO, Brandborg said, Swenson made a verbal promise to the court not to have contact with M.H. That verbal promise is filed as a stipulation, so that if Swenson were to violate the promise a DANCO would subsequently go into effect and he could be arrested, Brandborg said.

Swenson's defense attorney Frederick Bruno said Wednesday that the DANCO was challenged because it may have prevented Swenson from carrying a firearm in his role as police chief.

"A DANCO can have some federal ramifications with respect to firearms use," Bruno said. "Police officers normally get an exemption from that, but when you're a chief, there's not always a clear line between when you're on duty and off duty."

The next phase in Swenson's case will be a pretrial on Oct. 21. Bruno said the defense would likely try to get the charges dismissed during the pretrial phase.