It started with a discussion about a kiddie splash pad. It ended with stunned Thief River Falls officials pulling two City Council members apart after a knockdown, chair-swinging brawl.
In between, Joshua Hagen and Jerald Brown went nose-to-nose, threatened to take it outside and finally went after each other in a committee room — punching, kicking, kneeing and tossing a chair as they wrestled to the ground, according to court documents.
On Wednesday, more than a week after the scuffle broke out during a council committee meeting, the Pennington County attorney charged Hagen, 38, with fifth-degree assault and Brown, 73, with disorderly conduct. Both charges are misdemeanors.
“We had a heated discussion over swimming pool money and a splash park, and that’s basically what it got — a bad situation turned worse,” Brown said by phone Thursday. “But there was other stuff out there. It was anger, I would say.”
Hagen could not be reached for comment. He resigned his council seat earlier this week, citing medical reasons.
According to court documents, the beef began when Hagen and another council member, Curtis Howe, got into an argument during a meeting of the council’s Administrative Services Committee. Hagen acknowledged to police that he had taken “a couple of [verbal] shots” at Howe.
When Hagen continued to make “smart remarks,” Brown told him to shut up.
“I’m sick and tired of you,” Brown said, according to the criminal complaint. “I’m going to take you outside.”
“Let’s go,” Hagen replied, whereupon both men left their seats, went “nose to nose,” and began shoving each other.
Brown picked up a chair and, according to various witnesses, either held it up to defend himself, swung it at Hagen or threw it at him. Soon after, both men were on the floor, where Hagen got the upper hand on a man almost twice his age and began “pounding on his head as hard as he could,” according to the complaint.
Witnesses said Hagen kicked Brown in the face while the older man was on all fours and kneed him. Hagen claimed he hit Brown to get Brown to let go of his legs, according to the complaint.
Meanwhile, the city administrator put Hagen in a “bear hug” in an attempt to restrain him, while other officials in the room tried to get between the two men. Eventually, according to the complaint, three people restrained Hagen, who “continued to resist and kick” and “continued to struggle for a long period of time.”
Police said Brown suffered injuries to the left side of his face, while Hagen received abrasions on his back and chest.
“Witnesses stated that Hagen and Brown could have avoided this altercation and were acting like two children [in] a schoolyard,” the complaint said.
“Witnesses stated that many people have been disgusted with Hagen’s behavior in these meetings and it has been going on for too long.”
The men are scheduled to appear in court Aug. 6. Brown said Thursday that he does not plan to contest the charge against him.
“I will go in and accept the responsibility for it,” he said.