Posted 6/28/16 (Tue)
By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer
A judge acquitted a McKenzie County deputy of a reckless endangerment charge Wednesday, June 22, stemming from a crash last August involving a motorcycle pursuit.
Corporal Travis Bateman was charged in December 2015 with the felony. His trial, which began Tuesday, June 21, was hastened the next day as defense attorney Michael Geiermann made a motion for acquittal under Rule 29, which calls for a judgment of acquittal from the court following the close of government-presented evidence or all evidence.
“There is zero evidence, zero evidence, not even a scintilla of evidence that Corporal Bateman struck that motorcycle,” Geiermann said.
Upon recessing and conferring with a law clerk, Southwest Judicial District Judge William Herauf of Dickinson granted the acquittal under the rule for the first time in his career, owing to insufficient state evidence to sustain a conviction.
Bateman was charged following an investigation as to whether or not his squad car drove into the path of an oncoming motorcycle with two passengers on Aug. 31, 2015.
Richard Volk was driving south on his motorcycle at 97 mph on U.S. Highway 85 that night, speeding past Trooper Austin Hilzendeger, who pursued.
Volk turned onto Highway 85B, continuing east, still at high speed. Hilzendeger’s dashcam shows Volk then slowing down and riding on the road’s shoulder.
Meanwhile, Bateman and Watford City Police Officer Ryan Chaffee responded to Hilzendeger’s radio alert, approaching the pursuit from the west.
Hilzendeger testified Bateman drove onto the road’s eastbound shoulder toward Volk before getting back in the eastbound lane as Volk attempted to drive around the car.
Volk’s motorcycle then impacted Bateman’s patrol car, sending both passengers to the ground.
Volk sustained serious injuries and was flown to a Minot hospital. Hilzendeger testified that hours after the crash, Volk’s blood alcohol level was 0.12 percent, above the legal limit of 0.08.
Video footage shows Bateman kneeling next to Volk’s female passenger, whose leg was broken. Bateman asked her name before telling Hilzendeger his car was stopped at the time the crash occurred.
Chaffee testified he didn’t see the crash as he drove straight while Bateman pulled into the eastbound lane.
Geiermann said to Herauf that witness testimony and what was seen in two separate videos shows Bateman’s car was stationary at the time of the crash.
Herauf said Hilzendeger’s dashcam footage showing the crash is not enough to sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The video is what the video is,” Herauf said.
The judgment of acquittal came before dismissing the 12-person jury, selected Tuesday morning.
“Glad it turned out the way it did because he was absolutely justified,” McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger said Thursday. “Everybody’s elated and happy and ready for him and his K-9 dog to go back to work.”
Seymour Jordan, Divide County State’s Attorney, served as special prosecutor. Herauf presided over the trial owing to ethical concerns cited by both McKenzie County judges.