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Grand Forks man pleads not guilty to attempted murder of four officers, among other crimes

In World
June 20, 2024

Jun. 19—GRAND FORKS — A Grand Forks man pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, June 19, to 12 felony charges, including four counts of attempted murder for allegedly firing a gun at law enforcement.

Jeffrey Jacob Simpson Jr., 30, appeared in Grand Forks County court for his preliminary hearing. The state presented a Grand Forks police officer and North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations special agent to testify about his alleged crimes and provide probable cause to proceed with Simpson’s prosecution.

Simpson is accused of being non-compliant on March 22 when officers attempted to arrest him on allegations of domestic violence and related offenses, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

Special Agent Scott Kraft, case agent assigned to investigate law enforcement’s use of force during the incident, testified during the preliminary hearing that officers used a SWAT threat matrix — a type of threat assessment method — prior to apprehending Simpson.

“Officers did have intel that Simpson was going to shoot it out with police,” Kraft said. “Simpson was also known to carry a handgun.”

These two factors, as well as what officers knew of the allegations against Simpson — which included stomping on his alleged victim and strangling her, according to Ofc. Erica Enderud’s testimony — led the officers to determine a vehicle suppression was appropriate.

Six officers arrived on scene in two unmarked vehicles. Other than their bulletproof police vests, they were not wearing anything that indicated they were law enforcement, Kraft testified.

The two vehicles made physical contact with Simpson’s vehicle — while he was in the driver’s seat — blocking it in and preventing him from fleeing the scene, Kraft said.

Officers exited their vehicles, standing behind them and calling to Simpson, “Police,” and, “Show us your hands.”

Kraft said he reviewed Ring camera footage that had an audio recording of this interaction, including when Simpson exited his vehicle and asked, “Who are you?”

“It’s immediately following that that Ofc. (Christopher) Green fires (a less-lethal round),” David Ogren, representing Simpson, prompted Kraft, who confirmed this was the case.

Ogren asked whether Green said he saw Simpson holding a weapon at that point, to which Kraft responded that the round was fired because Simpson wasn’t complying with law enforcement orders.

“In fact, did (Green) not say he gave (Simpson) two seconds to comply?” Ogren asked, referencing Green’s interview following the incident. “… That’s a direct quote. ‘Two seconds.'”

After the less-lethal round was fired, Simpson allegedly pulled out a gun and fired it in the direction of four officers — including Green — who were gathered in the area behind and beside one of the unmarked vehicles.

Three shell casings, consistent with a firearm that was later seized, were found near Simpson’s vehicle. One bullet was found in the siding of a garage behind the vehicle officers were near. Kraft estimated the bullet was lodged in approximately six feet above the ground.

Ogren asked Kraft whether, based on where the bullet was found, it could be determined if Simpson actually fired above the vehicle — and not at the officers.

Kraft said he didn’t have experience with determining bullet trajectory, and he was unaware of any scans taken to determine this particular bullet’s trajectory, but he would guess that a bullet shot above the vehicle would’ve hit the garage up higher.

“In my opinion, it was (fired) directly towards them,” Kraft said, referring to the officers standing beside the vehicle.

Kraft testified that the bullet did not strike directly behind where officers were standing. After Simpson allegedly fired three times, Ofc. Daniel Essig returned fire with approximately 11 shots, according to Kraft’s recollection.

Simpson ran off and was apprehended, Kraft testified. No one was struck by any of the rounds.

Following testimony, Judge Jay Knudson heard closing arguments from the state and the defense. Kimberlee Hegvik, court-appointed to represent the state, referenced both testimonies and explained that they offered probable cause for each felony charge.

Ogren argued that while there may be probable cause for some charges, he believed there was not enough information to charge Simpson with attempted murder.

“I think something indicating that the officers were being specifically aimed at, took fire that was directly into the vehicle they were behind — something of that nature would be necessary to be supportive of attempted murder,” Ogren said. “Now, it could be supportive of a reckless endangerment charge, which is also a felony, but that’s not attempted murder.”

Ogren said what actually happened might have been an example of suppressive fire, which Kraft defined during his testimony as firing a gun to fend off a threat and make them take cover.

Knudson said he believed Ogren’s points were not a matter of probable cause, and said it would be up to a jury to determine Simpson’s motive.

“I think the problem with that argument is, essentially, if you extrapolate that out, that means that anytime you have somebody who’s just a bad shot, there’s no circumstance under which they’re going to be guilty of attempted murder, because they’re never going to come close to hitting someone,” Knudson said.

Knudson found there was probable cause for all Simpson’s felony charges, and he was bound over for arraignment.

He pleaded not guilty to four counts of Class A felony attempted murder, which each have maximum sentence of 20 years and a minimum mandatory four-year sentence if it is proven that a firearm was used in the admission of the crime.

Simpson also pleaded not guilty to Class B felony night burglary, Class C felony domestic violence causing serious bodily injury, Class C felony felonious restraint, two counts of Class C felony terrorizing with a dangerous weapon and three counts of Class C felony reckless endangerment-extreme indifference.

He already pleaded not guilty to his misdemeanor charges: Class A misdemeanor criminal mischief, Class A misdemeanor methamphetamine possession and Class B misdemeanor domestic violence causing bodily injury.

Simpson’s final dispositional conference is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 12.

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