CUSTER COUNTY— Day one of a two day trial in Custer County Court finished up around 5 PM on Wednesday, January 29 as the jury was selected and witness testimony was heard in the case of former Broken Bow Mayor Jonathon Berghorst. Berghorst is currently being charged with alleged 3rd-degree assault and alleged oppression under color of office, both misdemeanors.
According to the complaint, the charges stem from an incident on April 6, 2019 where Berghorst is claimed to have caused bodily injury to Riley Royle. Following the alleged altercation, Berghorst is claimed to have used his power as Mayor willfully or attempt to deceive, oppress, or harm Broken Bow Police Officer David Taylor in the subsequent attempted investigation of the alleged assault.
The officers, witnesses, and numerous others testified that during the night of the altercation, those involved were intoxicated.
The morning began with six jurors being chosen from a pool of forty to make the decision if the state, represented by Zackary Blackman and Gail VerMaas, will be able to meet the burden of proof to find Berghorst guilty of the aforementioned charges. Following lunch, the state called their witnesses which included Broken Bow Police Officer David Taylor, former Broken Bow Police Officer Ben Tucker, and Broken Bow Police Chief Steve Scott.
Officers Taylor and Tucker testified that they had responded to a call of an alleged assault with injury in the early morning hours of April 6, 2019. Upon arriving to a home near the assault the officers informed the jury they saw Riley Royle in pain and also observed later that he was missing a tooth and had an injury to his chest. Royle informed the officers that Berghorst had assaulted him in the alley near Legends Neighborhood Grill.
Officers stated that they went to Legends where witnesses confirmed that an altercation had taken place between Berghorst and Royle. When Taylor and Tucker went to Berghorst’s residence the officers stated that Berghorst and the group he was with, was being uncooperative and that Berghorst had asked the officers if they knew who he was. The officers testified they felt that Berghorst was using his position of power to try and stop the investigation.
Body camera footage was also entered into evidence that showed the interaction between Berghorst and other witnesses at Berghorst’s residence. Chief Scott also testified that Berghorst had called him on his cell phone that night and had requested that he come over immediately.
Chief Scott testified that he talked with Jon about what was going on and said the officers were doing the job of investigating the incident. During the interaction, Jon asked that Chief Scott “check his hands” to see if there were any marks on them to prove he had not assaulted Royle. Chief Scott testified that he did not see any visible marks, but also said that it was dark where the two were privately conversing.
Following the conversation, Chief Scott told Taylor and Tucker the investigation was over and they were to leave. Both Taylor and Tucker testified that they felt that more investigation was needed including checking the hands of the other people at Berghorst’s residence and to test a possible blood spot on one of the witnesses.
Royle also testified during the afternoon and claimed that Berghorst had brought up that he wanted to “spar” with Royle. After telling Berghorst that he didn’t want to fight, he then claimed Berghorst told him they were going to watch a fight instead. Royle stated that he agreed to watch a fight, but after stepping into the alley behind Legends he claims he was hit in the back of the head. Royle also noted that when he turned around Berghorst punched him in the face which knocked out a tooth and was also punched in the chest.
The state also called Nebraska State Patrol Investigator Jeffrey Van Stelton to the stand to testify on an interview he had with Berghorst. The interview was played for the jury which showed Berghorst discussing his side of the incident on April 6. In the video, Berghorst claimed that he and Royle had limited interaction throughout the night, but stated it had been a friendly when they did talk. During the interview Berghorst told the investigator that he and Royle had gotten into a fight, but that it was mutual and suggested by Royle.
Berghorst claimed that he had agreed to “spar” with Royle in the alley which resulted in Royle getting knocked to the ground. Berghorst said that he helped Royle up and said there was no blood when he helped him up. He also stated that Royle asked for a re-match, but Berghorst noted that he and the group he was with had decided to leave.
The final witness of the day was called to the stand by the defense where Aryka Van Horn testified that when Royle had come back into the bar she did not notice any blood.
The second and final day of the trial will begin at 9 AM on Thursday, January 30 where the defense is expected to call the remainder of their witnesses before closing arguments and jury deliberation.