Assault charge against Moorhead cop dismissed after expert finds use of force was 'reasonable'
FARGO — Prosecutors here have dropped a felony charge against a Moorhead police officer, who was accused of assaulting a handcuffed woman, after an expert for the prosecution found the officer’s actions were "objectively reasonable."
Officer Matthew Lambert, who’s in his early 30s, was charged with aggravated assault, but a Cass County District judge signed an order on Monday, June 3, dismissing the case.
Prosecutor Reid Brady said his office proposed to dismiss the case after an expert witness for the prosecution concluded that Lambert acted reasonably.
Peter Wold, Lambert's attorney, said Lambert maintained that he used reasonable force against an aggressive person.
"It's appropriate that the charges are dismissed," Wold said. "We appreciate the rightful actions of the State's Attorney."
In a court filing, Reid noted that “while the State’s Attorney’s Office does not necessarily agree with the conclusion, the State’s Attorney’s Office recognizes that it creates reasonable doubt as to guilt.”
On Sept. 9, Fargo police were called to Sanford Medical Center for a report of contact by bodily fluids and were met by Lambert, who had brought 47-year-old Jennifer Joan Thomas to the hospital to be medically cleared, court documents show.
Lambert told authorities Thomas stood up from her hospital bed at one point and spit in his face when he tried to get her to sit down, court papers stated.
Lambert said he tackled Thomas onto the hospital bed and she appeared to strike her face on part of the bed, but an investigation later determined Lambert struck Thomas in the face with his elbow, court documents stated.
Thomas suffered a fractured nasal bone and a bruise to her right eye.
Thomas earlier that day was arrested at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Moorhead after police responded to the restaurant for reports of a woman with what appeared to be a handgun and making suicidal comments.
William Duggan, the prosecution’s expert witness who concluded Lambert acted reasonably, said in court documents that the “application of force occurred at or near the end of extended time exposed to Thomas’ unpredictable, violent and assaultive behavior.”
Thomas had allegedly made threats to harm herself and had been “berating officers with verbal insults” and decided to “spit on them and perhaps even to try and exit the (hospital) room,” wrote Duggan, who reviewed incident reports and surveillance video in the case.
Duggan wrote that when Lambert struck Thomas, she had spit in his face and Lambert “had no reason to believe anything other than that she would continue to assault him and others by spitting,” according to court papers.
Duggan concluded that Lambert followed his arrest and control training and that his actions show he was trying to stop Thomas from spitting and were "not punitive or intended to harm.”
Duggan has been a licensed police officer in Minnesota since 1997 and has experience training de-escalation strategies, SWAT operations, arrest and control, and search and seizure. He is a specialist in analyzing force encounters and the director of training for the Special Operations Training Association of the Upper Midwest.
Thomas was charged in Clay County District Court in connection with the incident and has a court trial slated for June 7. She was initially deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial in November, but her case resumed after she was released from a recovery center in May.
Deric Swenson, a Moorhead police spokesman, said the department has an ongoing investigation into a complaint against Lambert. His future status with the department will depend on the outcome of that investigation, Swenson said. Lambert remains on paid administrative leave.