FARGO — A Cass County judge said she needs more information on whether a Minnesota officer was allowed to follow a vehicle suspected of having two murder suspects related to the fatal shooting of a food truck owner while the van drove through Fargo.

Cass County District Judge Stephanie Stiel asked attorneys in the case to file additional briefs after defense lawyer Steven Mottinger argued Clay County Deputy Brandon Desautel had no reason to follow a grey van carrying 20-year-old Kareem Lee Byrd Jr. and 30-year-old Charles Edward Harris. The two are charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Mottinger, who is only representing Byrd, previously filed a motion to suppress evidence collected during the traffic stop where Byrd and Harris were arrested on suspicion of killing 38-year-old Jason “Jay” Allen Halvorson. Prosecutors said Halvorson was fatally shot around 1 a.m. June 7 near his food truck, Texas Q BBQ and Catering, at the former Sahr’s Sudden Service station parking lot, 601 Fourth St. N.

During the traffic stop, law enforcement found a backpack that contained two handguns, but Mottinger argued there was not enough reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop in the first place.

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The stop would not have happened if Desautel, who was stationed on the First Avenue North bridge dividing North Dakota and Minnesota, hadn’t decided to follow the van carrying the suspects, Mottinger said. Information Desautel received from dispatch conflicted with descriptions of the men in the vehicle, Mottinger argued.

Clay County Deputy Brandon Desautel testifies Monday, Nov. 18, in district court, Fargo, about his following a suspicious vehicle for the June 7, murder of Jason "Jay" Allen Halvorson.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Clay County Deputy Brandon Desautel testifies Monday, Nov. 18, in district court, Fargo, about his following a suspicious vehicle for the June 7, murder of Jason "Jay" Allen Halvorson. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

“On a whim, he decided to follow the vehicle,” Mottinger said.

Desautel testified Monday he was stationed at the bridge as he listened to radio traffic and watched for two black male suspects running from the scene. No one said the suspects got into a vehicle, but Desautel testified he saw a van with black passengers a half hour after the shooting.

The deputy said he saw few vehicles on the road, and only two had occupants with dark skin — the other vehicle had passengers dressed like they were coming from a wedding, he testified.

Desautel followed the white van because he saw a black passenger with dreadlocks and a white tank top.

Desautel admitted scanner traffic was busy and one of the suspect’s descriptions included a man with an Afro, but Desautel said witnesses in stressful situations are “very rarely 100% accurate.”

He also said enough time had passed for the suspects to get into a vehicle.

As Desautel followed the van for about 40 blocks, he noticed another passenger in the vehicle was a black male with a dark sweater, matching one of the suspect’s descriptions. He also confirmed the driver of the vehicle had an arrest warrant, though Mottinger argued that information wasn’t communicated to dispatch.

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Desautel called dispatch to ask for a North Dakota officer to make the stop, he testified.

State Trooper Adam Malafa followed the van as it moved into the left-turn lane on Main Avenue near 40th Street South, Malafa testified. Video shown during the hearing shows the van crossing into the right lane as it turns on to 40th, which is a traffic violation, Malafa said.

Malafa initiated the stop.

The traffic violation on its own warranted the stop, prosecutor Reid Brady said. Mottinger disagreed and said Desautel did not have enough credible information to determine if the suspects were in the vehicle.

The question of whether Desautel was allowed to pursue the van because he was out of his jurisdiction or had reasonable suspicion was not addressed in Mottinger’s brief supporting his motion to dismiss, so attorneys must file additional briefs regarding the argument.