Brothers sentenced in armed standoff, allege racism by the county
The sentencing of two brothers in an armed standoff in a residential neighborhood of Park Rapids last December turned instead into a forum on racism and society's failures.
Allen Gene Bloom Sr., 39, and Brian Jon Bloom, 31, were sentenced to 216 months in prison for their role in a drunken shooting rampage that ended after a four-hour armed standoff with 20 officers. It has been characterized as a failed "suicide by cop" scenario as the men taunted police to shoot them at the scene.
Both men pleaded guilty in January to two counts of First Degree Assault, admitting they had been drinking prior to the incident. They must serve a minimum of 144 months with 72 months of supervised probation.
The men entered into a plea deal in January, agreeing to an upward departure in sentencing because of their extensive criminal histories and the number of victims involved in the standoff at their mother's home downtown. Their stepfather, Lynn Barton, was shot in the leg during the incident. Barton has refused to cooperate with police to name the person that shot him.
Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne told the court the officers were considered victims of the crime.
"They're still affected by this," he told District Judge John Smith.
He said the officers were still concerned "if they'd fired on Allen Bloom, who was waving a gun, pulling the trigger. It was a very difficult evening."
Dearstyne told the judge it was learned after the standoff the gun wasn't loaded. Only the officers' training and discipline kept them from firing any shots, he told the judge.
"Mr. Bloom's intention on that particular evening wasn't to harm law enforcement," defense attorney Jennifer Nelson said. "It was to harm himself. He suffers from serious depression."
When Allen Bloom Sr. was asked if he wished to make a statement, he recited numerous incidents by jail staff allegedly discriminating against him during his past 100 days behind bars.
"I feel that the jail (staff) have been going out of their way to make my life miserable," he said, adding that he'd pled guilty to the crimes and accepted responsibity but saw "no reason to carry on the punishment in jail."
"I can tell you his allegations are unfounded," said jail administrator Sherri Klasen. "He was treated no differently than anyone else within the facility, either one of them."
The brothers, Native Americans, were incensed that they will only be allowed a 5-minute contact visit with their mother, Margaret Eischens Barton, before being transferred to St. Cloud prison. They said it was another example of racism in the judicial system.
Nelson asked Judge Smith to address the issue, but he left it up to the discretion of Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer, who oversees jail operations.
"Five minutes isn't enough to say goodbye to my mom," Allen Bloom Sr. said. "I feel like I've been fighting this because of the color of my skin and because I pointed a gun at a cop."
Klasen said the jail until now has not allowed contact visits and when they received the request from the Blooms, jail staff formulated guidelines to accommodate the visit.
"We put together a procedure that would be used for them and any inmates in the future," she said, adding it will be "reviewed on a case-by-case basis."
Klasen said the visits took place Thursday afternoon, with each brother getting five minutes with a first-degree relative of their choosing.
Numerous family members were in the courtroom leveling audible charges of racism against the county and court system.
Allen Bloom Sr. apologized to his tearful mother, saying he regretted that "I took myself out of her life again. I won't be sitting at her table for dinner and at holidays."
"You've obviously led a somewhat troubled life and the abuse of chemicals is part of that," Smith said, noting Allen Bloom Sr. has serious chemical dependency problems.
"This certainly is not the end of your life," Smith told the defendant, advising him to "avail yourself of opportunities" in prison such as educational and chemical dependency programs.
"I say this to you because I don't want you to lose hope," Smith said. He told Bloom Sr. that rebuilding his life can be a daily mission, "one block at a time."
He said similar things to Brian Bloom in meting out the same sentence.
"I apologize to my mom, too," Brian Bloom said. "She raised me better than that. And I apologize to the real victim, Lynn. He's still got a bullet in his leg. The officers didn't get so much as a hangnail."
Brian Bloom, too, said he had been treated with racial insensitivity and filed numerous grievances while in jail.
"They filed grievances over little things and big things," Klasen said. "He was making requests on what he would like to do in there but by classification he was housed where he was."
Both brothers had a "maximum classification," based on several factors including the seriousness of the charges, their present and past behavior in the facility, their sentence or bail and past commitments, charges and disciplinary measures.
"You have had a fair amount of violence in your past and you must realize it's not the answer to your problems," Smith told Brian Bloom.
Relatives reacted angrily to the sentences and allegations of racism by the defendants. One man stood up, swore at Dearstyne and accused the court of racism, then stormed out of the courtroom.
Smith ordered the bailiffs and court security to bring him back in.
The man, David Eischens, is a brother of the Blooms. He was returned under guard.
"I know you're upset but that's no reason to act the way you did," Smith said. "I appreciate your frustration but you need to address it in an appropriate way and this was inappropriate."
Eischens apologized to the judge and grudgingly apologized to Dearstyne after the judge ordered him to do so.
"My concerns were the racism of Hubbard County," Eischens said. "I'm sorry."
Bailiff Phil Stuemke walked into the courtroom as the sentencing ended and quietly asked Margaret Eischens Barton if she'd like to say goodbye to her sons. Then he led her to them, where they exchanged tearful hugs and "I love you's."