ASHLEY, N.D. — Officers who tried to subdue a Fargo man in their custody before he died late last year in south-central North Dakota will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor said.
Daniel Lyndel Seminole, 40, died Dec. 13 from “stimulant drug poisoning due to use of methamphetamine,” according to a state forensic medical examiner’s report of death obtained by The Forum Wednesday, June 5. Arteriosclerotic heart disease, a thickening and hardening of the walls of the coronary arteries, also contributed to Seminole’s death, which was ruled an accident, the report said.
The Forum had not received confirmation as of Wednesday that the case was officially closed. But McIntosh County State’s Attorney Mary DePuydt previously told The Forum she will not pursue charges against Sheriff’s Deputy Conner Monk and Wishek (N.D.) Police Officer Lucas Kuntz. The two struggled with Seminole who, according to investigative documents, attacked Kuntz along state Highway 13 near Wishek after forcing his way out of Kuntz's squad car.
Monk deployed his stun gun, but it did not connect with Seminole or shock him, according to the documents. DePuydt noted in a letter to The Forum the officers did not use force prior to Seminole "initiating physical contact and attempting to leave the vehicle against the direction of law enforcement."
“I don’t think that there was any fault in the way the police officers handled the case that would be a basis for any criminal follow-up by the county,” she said in a phone interview.
Squad car footage obtained by The Forum as well as investigative documents from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office and Wishek Police Department shed light on the events of that night, including Seminole’s first interaction with Monk just before sunset and the moments leading up to his struggle with officers.
Seminole was involved in a vehicle crash in Kidder County before walking and hitching a ride near Wishek, according to the documents. Monk stopped his squad car at about 3:50 p.m. about 6.5 miles west of Wishek on state Highway 3, where Seminole was walking along the road.
Seminole told Monk he was on a spiritual journey and that he wasn’t supposed to take help from Monk, who offered to give the man a ride to the next town, squad car video shows. At one point, Monk asks if Seminole is under the influence of drugs, which Seminole denies.
Seminole was arrested that night on suspicion of trespassing and providing false information to officers, the investigative documents say. While being driven to Burleigh County Jail in Bismarck, Seminole unbuckled himself and was slamming his body into the rear door of Kuntz’s police car, forcing the officer to stop and call for backup, according to the documents.
Video shows officers putting a restraint belt on Seminole before telling him to put his handcuffed wrists down, but Seminole didn’t respond. He eventually put his foot out the door and appeared to force his way out of the vehicle, video shows.
The rest of the struggle happened off-camera in a ditch for about six minutes, but sound can be heard, including grunts and moans from Seminole that eventually trail off. What sounds like a brief stun gun tick can be heard in the video.
One of the officers said he could feel Seminole breathing occasionally about a minute after he went silent. Four minutes after Seminole stopped making sounds, officers realized he was not breathing and started life-saving measures.
Seminole died hours later at Sanford Hospital in Bismarck.
Before the struggle, Seminole told officers he was dehydrated, felt sick and needed to throw up, according to investigative documents.
DePuydt said she felt Kuntz and Monk handled the situation appropriately. “The series of events was chaotic and rapid, and I believe both officers maintained their composure and applied good judgment,” she said.
Possible charges against the officers could have been murder, manslaughter or assault, DePuydt said in an email to The Forum. North Dakota law says officers can use reasonable force “in effectuating an arrest and while the individual remains in custody,” she wrote.
“In reviewing the totality of the evidence, I did not observe anything which indicated to me that the force used was in excess of what was appropriate for the situation, and I, furthermore, did not see anything which I believe could be classified as intent to cause death, indifference to life, or willful or negligent infliction of bodily harm,” she wrote.
Kuntz applied body pressure to Seminole’s legs and hip area and used elbow strikes to the inner thighs to prevent further fighting, but that seemed “well within the definition of reasonable force,” she wrote.
DePuydt did not respond to emails Wednesday to confirm whether her report on the case had been finalized. Reached by phone Wednesday, Seminole’s mother, Lynette, said she had no comments for this story.
Seminole's sister, Prairie Rose, previously told The Forum that her brother tried to become sober, but he had setbacks. His criminal history shows arrests that included alcohol and meth charges.
But Prairie Rose Seminole said her brother was not defined by chemical dependency, noting that he embarked on a project to build a horse farm on family land near White Shield, N.D., before his death.
Here's the entire video of Daniel Seminole's initial contact with a McIntosh County deputy: