Former Beulah Lead Police Officer Dustin Pekas testified Monday in a motion hearing to suppress statements he made to investigators last fall.
Pekas, 36, was fired in mid-September after he reportedly admitted to sexual contact with a teenage girl. He is charged with felony sexual assault and set for trial Jan. 4.
Defense and prosecuting attorneys met Monday morning at the Morton County Courthouse for the hearing. Special prosecutor Ladd Erickson agreed to not admit as evidence Pekas' phone call to his wife from jail and statements after he invoked an attorney.
However, Erickson and defense attorney Lloyd Suhr disputed whether Pekas was in custody at the time of his interview with agents from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
BCI Special Agent Lindsay Wold said the interview took place at the Beulah city attorney's law firm in a conference room. Beulah Police Chief Frank Senn had called Pekas to the office and took his sidearm and taser.
Wold said Pekas was uniformed and on duty at the time, was told he didn't have to speak with investigators and said he understood his rights.
Pekas testified he felt he would have been fired if he tried to leave.
"I felt if I didn't show cooperation, I could have been fired from my job," he said.
"What relevance does that even have?" Erickson asked.
"I just felt if I didn't cooperate, I would have been released of my duties as a law enforcement officer," said Pekas of the possibility of losing his main source of income.
"I felt that I was made to come there," said Pekas, adding that the confiscation of his weapon led him to believe he was in custody. Wold countered that agents never interview someone who is armed.
A BCI agent also accompanied Pekas to the restroom during the 75- to 90-minute closed door interview, he said.
After the interview, agents arrested and handcuffed him, Wold said.
Wold said investigators already had interviewed the girl and felt urgency to talk to Pekas.
"Based on the seriousness of the offense, it had to be done as soon as practical and I didn't feel we had time to wait," she said.
"The important thing here is it was pinpointed to be on duty," Suhr said.
Suhr asked South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick to find Pekas was in custody, had an inadequate Miranda warning and to suppress all statements before and after his invocation of counsel.
Romanick took the matter under advisement and said an order will come this week.
In October, the North Dakota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board served Pekas with a complaint regarding a code of conduct violation related to his criminal case.
POST Board executive secretary Duane Stanley said the case is in default after correspondence indicated Pekas wouldn't appear at a hearing. His peace officer's license has since been revoked.