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Former Nisswa mayor still in court over 2020 disorderly conduct charge

The words uttered by Fred Heidmann in a verbal confrontation with police officers and whether they meet the threshold for criminal prosecution are at the center of the case.

Nisswa Mayor Fred Heidmann gestures with his hand near a squad car
Nisswa Mayor Fred Heidmann confronts officers about the purpose of their traffic stop Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, as shown in bodycam footage provided by the Nisswa Police Department.
Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins
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BRAINERD — Former Nisswa Mayor Fred Heidmann is taking a fresh crack at seeking dismissal of the disorderly conduct charge he faces arising from a verbal confrontation with police during a traffic stop in August 2020.

Heidmann appeared via Zoom Monday, May 2, in a pretrial hearing before Judge Matthew Mallie in Crow Wing County District Court. Monday’s hearing was the first in the matter for Mallie, who was assigned the case in December 2021, and Heidmann is now represented by Attorney Ed Shaw.

1130pl-fred-heidmann-2.jpg
Fred Heidmann.
Echo Journal file photo

Heidmann previously opted to represent himself in the misdemeanor case and sought both dismissal of his charge as well as appeals court review of Judge Kristine DeMay’s subsequent decision denying the dismissal motion. The Minnesota Court of Appeals denied Heidmann’s petition for discretionary review last year.

Heidmann’s case stems from an Aug. 29, 2020, incident when Pequot Lakes and Nisswa police officers were conducting a traffic stop of a third party along Highway 371 south of Nisswa as part of the Toward Zero Deaths program. Heidmann, who was at his business, began videotaping the traffic stop and then walked across the four-lane highway with his dog toward the stopped vehicle.

According to police reports, police told Heidmann he could videotape the incident but to stand back from the highway to be safe. Heidmann asked what the officers were doing and why they stopped the vehicle and words were exchanged.

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Frederick Heidmann’s case stems from an Aug. 29, 2020, incident where police were conducting a traffic stop of a third party along Highway 371 south of Nisswa as part of the Toward Zero Deaths program.
Fred Heidmann’s case stems from an Aug. 29, 2020, incident where police were conducting a traffic stop of a third party along Highway 371 south of Nisswa as part of the Toward Zero Deaths program. Heidmann was the mayor during this time.
Disorderly conduct case against Fred Heidmann continue in district court in Brainerd.
Charges stated Fred Heidmann engaged in a public place in an offensive or obscene manner and/or used abusive language that resulted in noisy or boisterous conduct creating alarm for others.
“... the State continues to proceed footloose and fancy free without a nary of care or concern or candor with what they file as clearly seen in their 12/28/2020 horror show that didn’t even get the county the crime was allegedly committed correct,” Fred Heidmann stated in his court document.
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In the wake of Nisswa Mayor Fred Heidmann's accusations, a law enforcement liaison involved with the initiative pushed back, reporting the training officers undergo and how it's funded.
At the meeting, John Ryan — who is running against Heidmann for mayor — was the only council member to address the mayor’s comments. The council didn’t take any action in response to Heidmann’s statements, and the council meeting then proceeded as usual.
The city reported it had received 280 emails as of noon Friday, Sept. 4, with more than 90% opposed to Heidmann’s actions, and 100 phone calls about the incident.
After refusing officers’ warnings to move to a safer area, Heidmann was arrested under probable cause for disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process while officers were conducting a traffic stop near his business on Highway 371 and Skillman Street, south of Nisswa.
NISSWA — Nisswa Mayor Fred Heidmann was arrested Saturday, Aug. 29, for disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process while officers were conducting a traffic stop near his business on Highway 371 and Skillman Road, south of Nisswa.

Court records indicate Heidmann made several comments, including:

  • “I am the mayor of this (expletive) town and you guys get the hell off the highway out here.”
  • “(Expletive) you guys.”
  • “You’re a bunch of (expletive) dinks.”
  • “You’re not even qualified for pulling people over for this (expletive).”
  • “You guys are a (expletive) disgrace. You know you’d think up in this area we’d have some decent (expletive) cops. You’re as bad as the (expletive) dinks down in Minneapolis.”
  • “Oh shut the (expletive) up.”

Heidmann left and returned again to the scene of the traffic stop, parking nearby before approaching passengers in the stopped vehicle. An officer handcuffed Heidmann and he was cited for two misdemeanors — obstruction of the legal process and disorderly conduct. Edited body camera video of the incident was later released to the media by the Nisswa Police Department. The obstruction of the legal process citation was dismissed in December 2020.
The words uttered by Heidmann and whether they meet the threshold for criminal prosecution are at the center of the case. In written and oral arguments, Shaw made the case that while Heidmann used swear words and was critical of law enforcement, his speech did not constitute “fighting words” and was protected by the First Amendment. Shaw also noted Heidmann was not arrested at the time of his exchange with officers but upon his return.

“He used a couple of what could be called ‘choice words,’ no doubt, but there was certainly no use of what the statute calls ‘fighting words,’” Shaw told the judge Monday. “ … There’s no behavior in either video which violates the law. No fighting, or threat of fighting, or fighting words, or whatever.”

Shaw went on to characterize Heidmann’s arrest and prosecution as retaliation for his opinions.

In a memorandum of law supporting Monday’s motion, Shaw referenced video footage not included in the media release to support this view.

“After Mr. Heidmann was placed in the squad car, law enforcement officers discussed Mr. Heidmann’s position as mayor, the impact of his being arrested, and their wish that Mr. Heidmann would be placed in jail even though the charge was not one that someone would ordinarily be placed in jail for,” the memo stated.

Assistant County Attorney Michael D. Hagley of St. Louis County — representing the state on the matter after the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office recused itself — told Mallie he intended to rely on a brief the prosecution previously submitted addressing Heidmann’s earlier arguments for dismissal. He did not participate in oral arguments Monday.

“Many of the issues that were raised in Mr. Shaw’s motion have been previously addressed,” Hagley said. “ … My position is, it is not uncommon for pro se folks to make moves or make decisions and then subsequently retain counsel and attempt to wind those back. … I have no problem with the court taking another look.”

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“Pro se” is a legal term referring to those representing themselves in court.

In a May 14, 2021, brief, Hagley argued Heidmann’s speech was disorderly and the focus should be on the nature of his words and the circumstances in which they were spoken. The brief argued people can be convicted for disorderly conduct based on utterance of “fighting words” without the prosecution having to prove violence actually resulted.

Hagley argued Heidmann’s speech directed at police officers does not allow him to escape responsibility.

“Although police officers expect to deal with abusive behavior on a regular basis, disorderly conduct may be found where officers are ‘subjected to indignities that go far beyond what any other citizen might reasonably be expected to endure,’” the document stated.

Heidmann’s speech, when combined with his conduct and physical movements, met the required elements of disorderly conduct, Hagley wrote.

Mallie set a deadline of May 20 for each side to submit any additional briefs on the dismissal motion, after which the judge will take the arguments under advisement and issue a ruling. The matter is set for an October jury trial if not resolved before then.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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