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December 13: Excessive Force Court Case

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Gunshots rang, gavels fell, and lessons were learned in the case of Bismarck Police officers Floyd Rouse and Marion House. The incident that brought the young officers from the patrol car to the court room occurred in early December 1947 near Minot. What should have been a routine traffic stop turned into a near death experience.

John Coffin was driving with three friends near Minot. After the officers House and Rouse spotting him speeding, they followed his vehicle for four miles with lights flashing, attempting to pull him over. Officer House finally fired nine shots at the tires of the vehicle.

The occupants of the car claimed the radio was blasting and they didn’t hear the shots or see the lights. However, their radio concert was rudely interrupted when House’s tenth shot shattered the back glass and exited through the windshield, narrowly missing Coffin’s head. Coffin would plead guilty to speeding, but he also vowed to press charges against the officers.

On this date in 1947, it was announced that the case against Bismarck officers Rouse and House would be delayed for a later date. The delay came so State Attorney Joseph J. Funke, could compile and present a bill of particulars, an action that illuminates the gravity of the situation.

House and Rouse denied guilt, claiming the use of force was warranted. However, much to their shock, both were convicted of unlawful discharge of a firearm. Chief of Police W.E. Slaybaugh claimed the young men were “good officers who made an error in judgement in this particular case.” The sentence, however, was remarkably light. The young men were fined $200 dollars and required to serve out the remainder of a 30-day suspension from the force. A judge called it a cautionary tale for other officers, making the point that the use of abnormal force was not to be tolerated.

Dakota Datebook by Colby Aderhold

References:
Minot Daily News Reporter Dec. 3rd, 1947, page 1
Minot Daily News Reporter Dec. 4th, 1947, page 11
Minot Daily News Reporter Dec. 13th, 1947, page 1
Minot Daily News Reporter Dec. 16th, 1947, page 1
Minot Daily News Reporter Dec. 17th, 1947, page 1
Minot Daily News Reporter Dec 18th, 1947, page 1
Minot Daily News Reporter Dec. 20th, 1947, page 1
Sarah M. Walker, Head of Reference Services
North Dakota State Archives

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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