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Halstad mayor may stay in post while rape case pending

HALSTAD, Minn. – Unless he resigns, the mayor here will keep his job while the rape charges against him are still pending.

Vice Mayor Shane Carlson said in a special council meeting Monday that legal counsel has advised council members not to comment on the charges filed against Mayor Steve Sortland.

Sortland, 44, was charged on May 29 in Norman County District Court with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He’s accused of raping a female acquaintance.

“Unless the mayor voluntarily resigns, there is no action the council can take until the legal process is complete, and he either pleads guilty to the crime or is found guilty by a jury,” Carlson said, reading from a prepared statement.

The council did unanimously approve adding Carlson’s name to the city’s signature cards, which are used to pay the city’s bills and must be signed by two council members, usually Sortland and Treasurer Ron Gotteberg.

“I do think it is a good idea to have this meeting to get my signatures on the cards, and that it’s best the council say nothing at this time,” Carlson continued, still reading from a prepared statement.

“So that’s about all we have to say for that.”

The charges filed against Sortland allege that on May 23, a woman told deputies she wanted to report being sexually assaulted by Sortland, but was afraid for the safety of her children.

The woman said she and Sortland had consensual sex at his home before he later forced her to have anal sex, court documents allege.

On May 26, the victim reported that Sortland had called her after learning she had reported the incident to the sheriff’s office.

She said Sortland told her that he didn’t know if he should kill her or take off so no one could find him, authorities claim in court records.

Sortland, who has no known criminal history, has denied the charges, telling investigators the sex was consensual, according to the complaint.

Sortland was arrested on May 27, and bail was set at $75,000.

A jail staffer at the Northwest Regional Corrections Center in Crookston said Monday that Sortland posted bail May 29. He was not present at the council meeting.

A felony conviction would mean the removal of a mayor, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

Minnesota sentencing guidelines for a conviction on the more serious first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, which alleges forceful or coercive penetration causing injury, calls for between 12 and 30 years in prison, depending on the criminal history of the offender.

Sentencing guidelines for the third-degree charge call for between four and 15 years.

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