Duluth firefighter to stand trial on assault charge in June

Attorneys for Conrad Sunde have indicated they will argue self-defense and call several fellow firefighters as character witnesses.

Conrad Sunde

A trial date has been set for a firefighter accused of assaulting a woman along a western Duluth trail last summer.

Conrad John Sunde IV, 49, of Proctor, will go before a jury June 29 for a trial scheduled to last three days at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth.

Sunde, a 20-year member of the Duluth Fire Department, is charged with felony third-degree assault for allegedly striking 65-year-old Mary Modec with his bike and grinding her face into the gravel on the Duluth Traverse Trail System after she confronted him about his off-leash dogs July 10.

Modec suffered a nasal fracture in the incident, prompting an upgrade of Sunde's initial citation for misdemeanor assault.

Judge Theresa Neo last month dismissed a more serious count of aggravated first-degree robbery, which had been filed by St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme on the basis that Sunde had forcibly taken the victim's cellphone and thrown it into the woods. Neo said there was no evidence "to believe that defendant's intention for the alleged assault was to steal Modec's phone."


PREVIOUSLY: Duluth firefighter charged with aggravated robbery, felony assault after allegedly attacking woman The veteran firefighter served a suspension following the July incident and remains actively employed by the Duluth Fire Department, according to the city.
Sunde's attorneys, David Keegan and Mikkel Long, have indicated they intend to argue self-defense on the assault charge at trial.

According to court documents, Sunde acknowledged having his three dogs unleashed before Modec verbally confronted him on the trial near Coleman Street and 84th Avenue West. Sunde also admitted to a police officer that he struck the victim with the front tire of his bike, but his attorneys said he only did so after seeing Modec reach for a canister of pepper spray or Mace on a lanyard around her neck.

Modec told police Sunde repeatedly insulted her in vulgar terms and that he charged at her with his bike after she attempted to take a photo of the dogs. Sunde got on top of Modec and forcibly pushed her face into the ground, prying the phone out of her grasp, according to court documents.

Police said the cellphone was later located approximately 150 feet away in the woods, though the defense attorneys suggested it was "probably significantly less."

PREVIOUSLY: Judge tosses Duluth firefighter's robbery charge Judge Theresa Neo said she did not see any evidence that Conrad Sunde had the intent to take Mary Modec's phone before he threw it into the woods during an alleged assault stemming from a verbal confrontation over his off-leash dogs.
Third-degree assault carries a maximum of five years in prison, but a first-time offender is expected to receive probation under state sentencing guidelines. The robbery charge would have carried a presumptive prison term.

A witness list filed by the defense last week includes the names of five current or former Duluth firefighters who could be called as character witnesses at trial.

Sunde, recipient of the 2011 Firefighter of the Year Award from the Kiwanis Club of Friendly Duluth, has been employed by the city since January 2001, earning an annual salary of $74,473. He returned to active duty after serving a 30-day unpaid suspension in the immediate aftermath of the alleged assault.

Sunde did not have any prior disciplinary history, according to personnel records obtained by the News Tribune through a public data request. Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj, in a disciplinary notice, said the alleged assault was "highly concerning and considered a severe and dangerous breach of policy."

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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