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Halstad mayor charged with raping woman

ADA, Minn. – The mayor of Halstad was charged here Wednesday with raping a female acquaintance last week.

Steve Sortland, 44, made an initial appearance Wednesday in Norman County District Court after prosecutors filed felony charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

According to the criminal complaint, an employee at the Halstad Cenex called the Norman County Sheriff’s Office last Thursday to report a distraught female victim was at the store.

The woman told deputies she wanted to report “something” but was afraid for the safety of her children, court documents said.

The woman said she was at Sortland’s home and they had consensual sex but Sortland later asked her to perform a sex act on him using a toy. Sortland had “never shown an interest in that kind of thing before” and had taken a sleeping pill that day, so the woman refused, the complaint said.

A short time later, the two began having consensual sex again, she said. He then forced the woman to have anal sex and slapped her body, she told authorities.

The woman told deputies she did not want to tell anyone out of fear no one would believe her, the complaint said.

At the hospital, doctors found injuries to the woman.

Sortland denied raping the woman, telling investigators the sex was consensual, according to the complaint.

On Sunday, the victim reported that Sortland had called her after learning she had reported the incident to the sheriff’s office. She said Sortland told her he didn’t know if he should kill her or take off so no one could find him, court records allege.

Sortland was arrested following a traffic stop at about 4:35 p.m. Monday in the 100 block of Third Street East in Halstad and taken to the Northwest Regional Corrections Center in Crookston.

At Wednesday’s hearing, bail was set at $75,000.

Sortland has no known criminal history.

Minnesota sentencing guidelines for a conviction on the more serious first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, which alleges forceful or coercive penetration causing injury, calls for between 12 and 30 years in prison, depending on the criminal history of the offender.

Sentencing guidelines for the third-degree charge call for between four and 15 years.

A city councilwoman told The Forum the council will likely schedule a meeting to discuss transferring duties of the mayor to the city’s vice mayor.

A city clerk told The Associated Press that a special council meeting has been set for 8 a.m. Monday.

A felony conviction would mean the removal of a mayor, according to the League of Minnesota Cities. But a mayor accused of a felony could serve in that post while the charges are pending.

Wendy Reuer, INFORUM

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