Magnuson acquitted on three of four charges

TWO HARBORS -- The prosecutor portrayed Superior Police Officer Ross Magnuson as a good man who let a fellow motorist get under his skin, escalating into a road rage incident in which he unlawfully pulled his gun.

TWO HARBORS -- The prosecutor portrayed Superior Police Officer Ross Magnuson as a good man who let a fellow motorist get under his skin, escalating into a road rage incident in which he unlawfully pulled his gun.

The defense said Magnuson was only thinking of others when, while off-duty, he confronted a reckless driver going 100 mph on Highway 61.

Jurors apparently thought Magnuson, 46, did more things right than wrong as they acquitted him Thursday of three of four charges -- including the two most serious -- connected with the Aug. 17 altercation in the parking lot of Two Harbors' Holiday West store. The nine-woman, three-man Lake County jury found him guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, but not of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and terroristic threats charges -- both felonies -- nor of reckless handling of a dangerous weapon.

Judge Kenneth Sandvik sentenced Magnuson to 30 days in jail for the misdemeanor crime, but stayed the jail time for a $300 fine.

"I'm looking forward to going back to work and getting into a normal routine again,'' said Magnuson, who has been on a paid administrative leave since August.


A felony conviction would have probably ended his 12-year law enforcement career. "I don't think anyone can imagine the stress my family has gone through unless you've been there yourself,'' he said.

Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters said the conviction will not prohibit Magnuson from returning to work "as soon as is practical.''

"He's been a good police officer in our community,'' Peters said. "He's a good husband and father and we're all relieved that this difficult period -- that has been a nightmare for him and his family -- is coming to an end.''

Juror Kelly Huseby, a nursing assistant from Finland, said she believed Magnuson acted out of concern about the alleged erratic driving of Philip Hoberg, a 27-year-old Superior businessman.

"I hated to even find him guilty on the disorderly conduct,'' Huseby said. "But that was more technical. ... I think he could have done things a little differently. It's too bad he didn't have a cell phone. He should get one. I do believe he had safety in mind.''

Lake County Attorney Russ Conrow said in his closing argument that Magnuson should have strapped a cell phone to his belt instead of a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol when he headed out from his Knife River home for a day with his family at the Lake County Fair. He said Magnuson should have called 911 to report the alleged reckless driving so that Two Harbors police and Lake County Sheriff's deputies could have responded, not an off-duty Superior police officer.

Magnuson was represented by Minneapolis lawyer Peter Wold and his colleague, Aaron Morrison. Wold often represents police officers as well as professional athletes.

"It would obviously been preferable for total vindication, but it's most satisfying knowing that this jury certainly didn't buy the story of the lying Philip Hoberg,'' Wold said.


Hoberg testified that Magnuson pointed a gun at him after swearing into the open moon roof of his BMW in the parking lot. Magnuson said he lifted his gun out of its holster only when Hoberg threatened and charged him, which he considered a threat to his life.

Hoberg said the defense portrayed him unfairly in an effort to excuse Magnuson's behavior, but was satisfied the officer was convicted of a crime.

"The defense made every effort to discredit the witnesses involved,'' Hoberg said. "There is satisfaction that the community was able to see through some very unsavory defense tactics.''

Conrow expressed disappointment but accepted the verdicts. "Obviously, we didn't take a four-day jury trial to get a disorderly conduct [conviction]," he said.

"I think all of the defendant's good character and his years of community service and his position as a police officer is tough to overcome. We don't contest that. But that's not what it was about. It's about what happened at that particular time [in the Holiday store parking lot.]''

What To Read Next
Get Local