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North Dakota police officer fired for injuring suspect gets probation after changing plea

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former North Dakota police officer fired for badly injuring a 63-year-old man during an arrest has been sentenced to probation after dropping his not-guilty plea.

The Bismarck Tribune cited court documents in reporting that former Bismarck Officer George Huff entered an Alford plea on Oct. 12 to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault. The plea means Huff didn't admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to support a conviction. He had been scheduled for trial in December.

A judge placed Huff on unsupervised probation for one year.

Huff, 26, was accused of striking Keith Erlandson several times in the face while holding handcuffs during an arrest on March 9. Erlandson suffered severe injuries. Bismarck police and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigated, and Police Chief Dave Draovitch fired Huff on May 21.

The Bismarck's department's report concluded Huff “initiated and persisted in close physical contact” with Erlandson and ignored training on deescalating a situation while waiting for backup “which he knew was literally seconds away.”

Huff told investigators that Erlandson resisted arrest, appeared to try to bite him, pulled at the officer's duty vest which housed weapons and violently pulled on Huff's neck.

Huff’s attorney, Chris Redmann, said his client was defending himself against someone who was attacking him.

“Officer Huff’s primary reason to take a plea agreement is not because he was guilty, it was to extinguish the risk trial in any case brings and the potential that he would receive jail time if a jury regrettably returned a guilty verdict,” Redmann said.

Police reports said Erlandson has mental health problems, a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and a history of fleeing from officers and resisting arrest. He was not charged in the March incident.