Posted 7/14/15 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
Last Tuesday, July 7, former Arnegard Chief of Police Mark Blanchard was found not guilty on all four felony charges of Theft of Property that the McKenzie County State’s Attorney’s Office brought against him.
“At the end of the day, the hallowed tradition of our criminal justice system is that the jury gets to decide close calls,” said Jake Rodenbiker, McKenzie County State’s attorney. “This was a difficult case to prosecute, and I respect the jury’s verdict in this case the same as I do every other verdict, whether guilty or not guilty. I want to thank each of the jurors who deliberated on this case, and all others who answered the summons to jury duty, for performing this essential service to the people of McKenzie County.”
On June 23, 2014, a detective with the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office met with Auditor Darrel Carlyle, the Interim City Audior for Arnegard at that time, who reported several missing items and that money was missing, resulting in four charges being filed against Blanchard.
It was reported to law enforcement that on or about May 19, 2014, $7,500 of unreimbursed grant monies were paid to Blanchard without approval of any governing authority. It was also reported that Blanchard issued the City of Arnegard a reimbursement payment of $4,892.84 for payment on a workers compensation issue, and around May 19, Blanchard then removed the check so the City of Arnegard would not be able to cash the check.
It was further reported that around the same time, Blanchard removed a check, which was a payroll check made payable to Blanchard. However, that check had not received the proper signatures and subsequently had not been issued to Blanchard. McKenzie County Bank then cashed the check and McKenzie County Bank has been deprived of those funds. And the last report to law enforcement was that Blanchard removed police equipment from the City of Arnegard in excess of $1,000. All reports gave probable cause to the filing of four Class C Felony counts of Theft of Property.
Subsequently, an investigation took place, ultimately ending with a criminal trial. After hearing testimony from both the prosecution and the defense, a 12-member jury took less than an hour to deliberate and found Blanchard not guilty on all four felony charges.
“The jury deliberated less than an hour, finding Mr. Blanchard not guilty,” said Kevin Chapman, Blanchard’s criminal defense attorney in the case. “Basically, we’ve always felt, in my opinion, that the charges were recklessly filed. And in my opinion, he was innocent. I think that it’s important to clear someone’s name when they’re found not guilty.”
“I don’t think people understand the effect something like this can have on a person’s life,” added Chapman. “How personally humiliating and life-changing it is - to be charged with those kind of charges - felonies. I don’t think the prosecution offered anything reasonable and the jury clearly saw that. The guy has nothing to hide. He’s 100 percent innocent.”