A 42-year-old North Dakota man pled guilty to manslaughter after he hit an 18-year-old with his car following his expression of concern about the teen being connected to a “Republican extremist” group.
Shannon Brandt pled guilty to manslaughter after Cayler Ellingson was killed when he was hit by Brandt’s vehicle in September 2022. The guilty plea comes just weeks after the charges were reduced from murder to manslaughter.
The case quickly became controversial after an affidavit from police suggested that Brandt had run down Ellingson following a political disagreement, a claim that was backtracked by later investigators. Ellingson’s death was determined to be an accident, and not intentional according to investigators.
Foster County State Attorney Kara Brinster said that Brandt had been drinking and arguing with Ellingson prior to the incident.
Brandt, of Glenfield, North Dakota, claimed in a 911 call that he had felt threatened by Ellingson, over the teen’s alleged connection to a “Republican extremist group,” and was urging others to attack Brandt after a political argument, according to the call.
“He was threatening me with something to have to do with — something with an extremist Republican group. And then he made a phone call. He made a phone call saying, ‘I thought he was Republican (background noise) or something. You’re going have to come here and handle him.’ I got scared to death. I didn’t know what to do,” a transcript of Brandt’s 911 call says.
Brandt said that he accidentally hit the teen when he was trying to get away from him during a crowded event in McHenry. “As we have pointed out since the beginning, there is no evidence to support the misplaced allegation of intentional homicide,” said Mark Friese, Brandt’s lawyer. “The state and defense forensic experts have provided comprehensive reports confirming this tragedy was an accident. Misplaced media hype and community conjecture is no substitute for evidence.”
An autopsy report said that Ellingson’s fatal “injuries weren’t caused from being struck by Shannon Brandt’s vehicle and were caused by being run over” once he was on the ground.
Police said that Brandt appeared to be intoxicated when they showed up at his home after the accident.
When sentenced, he could face 10 years in prison. An additional charge of leaving the scene of the accident was also dropped before Brandt was set to be tried on May 30.
“Shannon has never denied responsibility for his part in this tragic accident,” Friese told The Forum. “A plea of guilty permits him to accept responsibility while limiting the stress and emotional toll for all involved.”