MOORHEAD — The attorney for a woman accused of scratching and gouging two Moorhead police officers told a Clay County District Court judge on Monday, Aug. 12, that her client was remorseful and took responsibility for her actions, though she described the incident that happened about a year ago as a "setup" designed to create bad publicity for her client.
Mara Rausch, a public defender representing Michelle Swenson, asked Judge Tammy Merkins to give Swenson a gross misdemeanor sentence instead of a felony sentence for Swenson's earlier plea of guilty to one felony count of fourth-degree assault on a peace officer.
Rausch argued that Swenson, 55, had a clean record and that the injuries Swenson inflicted while officers grappled with her on Aug. 3, 2018, were scratches that did not require medical attention.
Moorhead police responded to the Northsider bar in north Moorhead on the evening in question for a report of a woman, later identified as Swenson, who was screaming and agitated, according to court documents.
Two officers escorted Swenson out of the bar, and she tried to break free while they tried to handcuff her, court documents show.
Both officers noted they felt pain in their arms as they handcuffed Swenson, and later observed that her fingernails had scratched and torn at their skin and caused some bleeding, court documents show.
During the incident, Swenson directed comments at Mari Dailey, who at the time was a Moorhead City Council member running for the District 4 seat of the Clay County Commission.
Dailey was running against Kevin Campbell, who was in a relationship with Swenson at the time of the incident. Campbell, who won the race in November, was sitting in the courtroom Monday with others who appeared to be supporters of Swenson.
Rausch told Judge Merkins that on the day of the incident Swenson's ex-husband told her that if she wanted her alimony check, she had to go to the Northsider bar "right now" to pick it up.
Rausch said after Swenson arrived at the bar, she and her ex-husband got into a verbal argument and police were called.
Rausch said Swenson considered herself co-owner of the bar with her ex-husband, so when officers told her she had to leave the property, she pulled away and in the process at least one officer received scratches.
"That's what this case is about," Rausch said, describing the incident as "a setup to get negative publicity."
Swenson told the judge that at the time of the incident, she felt it was unfair that she was the one removed from the bar, but added: "I truly apologize that this happened."
Prosecutor Cecilia Knapp told Judge Merkins the charge Swenson pleaded guilty to was a crime of violence and 60 days in jail would be an appropriate sentence.
Merkins said the injuries involved were less severe than typically found in fourth-degree assault cases, and she said a downward departure from state sentencing guidelines was appropriate.
She then sentenced Swenson to 365 days in jail, with all but 30 days stayed. She also gave Swenson credit for having already served four days in jail.
Based on the sentence, Swenson's conviction is deemed to be a gross misdemeanor and not a felony. Other charges Swenson had been facing in connection with the incident at the Northsider bar have been dismissed.