Struck by cop while handcuffed, woman found not guilty of spitting on Moorhead officer

Still from Video: Security video shows Moorhead officer striking handcuffed woman
This image from surveillance footage shows Moorhead Police Officer Matthew Lambert using force on Jennifer Thomas after she spit at him in a Fargo hospital room. Special to The Forum

MOORHEAD — A judge here has concluded that a woman accused of spitting on a police officer is not guilty because of her state of mind at the time of the incident, according to documents filed this week in Clay County District Court.

Judge Michael Fritz has acquitted Jennifer Joan Thomas, 47, on felony counts of fourth-degree assault of a police officer and threats of violence, and one misdemeanor count of carrying a BB gun.

Thomas was charged after police were called Sept. 9 to the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Moorhead, where she brandished a BB gun and made suicidal comments. She was accused of spitting in an officer's face as she was being restrained in a squad car.

Thomas, of Fargo, waived her right to a jury trial and agreed instead to a “stipulated facts trial,” meaning the judge would base his decision off a list of submitted facts that defense and prosecuting attorneys determined would be revealed during the normal course of a trial.

Both sides agreed that Thomas made suicidal comments at the restaurant, brandished a loaded BB gun which “caused terror in several patrons and employees,” and spit in an officer's face.


Thomas was found incompetent to stand trial in November, and the case proceedings were suspended until she was found competent in February after undergoing treatment, court papers show.

In April, a doctor evaluated Thomas and found that Thomas was “laboring under such a defect of reason, due to mental illness or mental defect, that she was unable to understand the nature of her behavior or the wrongfulness of her actions,” court papers show.

As a result, the judge found her “not guilty by reason of mental illness” but acknowledged that the prosecution proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a related case, Moorhead Officer Matthew Lambert was charged in Cass County District Court with aggravated assault for striking a handcuffed Thomas after she was brought to a Fargo hospital to be medically cleared following the restaurant incident.

Lambert elbowed Thomas in the face after she stood up from her hospital bed and spit in his face. Thomas suffered a fractured nasal bone and a bruise to her right eye.

Prosecutors dropped the case against Lambert after an expert witness for the prosecution concluded Lambert was “objectively reasonable” in his use of force.


Through a public records request, The Forum obtained surveillance footage of the incident involving Lambert and Thomas in the hospital.

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