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Wahpeton swears in new police officer

Wahpeton Police Department business dominated much of a Monday, May 6 city council meeting.

The department gained an officer and received approval for new deposits into its special equipment fund. Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson said the meeting included something not often seen.

“It’s my great pleasure to re-introduce to some of you, or introduce, one of our hometown boys,” Thorsteinson said.

Officer John Smykowski was sworn into the department. His guests included his father, Officer Mike Smykowski, who did the honor of pinning on the younger man’s police badge.

Mike Smykowski is a nearly 40-year member of the Wahpeton Police Department. Born and raised in Wahpeton, John Smykowski previously worked for the Southeast Multi-County Agency (SEMCA) drug task force and the Fargo Police Department.

“I feel very happy that we were fortunate to bring him back home,” Thorsteinson said.

Having a father in law enforcement pin his son’s badge is a special moment in his career, Thorsteinson said.

“It’s passing the torch,” said 1st Ward Councilman Rory McCann.

Later in the meeting, council voted 7-0 to suspend the Wahpeton Police Department’s K-9 program. Officer Dustin Hill, whose duties included serving with K-9 partner Gypsy, left the department in April. Gypsy is also no longer in law enforcement.

The unanimous motion included transferring the K-9 fund’s balance of $2,990.62 from two bank accounts to the special police equipment fund.

While there is an interest in having a new K-9 officer and dog, the department is not immediately seeking to fill the positions.

“I predict it’s going to be in 2021 or thereabouts,” Thorsteinson said. “In the meantime, we are always finding things that we need to get that we don’t have an identified funding stream for.”

The two largest expenses for the K-9 program would be obtaining a dog and reformatting a law enforcement vehicle for K-9 use, Thorsteinson said.

With a second unanimous vote, council approved sell a 2013 Ford Taurus in the police department’s vehicle fleet. The Taurus will be sold to Mid-State Auto Auction, New York Mills, Minnesota, with proceeds going to the special police equipment fund.

Special police equipment needs include technology in the department building and equipment for the special response team, Thorsteinson said.

Wahpeton Mayor Steve Dale granted several motions for referral, including:

• review of a draft development agreement for Edgewood Park, increases in health insurance rats and an estimate for updating technology in the council chambers, among the items to be discussed by the Finance, Personnel and Economic Development Committee

• review of the city’s vector control and weed boards, to be discussed by the Public Works and Safety Committee

Councilman Don Bajumpaa, 4th Ward, was absent from the meeting.

The next city council meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, May 20 at City Hall, 1900 Fourth St. N. in Wahpeton.

Land beautified, sustained in Wahpeton

Wahpeton is once again a Tree City USA.

The city’s commitment to effective urban forest management was singled out by the Arbor Day Foundation, which gave the award.

“Wahpeton also received a Tree City USA Growth Award for demonstrating environmental improvement and a higher level of tree care,” the foundation stated.

Four requirements are necessary for being a Tree City USA: having a tree board or department, a tree care ordinance, annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. Arbor Day was celebrated Friday, April 26.

“Tree City USA communities see the impact an urban forest has in a community first hand,” said Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation.

The program is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters.

Wahpeton’s continued involvement in the Tree City USA program is part of city-wide efforts to beautify and sustain its land. Residents like Clyde Hughes, Wahpeton, are noticing that spring is finally gaining traction.

“The grass is greening up, trees are budding out, spring flowers are beginning to bloom and people are emerging from their winter dens, eager to be outdoors more,” Hughes said.

What those citizens might not know is that Wahpeton has a fruit orchard containing over 130 trees and shrubs. The orchard contains cherries, apricots, plums, pears, apples, currants and more.

Several years ago, Hughes said, the Wahpeton Park District began planting fruit trees in Kidder Park. They’re located just to the west of the Whopper the catfish statue.

In 2017, Hughes noticed the trees were overgrown, tangled and generally needed care. Although not a professional, Hughes offered his services to Wahpeton Parks and Recreation Director Wayne Beyer.

“In late summer, I began by propping up a few trees which were not growing upright,” Hughes said. “As last spring approached and while the trees were dormant, I began the task of shaping the trees.”

Selecting certain limbs to define the main structures, Hughes followed up by trimming crossing and drooping limbs, removing excess interior branches and generally working to encourage more outward growth.

“I also reduced the overall height of the taller trees in order to create a more urban ‘walking orchard’ which is largely accessible from the ground,” Hughes said.

This year, Hughes was surprised to find several fruit trees along the walking path in Wahpeton’s south side Airport Park. He began removing diseased limbs from some chokecherry trees.

“Flooding kept me out of the main orchard in Kidder Park for a time, but I will soon be finished with early season pruning,” Hughes said.

The spring season is often characterized by gardens and new planting.

Earlier this month, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said homeowners should check plant hardiness zones and seek expert advice in some cases before buying and planting nursery stock for their property.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture receives numerous complaints every year from both consumers and dealers about non-hardy stock being sold in the state.

“Most of the complaints involve larger stores that are headquartered in other states,” Goehring said. “It seems the purchasing agents for these stores are sometimes unaware of North Dakota’s growing conditions or of our state’s labeling law for trees and shrubs.”

State law requires all trees and shrubs designated as non-hardy by the agriculture commissioner to be labeled as non-hardy. The penalty for not doing so is up to $500 per incident, with repeat violations resulting in denial of a nursery license.

Non-hardy plants and shrubs include emerald arborvitae, dwarf Alberta spruce and eastern redbud, Goehring said.

Hughes’ future plans include locating a beehive in a remote area of Kidder Park. The bees will benefit both the orchard and nearby community garden. Hughes asks the public to not bother the bees.

“They are performing an important role in growing local sustainable food and helping to combat the loss of our crucial pollinators,” he said.

All residents and visitors are encouraged to view Wahpeton’s parks and walk through the orchard. Hughes looks forward to sharing information about tree health and when fruits are ripe.

“I hope you all enjoy this wonderful resource,” he said.

Man held on $1 million bail after allegedly firing several rounds at man outside Williston bar

WILLISTON, N.D. – A 23-year-old man accused of shooting someone 13 times on Friday afternoon, May 3, in front of Outlaws Bar and Grill was ordered to be held on $1 million bond after being charged with attempted murder.

The shooting happened around 2 p.m. and led to a manhunt that lasted hours before De’Jonte Smith was arrested. He was charged Monday with attempted murder, a class A felony, as well as reckless endangerment and tampering with physical evidence, both class C felonies.

Police said surveillance footage showed Smith fire one shot at another man, who was hit by the bullet and fell to the ground. Smith then fired multiple shots into him, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Northwest District Court. The man who was shot was in fair condition Monday morning, according to Sgt. Detective Danielle Hendricks of the Williston police.

Police have not released a motive for the shooting.

The first shot Smith fired was aimed toward Outlaws, which led to the reckless endangerment charge, court records indicate. After the shooting, police say Smith ditched his earphones and an apron he had on in the parking lot of the Clarion Hotel and Suites, then threw the 9mm pistol he used into a trash can near the hotel’s entrance.

From there, Smith went to Famous Dave’s restaurant, which is across the parking lot from Outlaws and the Clarion Hotel. He disposed of the clothes he was wearing and changed into new clothes there before taking a cab to leave the area, charging documents state.

Police arrested Smith in the 500 block of 18th Street West.

The search for Smith led to police asking residents around the 1300 block of Ninth Avenue NW to shelter in place for several hours. Schools across Williston Public School District No. 1 were locked down for about two hours, and the release of students was delayed until officers could make sure each building was secure.

Nathan Madden, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, asked at a bond hearing Monday for Smith to be held on $1 million bond on the new charges and that he be held without bond on an allegation he violated his probation in a charge from earlier this year.

Smith was arrested in February and accused of threatening a patron at Albertsons, where he was working at the time, with a knife. He pleaded guilty in March to a class A misdemeanor charge of menacing and was given a deferred sentence.

Madden said he believed Smith was a danger to the community and that he could be a flight risk, given the seriousness of the charges he’s facing.

“The evidence here is pretty strong,” Madden told Northwest District Judge Paul Jacobson. “I won’t get into it here, but there is video.”

Smith is due back in court June 3 for a hearing on the allegations of a probation violation and June 5 for a preliminary hearing on the new charges.


Foul play suspected in Ransom County death

MILNOR, N.D. (FNS) — An investigation of a Ransom County man’s death was shielded from public knowledge for months while a potential killer was on the run and the family of a man found shot to death in his home had to keep silent.

Now that the man who was the focus of the investigation, 42-year-old Barry Wedge, died in a Missouri police shootout Saturday, May 4, it has emerged that state and local law enforcement officials believe he may have been connected to the February death of 34-year-old William Galusha at their home in Milnor.

“Never in a million years would I have believed it,” said Galusha’s friend Naomi Gregor of her reaction when she first heard that her former longtime boyfriend and best friend was found dead from an apparent suicide.

It’s a sentiment Galusha’s family members in Nebraska echoed when asked about the death.

Those close to Galusha, whom they describe as an outgoing, funny farm boy, learned just days after his death that investigators believed someone may have killed him.

Investigators didn’t find a gun in the home, and according to his family and police, his new pickup truck was gone.

Bill’s roommate, Barry Wedge, was also missing.

“He shut off his phone and did not leave one cottonball in the house,” said his sister Ami Galusha-Eckstrom.

But many in Milnor still thought Bill’s death was a suicide. Despite pleading with police to be transparent, the family was told to keep quiet by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the county’s sheriff’s department and prosecutor.

“If we put it out there now every little old lady who watches ‘Dateline’ is going to be blowing up our tipline. We will not be chasing the leads we need to,” Galusha-Eckstrom said police told the family.

The confusion led to more pain for the family, who traveled from across the country to attend Galusha’s memorial service at a church in Milnor.

Galusha-Eckstrom recalls the minister describing in detail how her brother used a rifle to shoot himself in the head to a church full of friends and co-workers.

This past weekend, more details started to emerge. Wedge took his own life after a shootout with police in southern Missouri, according to authorities in that state. More than 30 shots were fired in the exchange in which he eventually took his own life.

Police say they tried to stop Wedge for drunk driving. He had previously been interviewed by the Missouri authorities about Galusha’s death.

“I had a feeling he would do this. I knew he would be guilt-stricken,” Gregor said.

Ransom County Sheriff Darren Benneweis acknowledged the investigation for the first time Monday, May 6.

“Foul play could be expected, yes,” Benneweis said. “We don’t run to the media all the time, every time we have something going on. We are spending the time investigating the case.”

Galusha’s family had nothing but good things to say about the hard work of the Ransom County Sheriff’s Office, but they want to know why the sheriff and county prosecutor did not let them talk about the case publicly.

Benneweis said Wedge’s death does not close Galusha’s case, but it does create some new challenges.

“We are not going to close the case; we are going to exhaust every avenue we possibly can,” he said.

With information about the investigation now public, Galusha’s family and the community may get closure in the tragic case.

“When I heard that he took his own life, I felt in a way that my prayer was answered and that maybe that’s the only justice I’m going to get,” Galusha-Eckstrom said.

Ransom County prosecutor Fallon Kelly said more information may be released Tuesday.