Jurors in Cass County handed down guilty verdicts against former Tech. Sgt. Erik Eldon Clemenson, 45, on Thursday, April 1, for a Class B felony charge of sexual imposition and a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault. The more serious charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment.
The three-day trial centered around allegations from a woman who was of lesser rank than Clemenson. Both are members of the Fargo-based 119th Wing, also known as the Happy Hooligans. On Nov. 7, 2019, Clemenson, the woman and others went out to a restaurant and a bar after receiving the night off.
The woman did not drink since she was not of legal drinking age, but Clemenson asked to ride home with her and stay on her couch, claiming the person he arranged a ride with had ditched him. Clemenson drank enough that he feared getting a DUI, like he did in 2017, according to court documents.
Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Younggren noted others offered Clemenson a ride but he declined.
The woman testified that she agreed to let him sleep on her couch. She showed Clemenson the couch and eventually went to her bed, she said.
Clemenson came into her room and said he would not sleep on the couch but was going to sleep with her, court documents said. She said she was tired, but he climbed into bed with her, the woman testified.
He felt her breasts, moved his hand down to her pants and then placed her hand on his genitals, and each time she said no, she testified. He then flipped her on her back and raped her, she alleged.
She said she didn’t tell him no then because she froze.
Clemenson initially denied having sex with the woman when interviewed by police but later admitted to the act. He said it was consensual, that she previously flirted with him and he gave into temptation.
The woman denied flirting with Clemenson.
The woman only had to say no once, but she said it three times and Clemenson still raped her, Younggren alleged.
“What the defendant needed to do, and of course what he didn’t do in this case, was pay attention to that,” Younggren said.
The woman reported the allegations in August. She testified that she planned to wait until Clemenson retired, but she experienced severe depression because of what happened.
Clemenson stopped touching the woman inappropriately when asked, defense attorney Mark Friese said. There is no evidence to suggest Clemenson knew the woman was in fear for her life, and saying no to one thing does not mean saying no to everything, Friese said.
"The law in North Dakota is not 'no' means no," Friese said, adding the jurors would have to find Clemenson compelled the woman to have sex with him by coercing or threatening her if they think he is guilty of rape.
"That simply didn't happen," the defense attorney added.
Friese noted Clemenson is married and had a career and family to worry about but was eventually honest with investigators.
“He’s guilty of bad decisions,” Friese said. “But it wasn’t rape.”
Clemenson resigned as a technical sergeant in November but is still an airman, the North Dakota Air National Guard confirmed.
The woman said Clemenson couldn’t stay at his home previous times but allowed him to stay the night they had sex, Friese said. She could have called someone to pick him up or could have taken him to a hotel, Friese said.
Younggren said Clemenson is responsible for his actions despite the defense's attempts to cast doubt on the victim's testimony.
“You don’t try one thing, then try the next thing, and then try the next thing, and each time the person says no, then you try the greater thing,” Younggren said.
The jury returned its verdict less than two hours after closing arguments. A sentencing hearing was not listed in court records.
Clemenson was not taken into custody after the verdict, despite requests by Younggren.
The Forum typically does not name victims of sexual assault.