State appeals order to pay man for confiscated equipment

Farm Forum

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — An assistant attorney general told the North Dakota Supreme Court on May 11 that a state investigator may have made a mistake when he gave away a confiscated piece of heavy equipment, but the agent should not be required to pay for the loss.

The state is appealing a judge’s order that Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Arnie Rummel pay nearly $54,000 for the payloader, which was taken from Darrell Schrum’s shop in Forbes because authorities believed it was stolen. The order came after Rummel failed to meet Southeast District Judge Daniel Narum’s deadline to return the loader to county authorities.

Court documents show Rummel gave the machine to a trucking company that he said he believed to be the rightful owner.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers told justices in Bismarck on May 11 that Narum could have sanctioned Rummel, but there are too many questions about ownership of the payloader to make Rummel financially liable.

“The remedy may have been in the case that the court brings agent Rummel back and issues some type of punitive sanction against agent Rummel,” Byers said. “Scolds him on the record, issues a financial punitive sanction.”

One of Schrum’s lawyers, Mark Friese, told the Supreme Court that Schrum bought the loader in good faith, after extensive research, and Rummel did not have the authority to decide what to do with it.

“The position that the state is taking is much like the man who murders his parents and then stands before the court begging for mercy at sentencing because he’s an orphan,” Friese said. “The state set this on a course by filing a criminal search warrant after being advised by the state’s attorney not to.”

Schrum did nothing wrong and deserves to “be made whole” for the loss, Friese said.

Byers said there hasn’t been a specific hearing to determine ownership of the loader and whether Schrum was a “good faith purchaser,” which he said would have to be determined by sales laws in Iowa, where the loader was sold. Friese argued that the dispute over ownership was a civil matter between two trucking companies and was wrongly characterized as stolen property.

Dickey County State’s Attorney Gary Neuharth, who argued on behalf of Schrum, said he is the chief law enforcement officer in the county and agents seized the loader against his wishes.

“If they would have used a little patience,” Neuharth said, “none of us would be here.”