What started as an investigation into a suspected stolen bicycle ended with a conviction that could put a St. Ignatius man behind bars for up to 100 years.
After a jury failed to come to a unanimous verdict in December, William Rossbach faced a retrial last week in Lake County District Court on one charge of assaulting a peace officer. The jury found Rossbach guilty of hitting Flathead Tribal Police officer T.J. Haynes.
Testimony from both the prosecution and defense established that Officer Haynes spotted Rossbach on a bicycle that Haynes suspected was stolen. Rossbach says he bought the bike from a relative.
Officer Haynes pulled up behind him with his lights on. Rossbach testified he felt scared of Haynes due to personal history, so he left the scene on the bicycle, riding through town. Haynes eventually caught up with him near the Silver Dollar Bar, where Rossbach had laid down the bike and hidden behind a bush. Rossbach told Haynes, “You’re not taking me to jail today, T.J.” though Haynes said he did not at the time recognize Rossbach. Rossbach testified that he told Haynes he would go with any other officer, but he feared Haynes.
Testimony indicated Haynes exited the vehicle with a taser drawn and when Rossbach did not comply with his orders to come out with hands up, he discharged the Taser, hitting Rossbach in the chest with probes, which Rossbach pulled out and walked away down the street. Haynes followed, using the taser on his back and drawing his firearm, threatening to use deadly force if Rossbach threatened him with the knife he had in a sheath on his belt. Rossbach detached and dropped the knife and continued walking.
When Rossbach entered a residential area, Haynes testified he was concerned Rossbach could enter a home and a hostage situation could develop, so he tackled Rossbach. He was unable to reach other officers by radio. Rossbach struggled and it was during this time Haynes claimed to have been hit. Haynes asked two bystanders for assistance, at which time Rossbach stopped and was handcuffed. Haynes said he turned his body camera on when he left the vehicle, but it only recorded a short section of the physical struggle and none of the rest of the encounter.
Sentencing is scheduled for March 25. Typical sentences range from two to five years, but because of a prior conviction, prosecutors could seek enhanced punitive sentencing, which could be from five to 100 years.
Defense attorney Alisha Backus said the verdict is likely to be appealed.