FARGO — A trumpet-wielding man attacked a head priest of the Fargo Diocese and two parishioners while others waited for an afternoon Sunday Mass to begin July 5 at the downtown St. Mary's Cathedral, court documents allege.
Cass County prosecutors on Tuesday filed three misdemeanor simple assault charges, as well as a Class C felony of attempted simple assault on a peace officer, against Benjamin David West, 33, of Fargo. He is accused of attacking Monsignor Joseph Goering, as well as parishioners Loren Bolgrean and Mark Jepperson, at the Fargo cathedral.
Wearing a red cape and blanket as a robe, West came into the cathedral just before a 2 p.m. Mass on Sunday, according to a criminal complaint. Almost everyone that was expected to attend Mass at that time was likely there, Goering told The Forum in an interview at St. Mary's
"There was people all throughout. I don't know the number," said Goering, who oversees the day-to-day operations at the cathedral.
West has attended Mass for multiple years at the cathedral, Goering said. The parishioner has been involved in several disturbances in the past at St. Mary's and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, but this is the first time a situation has become physical, Goering said.
"He's got some struggles," said Goering, who also answers directly to Fargo Diocese Bishop John Folda as the diocese vicar for clergy and vicar general. "He's regularly been disruptive before Masses."
It's not uncommon for West to wear strange clothes, said Goering, indicating West is "mentally unstable."
For the safety of parishioners, Goering signed an order last month prohibiting West from coming into the cathedral. West was arrested June 28, June 30 and July 3 on suspicion of trespassing at St. Mary's Cathedral.
According to a criminal complaint detailing the assault charges:
West, who was holding a large book in his hands, began to yell and blow his trumpet after entering the sanctuary area of the church. Bolgrean asked West to leave, but West allegedly hit Bolgrean in the face with the trumpet.
Then Jepperson arrived at the church and saw West, who allegedly hit Jepperson in the face with a closed fist.
Fearing West would damage the altar, Jepperson tackled West into the pews as West ran by. The two exchanged punches, and West eventually stayed on the ground for some time.
Goering came into the sanctuary and told West to leave. As Goering was walking away, West threw his book at Goering's head, court documents allege.
Officers arrived at the scene soon after and arrested West near the back entrance of the church, police said. While in handcuffs outside, West kicked backward and hit an officer's leg, court documents said. He also attempted to bite an officer's hand and tried to grab another officer's fingers, police allege.
Essentia Health doctors said they could not safely perform a psychological evaluation, so West was taken to the Cass County Jail, according to court documents.
Mass was delayed slightly on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn't canceled, Goering said.
West had not appeared in court on the assault charges as of Tuesday, nor has an attorney been chosen to represent him. He has since been released from jail.
Injuries to Jepperson and Bolgrean caused swelling to the face but appeared minor, according to court documents. It doesn't appear the officer who was kicked suffered pain, court documents said.
Goering said Tuesday he and Jepperson are doing fine, though he hasn't spoken with Bolgrean since the incident. No other parishioners or church staff were injured.
It's not the first time Goering has had to deal with a disruptive individual, but no one has been injured in the past, he said. Priests, ushers and others watch for disturbances in order to keep parishioners safe, he added.
"We just all have to keep our eyes open," Goering said. "And the parishioners keep their eyes open. I rely on them to help me a lot."
Police also are able to respond quickly to the cathedral if needed, he said.
The church is open to anyone as "a house of God," Goering said, and the safety of those attending is taken seriously. He and others want West to get help for any mental health problems he may have.
"He's one of ours, but we have to have good behavior," Goering said.