Amid tight security, Alabama fugitives plead not guilty to rural ND shootout
More than 20 officers from several local law enforcement agencies were in and around the Stark County Courthouse Monday afternoon to stand guard as four Alabama fugitives charged in connection to a June robbery, chase and shootout in Stark County had their preliminary hearing.
Ashton, Angela and Jacquelin Mink, along with Joshua Southwick, pleaded not guilty to all charges they face.
Southwest Judicial District Judge Zane Anderson signed an order Friday allowing the fugitives to appear at their hearing in plain clothes and without visible restraints.
However, the four were taken into and out of the courtroom in chains and handcuffs. They are being held at the Southwest Multi County Correction Center in Dickinson.
Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy disagrees with the order.
"I don't agree with it because they are prisoners up here," Tuhy said after the hearing. "As far as I'm concerned, they should be considered a risk at all times."
Dickinson Police Lt. Bill Leach, who was standing guard outside the courtroom, agreed the four are a very high risk. He said their risk level required the Southwest Tactical Team to be at the courthouse.
Tuhy said the fugitives were restrained during the hearing, but not visibly. However he wouldn't say how they were restrained.
Jacquelin and Angela Mink are believed to have helped Ashton Mink and Southwick escape from an Alabama prison in May. The four are accused of robbing Movie Gallery in Dickinson, and allegedly shooting at a North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper who was pursuing them on Interstate 94.
The four then were reportedly part of a standoff at a rural residence south of Gladstone, which ended when Angela Mink and Southwick surrendered and Jacquelin and Ashton Mink allegedly ran out of a garage shooting at law enforcement.
All four are charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder and criminal conspiracy to commit robbery. Jacquelin and Ashton Mink are also charged with attempted murder and a second count of conspiracy to commit murder.
At Monday's hearing, Stark County Sheriff's Department Detective Terry Oestreich said it is unclear if it was Ashton Mink, Jacquelin Mink or both who fired at officers after the standoff.
"I think I interviewed about two dozen officers and there's some discrepancy," Oestreich said.
No officers were injured but both Jacquelin and Ashton, who were reportedly handcuffed together at the time, were injured from gunfire. Ashton Mink was shot in the hip by officers returning fire, but Jacquelin Mink is believed to have shot herself in the chest, Oestreich said.
"Some officers say one to two seconds after they were down, there was one more shot that was a pistol shot that sounded more muffled," Oestreich said.
He added officers believe this is when Jacquelin Mink shot herself.
Ashton and Jacquelin Mink are reportedly married. Angela Mink is Ashton Mink's sister and is reportedly in a romantic relationship with Southwick.
Josh Rustad, Ashley Holmes, Jay Greenwood and Todd Schwarz are the fugitives' attorneys. They pointed to several discrepancies in the case.
Dickinson Police Detective Amanda McNamee said a witness of the robbery said the man who robbed the store had blue eyes, but neither Southwick nor Ashton Mink have blue eyes.
McNamee said it was one male and one female who robbed the store. She said one of the witnesses thought Ashton Mink was the robber, while another witness said it was Southwick.
All four attorneys said there wasn't enough evidence to constitute any of the conspiracy charges.
Tom Henning, Stark County state's attorney, disagreed.
Anderson ruled there was sufficient information to schedule further hearings on the matter.
"There's ample circumstantial evidence that all four defendants were acting in concert," Anderson said.