FARGO — A verbal confrontation that occurred before the fatal shooting of Jason Halvorson, a local food truck owner, in June might have been racially charged, according to information provided during a court hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
Halvorson, a white man, was shot multiple times at about 1 a.m. on June 7, and Kareem Lee Byrd and Charles Edward Harris III, both black men, were later charged in connection with the killing. Those close to Halvorson told The Forum they don't believe he would have said anything racially insensitive.
"That's not the way Jason is — he's not prejudiced," said Michelle Rohrich, Halvorson's cousin, adding that she was shocked when that information came up during Wednesday's hearing.
Kate Holten, Halvorson's fiancee, also attended the hearing, and she doesn't believe Halvorson said anything racist. "I've never known him to have a hateful bone in his body," Holten said.
Byrd appeared in Cass County District Court on Wednesday where he pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Harris, 30, who faces the same charges as Byrd, 20, pleaded not guilty in August.
Joshua Loos, a Fargo police detective, testified in court Wednesday and outlined the details of the investigation.
According to Detective Loos:
Several witnesses near the crime scene reported hearing gunshots. Authorities found seven 9 mm shell casings at the scene.
One witness told authorities he was walking his dog along Sixth Avenue North when he encountered two men and had a brief conversation with them. The witness said he saw the two men walk toward where the food truck was parked and that he lost sight of them at that point.
The witness told police he heard gunfire soon afterward.
Some time after the shooting, a Clay County sheriff's deputy positioned near a bridge between Moorhead and Fargo spotted a minivan carrying a passenger who matched the description of a suspect.
Authorities pulled over the minivan. Among the passengers in the van were Byrd and Harris.
Police searched the van and found a backpack containing a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun and a .22 caliber revolver.
Loos said that when interviewed by police, Byrd said he and Harris were involved in a verbal confrontation with Halvorson and that, according to Byrd, Halvorson said some “racially motivated” things.
Loos testified that Byrd told police they went to Harris’ apartment to retrieve the guns before returning to the food truck and shooting Halvorson. Byrd told police he used the .22 caliber revolver and alleged that Harris used the 9 mm semiautomatic in the shooting, according to Loos.
While Loos didn't elaborate on the exact nature of the comments made during the confrontation, he said Byrd did become emotional during the police interview and that Byrd told detectives some of what was said brought up negative feelings regarding his upbringing.
Rohrich and Holten told The Forum that Halvorson is not the kind of person to instigate a confrontation, and Rohrich said that even if he were involved in a verbal confrontation, he would not have said anything racist toward another person.
Loos testified that Harris admitted the guns found in the van belonged to him, but denied any knowledge of the shooting. Harris told police that Byrd went for a walk and, upon returning, claimed he shot someone, Loos said.
An autopsy revealed that Halvorson died from multiple gunshot wounds and that two different calibers of guns were used.
Judge Stephanie Stiel concluded there was sufficient probable cause to support the charges against Byrd, pointing to the information Byrd provided to police as well as the found shell casings that matched the calibers of the guns found in the van.
Byrd's next court hearing is slated for Oct. 17. Harris is set to appear in court Oct. 16.