BROKEN BOW— It has been 124 days since a jury of six found former Broken Bow Mayor Jonathon Berghorst guilty of 3rd-degree assault and oppression under color of office, both misdemeanors. Due to COVID-19 the sentencing had been delayed since April 9. On Friday, June 5 the case came to a close as Custer County Judge Tami Schendt sentenced Berghorst.
Before sentencing, the court heard a motion filed by Berghorst’s attorney Christopher Wickham to reduce the 3rd-degree assault charge from a class I misdemeanor to a Class II misdemeanor. Wickham argued that testimony from the trial showed that the “spar” was mutual between the pair. Nebraska Attorney General Special Prosecutor Zachary Blackman argued that the stories were very similar between the witnesses and that the injuries sustained by Royle showed the fight was not mutual.
Judge Schendt noted that the stories from witnesses were inconsistent on some details, but were fairly consistent when discussions centered around a mutual fight. She ruled that the fight was mutual consent and the assault charge was decreased to a class II misdemeanor.
During arguments for sentencing, Blackman pointed out that Berghorst had been placed on probation in the past for alcohol use including minor in possession and DUI. Blackman also had concerns that Berghorst was not taking responsibility for his actions, specifically using the title of Mayor to stop an investigation into the fight by the alley. Blackman asked the court to impose a jail sentence to send the message that using a position of power to halt an investigation is not appropriate.
Wickham argued that misdemeanors rarely receive media coverage and because of this Berghorst’s family has got through a lot the past 14 months. Wickham noted that while Berghorst had been on probation in the past he has lead a law-abiding life for the past 10 years while also being fully employed by Custer Public Power. In regards to sentencing, Wickam said that cases such as this are usually handed down with fines and costs rather than probation which is what he believed would be appropriate in this case
Judge Schednt stated that Berghorst was in a position of authority at the time of the offense and that he was to be a leader in the community that people looked up to. She noted that his behavior was unacceptable and also expressed concern at the lack of responsibility he was taking regarding the incident. Judge Schendt also said that the entire situation could have been avoided, but was “fueled by alcohol and perhaps the maturity level of all those involved.”
Judge Schendt ordered Berghorst to pay a fine of $500 for the charge of oppression under color of office. For the assault charge, Judge Schent sentenced Berghorst to six months of probation and 30 days in the county jail with 28 of those days able to be waived. If Berghorst abides by the conditions of probation the last 28 days of jail time will be waived at the end of probation.
Beghorst had been charged after an investigation took place into an April 6 incident where Berghorst and Riley Royle were involved in an altercation near Legends Neighborhood Grill. When police responded to the incident, Royle had indicated that Berghorst had assaulted him in an alley.
During the investigation, Broken Bow Police Officer David Taylor and former Officer Ben Tucker felt Berghorst had used his position of Mayor to halt the investigation. Eventually, the investigation was handed over to the Nebraska State Patrol and the Attorney General’s Office where the two charges were eventually filed.
Berghorst was removed as the Broken Bow Mayor following a special recall election on January 14.