A suspected killer in North Dakota accused of mowing down an 18-year-old over the teen's alleged conservative views was quickly released from jail. Townhall was the first to report that 41-year-old Shannon Joseph Brandt, of Glenfield, was freed from a local detention facility just two days after he confessed to hitting Cayler Ellingson, 18, with his car in an apparent politically motivated attack that resulted in the victim's death.
Jail inmate records show that Brandt was let out sometime on Tuesday and the Stutsman County Correctional Center administrator confirmed to Townhall that the defendant posted a $50,000 bond yesterday. Foster County Sheriff Justin Johnson also verified that Brandt is back on the streets pending his next court appearance.
Since his swift release, Brandt began scrubbing his locked-down social media activity. Then the suspect's Facebook account was deactivated Wednesday after public comments swarmed his page.
Jail confirmed to me that Shannon Brandt, who reportedly confessed to killing a North Dakota teen because the 18yo victim was "part of a Republican extremist group," posted bond and is back on the streets.— Mia Cathell (@MiaCathell) September 21, 2022
Since his release, it appears Brandt started scrubbing his social media. pic.twitter.com/HAIbprHPpP
According to the Fargo-based InForum, which broke the news of the Brandt case, the fatal hit-and-run happened early Sunday morning in the rural city of McHenry, where a community "street dance" was wrapping up.
A probable cause affidavit Townhall obtained via public records request says that Ellingson's body was found on a dirt path near the intersection of Johnston Street and Jones Avenue. Before the gruesome discovery, a drunk Brandt called 911 and admitted to a dispatcher that he struck Ellingson with his 2003 Ford Explorer, alleging that the pedestrian was "threatening" him and "calling some people to come get him," according to a call made to State Radio emergency services that were logged at approximately 2:55 a.m. that day.
Testimony from a North Dakota Highway Patrol peace officer says Brandt claimed over the phone that Ellingson was "part of a Republican extremist group," although no evidence has surfaced corroborating his allegation.
Court documents tell a different story of a desperate Ellingson reaching out to his mother at the end of his young life and begging her to rescue him. The affidavit shows that moments before the teen's death, Ellingson called his mother twice, pleading for her to come pick him up and save him from Brandt, who he said was "chasing" him. Ellingson's mom could not reach her son after the second call. When she arrived at the scene along with a first responder, Ellingson's parents found their child's body in an alleyway. While his parents knew Brandt, the teen did not, the family told authorities. The extent of the relationship is not yet known.
An affidavit says Brandt fatally struck the teen over "a political argument." Brandt claimed Ellingson was "threatening" him and believed he was "calling people to come get him." Ellingson's mom said he was being "chased" by Brandt, didn't know him, and was calling her for help. pic.twitter.com/Dpju6VrIXx— Mia Cathell (@MiaCathell) September 21, 2022
A criminal complaint sent to Townhall from the Foster County District Court clerk says that Brandt did not render aid to the dying victim as required by N.D. Cent. Code § 39-08-06 fled the site of the fatal hit-and-run and returned to his residence in a different city—nearby Glenfield—where he was later arrested. Brandt told a patrol sergeant at his home that he struck Ellingson with his SUV "because he had a political argument," the affidavit says. Brandt acknowledged fleeing the crime scene and not remaining there until police arrived.
According to a search warrant Townhall received, there is reason to believe that on or within the premises of Brandt's house, there's "concealed evidence or property" proving that he caused Ellingson's fatal injuries.
Brandt was taken into custody Sunday for driving under the influence and consented to a chemical breath test, in which the results were above the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08. He has since been charged with criminal vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a deadly accident. If convicted of the first Class A felony, Brandt would face a maximum of 20 years in prison. The second offense, a Class B felony, against Brandt carries a penalty of up to 10 years behind bars. In addition to imprisonment, both charges carry a fine of $20,000.
The court docket says Brandt has his next court hearing on the afternoon of Oct. 11. At his first courtroom proceeding Monday via Zoom, Brandt objected to the judge ordering he be held on bond and insisted he's not a flight risk. "I have a job, a life, and a house and things I don't want to see go by the wayside—family that are very important to me," Brandt told the judge, indicating he doesn't understand the charges he's facing.
Brandt had a tough time understanding the charges against him in the killing of 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson.— Mia Cathell (@MiaCathell) September 21, 2022
"I have a job, a life and a house and things I don't want to see go by the wayside—family that are very important to me," Brandt told a judge at his first court hearing. pic.twitter.com/UG9vc9PvTV
"We are still trying to determine what, exactly, transpired at the time of crash and prior to that as well," North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind told reporters in a video aired by WDAY-TV. Niewind further explained that authorities "do not know of any witnesses" present before the incident and "are still making attempts to interview potential witnesses from the street dance." Meanwhile, state troopers say that more serious charges could be recommended against Brandt as the investigation develops, InForum reports.
Townhall requested an audio recording of Brandt's call but a strategic communications chief with the state's Department of Emergencies Services denied the inquiry after "checking" with the department's administrator. "Per law enforcement, this is still an active investigation, so I am not allowed to release records at this time," the representative said, citing a section in the state's Century Code that exempts disclosing the information.
An office manager at the state's Department of Transportation highway safety division told Townhall that an online crash report should be available in the digital system within 10 days following the incident.
A lifelong friend of the Ellingson family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the slain teen's funeral expenses through the grieving process. As of Wednesday afternoon, the online fundraiser received an outpour of support, amassing over $22,000 in donations, which well-exceeds the initial goal that's half that. Cayler was "the heart" of his family's life before he "was taken way too soon from them," the GoFundMe page says. The tragic loss of losing a child is something "no parent should ever have to endure in their life."
Services will be held for Ellingson, from Grace City, next week on Sept. 26 in Carrington, where he just graduated high school in late May this year. Ellingson's Facebook account says he just started college in Bismarck last month, studying diagnostic medical sonography to become an ultrasound technician.
The political violence in the Upper Midwest region of America comes weeks after President Joe Biden's divisive, anti-MAGA speech in the City of Brotherly Love declared war on Republican voters nationwide. With an authoritarian-esque backdrop of blood-red lighting and flanking Marines, the Democratic U.S. president's rhetoric accused Trump supporters of harboring "anger," spreading "chaos," and living in the "shadow of lies."