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Trooper: No evidence North Dakota teen killed in crash was Republican extremist

The facts of the case so far do not support Shannon Brandt’s claims that he and Cayler Ellingson argued about politics or that the teenager was calling for people to come after Brandt, North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind told The Forum on Thursday.

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Shannon Brandt appeared in court via videoconferencing from the Stutsman County Jail on Sept. 19, 2022.
WDAY
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McHENRY, N.D. — Evidence gathered against a 41-year-old man accused of killing an 18-year-old man in northeast North Dakota does not support the defendant’s claims that the teenager was a Republican extremist who called people to come after the suspect before the vehicle-pedestrian crash, a state trooper said.

Investigators continue to gather information and statements from witnesses connected to the Sunday, Sept. 18, death of Cayler Ellingson, who was fatally hit by a vehicle after a street dance in McHenry, a town of roughly 60 people about 50 miles north of Jamestown.

Shannon Joseph Brandt, 41, of Glenfield, North Dakota, was charged Monday in Foster County District Court with criminal vehicular homicide and failure to report the crash immediately to law enforcement.

Brandt acknowledged to law enforcement that he drank alcohol before the crash, according to a criminal complaint. Brandt also allegedly left the scene but returned to call 911, the complaint said. He then returned to his home before officers arrived at the crime scene, according to the complaint.

He told investigators he hit Ellingson because of a political argument, the complaint alleged. The complaint did not give details about the argument, but Brandt allegedly claimed in a 911 call that Ellingson was part of a “Republican extremist group.”

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Brandt alleged Ellingson called others “to come get him,” the complaint said.

A boy with glasses and braces smiles and poses for a photo.
Cayler Ellingson.
Contributed photo

The facts of the case so far do not support Brandt’s claims that he and Ellingson argued about politics or that the teenager was calling for people to come after Brandt, North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind told The Forum on Thursday.

“The North Dakota Highway Patrol has not uncovered any evidence to support that claim that was made by Mr. Brandt,” Niewind said. “There is nothing to corroborate that.”

Brandt made the statements to law enforcement when he was allegedly intoxicated and after he struck a person, Niewind said. Suspects sometimes make statements to cover up what happened, the state trooper added.

“We are continuing to investigate this incident,” Niewind said.

The Forum tried to obtain 911 calls and transcripts detailing Brandt's conversations with dispatchers. Authorities said those records are sealed since the investigation is ongoing. The Forum is seeking an attorney general's opinion on those matters because state law says 911 transcripts are open records.

The story of Ellingson’s death has attracted the attention of well-known Republicans, such as Donald Trump Jr., U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. The Republican National Committee suggested the crash was the result of President Joe Biden calling “MAGA Republicans” a threat to the country.

“Democrats have tried to explain away the harmful rhetoric perpetuated by Biden in front of millions, but as a family mourns the loss of their teenager because of his political beliefs, it’s clear the damage has already been done,” the Republican National Committee said in its statement.

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The White House condemned politically motivated violence in a statement to The Forum.

“As the president has made clear, this is a nation that rejects violence as a political tool and we do not encourage violence,” the White House said.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also took a rare step on Wednesday to address the criminal case.

“Tonight we pray for the family of Cayler Ellingson in the aftermath of their tragic and unnecessary loss,” Burgum tweeted. “Violence is never the answer to disagreements of any kind, including political, and those who perpetrate it must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Attempts to reach Brandt, who posted a $50,000 bond Tuesday, have been unsuccessful. An attorney was not listed for him in court records as of Thursday.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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