- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - An assistant state attorney general has dropped a charge against Leith Mayor Ryan Schock related to the burning of a building once owned by white supremacist Craig Cobb, a year after filing it and just days before trial.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Emerson filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss the charge that Schock failed to control or report a dangerous fire, citing in part insufficient evidence. Emerson had no comment Thursday on what led him to reach his decision, attorney general spokeswoman Liz Brocker said.

Schock said Thursday that he has no insight on why the charge was dismissed but that he’s glad the ordeal is over.

“It’s kind of a puzzle, I guess,” he said. “Whatever. At this point it doesn’t matter. Hopefully we can close the book on it and move on.”

He had been scheduled for trial next week.

Leith City Attorney Steven Balaban, who represented Schock, on Thursday declined to speculate on Emerson’s reasoning but said “our position was, and still is, that (Schock) committed no crime in demolishing a condemned building that he was authorized to destroy.”

The charge against Schock stemmed from the city’s May 2014 efforts to raze condemned buildings after the departure of Cobb, who left Leith in 2014 following his failed attempt to turn the tiny community into a whites-only enclave. Authorities alleged that Schock acted recklessly and did not alert authorities when he set fire to a dilapidated building and the flames spread, endangering the home of neighbors Mike Bencz and Deby Nelson.

Schock has maintained his innocence since he was charged Jan. 22, 2015. The misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment of a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Bencz reported the fire, leading to the charge against Schock. He told The Associated Press this week that he and his wife did not intend to get the mayor in trouble and are tired of being harassed by area residents.

“We made a phone call reporting that there was a fire. That’s the only thing we did,” he said.

Cobb has since moved to Sherwood, where he’s serving four years of probation for terrorizing and menacing Leith residents. Last year he tried to obtain property in nearby Antler but the city thwarted him by buying up the 21 vacant lots in town, including one with a nearly century-old vacant bank building. The town plans to burn down the building later this month, with some Leith residents on hand.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide