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Armed Fargo men accused of threatening teens they thought were terrorizing neighborhood

This home at left, seen Wednesday, May 1, 2013, on the 3200 block of 46th Avenue South, Fargo, N.D., is the site of a conflict between reported teenage harassers and armed adults. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – Two of three men who confronted a group of juveniles they suspected of terrorizing a south Fargo neighborhood Saturday night have been charged with a crime.

The case puts a spotlight on the risk residents take when they intervene in what they believe is illegal behavior, police said.

And because the confrontation between three men and three 15-year-old boys involved firearms, the incident has parents wondering how close their children came to being shot.

Saturday’s encounter in the 3200 block of 46th Avenue South was the latest in a string of incidents that began last year when Gerald Michael Manley, one of the two men arrested Saturday, confronted a group of youths who were driving across private property, said Deputy Police Chief Pat Claus.

In last year’s incident, Manley lectured the youths but didn’t immediately report it to police, Claus said.

After that confrontation, Manley’s home and neighborhood became the targets of malicious acts, ranging from knocking on doors and windows in the middle of the night to rocks being thrown or whipped at house siding with a slingshot, Claus said. Police are also investigating a recent fire that damaged a vehicle that belongs to Manley, he said.

Saturday’s events began when someone dumped lawn cuttings on Manley’s driveway. In response, Manley and others in the neighborhood were on the lookout for more trouble, Claus said.

Based on a police report filed in Cass County District Court, they found it.

Conflicting stories

According to the report:

Police were called to Manley’s home in the area of 32nd Street and 46th Avenue South at about 11 p.m. to take a vandalism report.

There, officers found Manley and two other men holding three juveniles.

One of the men, Michael David Pajala, had an M-4 semiautomatic rifle hanging from his shoulder.

The third man was armed with a handgun.

Manley told police that earlier in the night occupants of a gold SUV scattered grass clippings over his driveway.

He said a car later drove down the street, honked its horn and stopped in front of his house.

Manley, Pajala and another man ran into the street from Pajala’s garage, Pajala armed with the M-4 and the third man armed with a handgun concealed behind him in his waistband, the report stated.

Manley told police the car squealed its tires and stopped about 10 feet from Manley and his companions.

The report stated Manley reached into the driver’s window, pressed his arm against the driver’s body and placed the vehicle in park before taking the keys.

The youth in the front passenger seat was told to get out of the vehicle.

Pajala and the man with the handgun told police they did not point their weapons at anyone.

According to the police report, the 15-year-old driver of the car told police he was driving down the street and honked his horn when he saw an object in the roadway.

The driver said three people then came running out of a backyard and one of them pointed an “AR-15” rifle at him.

The youth said a man, identified in the report as Manley, reached through his open window and choked him to the point he couldn’t breathe.

Charges filed

Officers arrested Manley and Pajala on Saturday night and the two were later charged in Cass County District Court with disorderly conduct for having “threatened and/or alarmed” the juveniles by confronting them, according to the charging documents.

Manley was also charged with simple assault for choking the driver of the car and causing red marks and pain, according to the charging document.

Both the disorderly conduct charges and the assault charge are Class B misdemeanors, which carry upon conviction a maximum of 30 days of jail and a $1,000 fine.

In court appearances on Monday, both Pajala and Manley pleaded not guilty, according to court records.

The third man involved in the confrontation was not arrested or charged.

A prosecutor with the Cass County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to discuss specifics of the case. In the past, prosecutors have said they base charging decisions on what the state believes it can prove given the evidence available.

Parents of two of the three boys who were in the car Saturday night say the incident terrified their children. They said based on what the boys have said, at least one gun was aimed at the youths.

One boy had a gun placed against his head after he was ordered out of the car, according to the parents, who asked that their names not be disclosed to protect the identity of their juvenile sons.

In court papers, the juveniles are identified only by their initials.

The parents said the boys were having a sleepover Saturday and were on a snack run at the time of the incident.

The parents said the driver of the car honked the horn in response to an unidentified object in the street, perhaps an animal.

History of harassment

Bruce Quick, an attorney representing Manley, described the car’s presence in the neighborhood differently.

“It was not honking a horn at some animal,” Quick said. “It pulled right up in front of his (Manley’s) home and (the driver) leaned on the horn and then was going to drive away.”

Quick said the incident was similar to others that have been going on in the neighborhood “for months and months and months.”

Quick said Manley was not armed with a gun Saturday, and he said it will likely be disputed anyone pointed a gun at anybody.

“The back story here is that the Manley residence and others in the neighborhood have been harassed – if not terrorized – for about a year by a number of juveniles,” Quick said.

Claus said police have received about nine reports from the neighborhood over the past nine months or so, but precisely who has been behind a given incident isn’t clear.

He said it is possible the original confrontation last year has grown into something more, with young people who weren’t involved in the original incident joining in on the subsequent harassment.

‘Bullying scenario’

Claus declined to speculate who may have done what in Saturday’s incident, but he said it is not unusual for people to be drawn into disputes between other individuals or groups, even if the newcomers have little or no connection to the people involved.

“You can almost describe it as a scenario of bullying, where a person gets bullied and then other people begin to bully that person,” Claus said.

He said law enforcement officials understand the stress that comes from being harassed, but added that people face risks if they use force or weapons in a situation where no threat is apparent.

“People should realize that when they choose to intervene, when they start to utilize weapons or force, they are governed by law and by making that decision they put themselves in a position where they may be subject to arrest and prosecution,” Claus said.

Article written by Dave Olson of the Forum News Service

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