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Charges declined in fatal September Fargo stabbing

Tremaine Settles

FARGO - Cass County prosecutors have declined to file charges against a Fargo man who fatally stabbed another man during a fight on Sept. 11, saying they couldn't prove it wasn't self-defense.

Tremaine Settles, 28, was pronounced dead at 2 a.m. that night after police and first responders arrived at the apartment building at 2608 Pacific Drive S.

Settles' ex-girlfriend, Rebecca Genia, and their two sons were living there at the time with her then-boyfriend, Billy Oliver, with whom Genia also has a child.

Settles had told them and others that he didn't like Oliver raising his children, according to a report Tuesday by assistant Cass County state's attorneys Leah Viste and Ryan Younggren explaining why charges were declined.

Investigators concluded that Settles went to the apartment, tried to kick down the door and began fighting with Oliver, who then stabbed him, Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said.

"It is always a tragedy when somebody dies like that, especially in a violent situation," Vettel said. "But in this case, it was shown through the

evidence that it was purely self-defense."

Prosecutors say Genia and Oliver are the only surviving witnesses to the fight.

Genia called 911 more than once screaming for help. In one of the calls, Oliver can be heard saying Settles came into the apartment and struck him with a brick, the prosecutors' report says.

Genia and Oliver told police Settles began fighting with Oliver, eventually knocking him to the floor and choking him from behind. Oliver told police he grabbed a paring knife that was lying on the floor in his own blood and swung it across his chest and behind him, stabbing Settles.

Settles called 911 and collapsed in the doorway, where he died. Oliver waited at the scene and submitted to multiple interviews with detectives, providing a "substantially consistent" story, the prosecutors wrote in their report.

Genia, who says she didn't witness the stabbing, told The Forum in October that she believed Oliver acted in self-defense.

Settles' mother, Margaret Brown, who has questioned how police handled the investigation, said in a phone interview Wednesday, "I think this case is far from over."

Brown said she plans to review the case paperwork with an attorney and has been in contact with the FBI, which she said is interested in the case.

Brown said she also will likely have her son's body exhumed for a second autopsy.

Brown lives in Birmingham, Ala., but has relatives in Cass Lake, Minn. She plans to return there in March to pursue the case, which she said has been a struggle for Settles' family.

"We are not letting it rest until justice is done. My son did not deserve what he got, and I just don't believe the two stories" from Genia and Oliver, she said.

Brown said Settles was a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.

Viste and Younggren said it doesn't appear any physical evidence or unexplained circumstances could disprove beyond a reasonable doubt the accounts of Oliver and Genia.

"As such, the legal use of deadly force in this matter to protect one's self from a violent felony and/or entry into one's home cannot be disproven," they wrote.

No knife was found on the night of the incident, but Settles' relatives later provided police with a knife they believed may have been used in the stabbing. Brown said her other son took the knife from Genia's pocketbook during Settles' funeral in Bemidji, Minn. Genia told The Forum she never had the knife in her possession.

The knife didn't contain blood or produce other evidence, according to prosecutors and Vettel.

"We can't say it wasn't, but certainly there's no evidence that shows that was the weapon used," Vettel said.

Settles and Oliver both had criminal records prior to the fight.

Genia accused Settles of assaulting her on May 9, 2010, in a dispute over a vehicle. She reported it to police the next day, when she called concerned that he wasn't going to pick up one of their sons from day care, court records show.

Settles pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct in that case.

Oliver pleaded guilty to aggravated domestic assault in November 2009 in Richland County. He was allowed to serve half of his one-year jail sentence at a Fargo halfway house.

Genia was busted for prostitution and drug possession three days before Settles' death. She pleaded guilty to both charges on Dec. 27 and received a deferred imposition of sentence, which means her record will be cleared of the misdemeanors if she completes one year of probation with no further violations.

Brown said she plans to pursue legal action to gain visitation rights to see her two grandsons who remain in Genia's custody.