DL cop, ex-convict facing off in court: Both allege years of harassment, both seek restraining orders
The Detroit Lakes police detective and the ex-convict who got into a fight at a local bar on Christmas Eve are now seeking restraining orders against each other.
Sergeant Robert Strand and Blake Sundvor, who first clashed more than a decade ago when Strand arrested Sundvor for swindling, are each making allegations of harassment and stalker-like behavior, with alleged incidents going back to the time of that first arrest.
The two appeared at a hearing on the matter at the Becker County Courthouse Thursday afternoon, with out-of-county District Judge Mark Hansen from Otter Tail presiding.
The restraining orders are separate from the ongoing case regarding Strand and Sundvor's Dec. 24 bar fight at Hub 41 in Detroit Lakes that has both men facing charges of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, brawling or fighting. Strand was off duty when the fight occurred. He is currently on paid administrative leave.
At the hearing for the restraining orders Thursday afternoon, two witnesses spoke on behalf of Sundvor, and Sundvor also took the stand to plead his own case, before the one hour alloted for the hearing was up for the day. Sundvor was representing himself.
Sundvor made accusations against Strand in his testimony on Thursday, claiming that the officer has gone "above and beyond" to harass and target him. He alleged that Strand has inappropriately run his license plates, contacted his probation officer and employers, told his family members that he wanted to beat him up, and successfully encouraged a former girlfriend to end her relationship with him for a period of time.
"He has some sort of vendetta against me, from way back," Sundvor said.
Joe Irby, who is Sundvor's cousin and an attorney who has represented him in the past, was also a witness for Sundvor. He testified that Strand had twice expressed an interest to him in having a physical confrontation with Sundvor. At a public event on the Detroit Lakes City Beach about five years ago, Irby said, Strand asked him to arrange a fight between himself and Sundvor (that fight never materialized). Another time, in late 2014, he said Strand made the comment to him at Anytime Fitness about how "he'd like to get (Sundvor) in a room by himself."
No one else heard these alleged conversations, Irby testified, and he did not make any written notes of the incidents.
"I didn't want to get involved," he said.
Sundvor's other witness was Rhonda Bell, the woman that Strand allegedly encouraged to break up with Sundvor.
Bell testified that Strand contacted her around the spring of 2016. She said Strand told her Sundvor was "dangerous" and "a loose cannon," and encouraged her to cut ties with him and file an Order for Protection.
Bell's relationship with Sundvor had been "pretty normal" up until then, she testified, but she believed Strand at the time because of his authoritative position as an officer. She said Sundvor was always good to her, as well as to her son.
Still to come, Strand's side
Strand and his attorney, Robert Fowler of Twin Cities-based Fowler Ditsch, will plead their case at a second session scheduled for April 20.
Fowler said he plans to call multiple witnesses to speak on his client's behalf, and he believes there will be "ample" evidence to exonerate the officer, including security camera footage from Hub 41 showing what happened at the time of the fight.
Although this hearing was not intended to be specific about the pending case involving the bar fight, Sundvor did testify about that night, stating that Strand made threatening comments to him at the bar and "put his face in my face."
"He was running his mouth," Sundvor said. "He said he was gonna beat my ass."
Sundvor then also testified, though, that it was him that approached Strand inside the bar and him that made the first physical contact, pushing Strand in the chest. The altercation allegedly led to Strand punching him. Sundvor then fled the scene and Strand called 911.
In a brief interview with the Tribune immediately following the hearing, Fowler said his client's account of what happened at the bar that night significantly differs from Sundvor's—and he's confident the evidence is on their side.
Strand said he's "disappointed" by the charges that have been filed against him, but he believes "the evidence will speak for itself" when the time comes to reveal it.
"I just want to get back to work," he said. "I want to be part of the team again, back out in the community."
Fowler claims Sundvor is trying to "ruin" Strand in retaliation for his arrest years ago—which resulted in a felony Theft by Swindle conviction. Sundvor has a long criminal record and a history of theft and scamming.
According to Fowler, Sundvor has stalked and harassed Strand for years, seeking the officer out at public events and making erroneous complaints to his superiors at the police department.
Sundvor "is not a victim of anybody," Fowler said.