Duluth firefighter convicted of felony assault in trail encounter
DULUTH — Conrad Sunde IV, a firefighter who got into a physical altercation with a trail user who reprimanded him for violating city leash laws, was found guilty of third-degree assault.
Judge Theresa Neo issued her written decision on Monday. The defense waved a jury trial in favor of a one-day bench trial in early April. Both attorneys submitted written closing statements in May.
The court’s findings and a sentencing date will be set at a later date.
“The state is satisfied with the court’s finding of guilt,” St. Louis County District Attorney Nathaniel Stumme said. “We will now focus on facilitating the victim’s right to express the full impact of this brutal assault on their life and those who value our local trail system.”
Administrative manager Noah Schuchman said Sunde, 50, is currently employed by Duluth as a firefighter. The crime was reported to the boards that regulate EMT certification and firefighter licensing.
“How these regulators will rule, or when, is beyond the control of the City of Duluth,” according to Schuchman.
Mary Modec, 67, testified that she met Sunde, who was cycling alongside three off-leash dogs, on July 10, 2020. She reminded him of the animal leash ordinance, then took her phone so she can take a picture and report it. In turn, he insulted her, lifted the front tire of her bicycle and threw her to the ground.
He knelt on her shoulder and buried his face in the ground, she said.
Sunde testified that his actions were in self-defense. He saw the pepper spray canister dangling from a lanyard around Modec’s neck and thought she was going to use it against him. He thought his response was reasonable, he said, a series of actions the longtime firefighter with military training described as “shield, block, disarm.”
He threw his cell phone out of reach.
Modec’s nose and glasses were broken, she has a scar on her arm and a permanently bruised eye, she said. She must undergo surgery if she wants to breathe normally again. Photos of Modec’s face were widely shared on social media along with a description of Sunde and his dogs. He surrendered to the West Duluth police station later that day.
The defense, in its written closing statement, argued that Modec’s version of the physical altercation was not consistent – between what she told a police officer, a doctor and later testified in court . According to defense attorney David Keegan, the chemical irritant she said was hidden in his shirt had to be visible for Sunde to react the way it did.
Stumme argued that Sunde’s actions may have been out of place, but they weren’t justified.
“Ultimately, even if Mr Sunde is believed, the threat he faced was tantamount to a 65-year-old woman standing on a footpath with her hand on a small canister of chemical irritant held against her body by a lanyard around his neck that had neither threatened to use nor put him in a position to deploy,” he wrote in his closing statement.