A cellphone video recording of events as they unfolded, jury selection and a parade of witnesses for the prosecution rounded out the first day of trial in the 51st Circuit Court case charging Walhalla resident Robb Dodson with two felonies.
Dodson was charged with assaulting/resisting/obstructing a police officer and assaulting/resisting/obstructing a police officer causing injury following an incident one year ago today on the evening of Feb. 13, 2019. The altercation between officers and Dodson that lead to his arrest unfolded in front of witnesses in the parking lot of the Dollar General Store on U.S. 10 in Walhalla.
Mason County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Middlebrook called seven witnesses to the stand Wednesday, including the police officers who were involved in the incident as well as the defendant’s sister and other witnesses.
Jacqueline North, a manager at the Dollar General, said she recorded the incident on her cellphone while she was outside smoking a cigarette on her lunch break. The video only showed the guard posts and some of the parking lot, but nothing up close identifying people or vehicles. The video begins with a male voice asking, “Did you see that? Did you (expletive) see that? Did you see him hit me? Talking about a (expletive) lawsuit. Are you kidding me? Talk about a (expletive) lawsuit?”
A male voice the jury later learned was that of Dodson. He is again heard in the recording asking if witnesses saw “the cop hit me.”
A female voice identified as North is heard saying, “No we saw you hit the cop. There’s three of us here that saw you hit that policeman, and I’ll testify to it in court.”
Rhonda Lynne Galvich, another witness, testified that she volunteered to take Dodson’s sister, Dana Jo Hull, out to meet him at the store in order for her to pick up her son that night. The boy was staying with Dodson for a few days. Hull didn’t have reliable transportation to get there herself. Galvich said Dodson stated he would not return his nephew to his mother, Hull, without speaking with Aaron Sailor of Child Protective Services first.
Galvich testified that she was concerned for Mason County Sheriff Sgt. John Balowski as Balowski and Dodson were in a scuffle.
“Were you afraid for the officer that night?” Middlebrook asked her.
“Oh My God yes,” she emphatically answered. “It was clear that Robb had the advantage because he was bigger.
“I think the deputy was just trying to defend himself,” Galvich said of the three punches that Mason County Sheriff Sgt. John Balowski delivered to Dodson’s face.
Balowski, who was the road patrol sergeant the night of the alleged incident, was the first witness the prosecution called to the stand Wednesday. Balowski returned to duty shortly before the incident because of a surgery. He testified he was sent to the store on a peacekeeping complaint for a child custody exchange.
He testified that he instructed Dodson that he was being detained because of the child exchange, but the child wasn’t there, and Dodson allegedly refused to say where the child was. After Dodson entered and exited the store, and sat in the driver’s side of his pickup, Balowski said he asked Dodson to not leave the scene. Balowski reached into the truck and placed his left hand on the back of Dodson’s neck and his right hand on Dodson’s left arm while positioning the top of his head into Dodson’s left shoulder area to keep Dodson in position, Balowski testified.
Balowski testified he estimated Dodson to be about 300 pounds while Balowski is 5 feet, 9 inches and 175 pounds.
The deputy said he was standing on the running board of the truck when he saw Dodson’s pull his right arm back and make his hand into a fist. Saying he thought he was going to get knocked out as he watched the fist come at him, Balowski testified he pulled on Dodson’s jacket and pulled him out of the truck with Balowski ending up on the ground.
He quickly put Dodson in handcuffs and put him in the back of the patrol car. Dodson, who had complained of back pain, was evaluated by Life EMS at the scene and was cleared of any injury before he was transported to jail.
Deputy Hildegardo Hinojosa, who was standing behind and at an angle from Balowski testified he saw the sergeant put his hand on Dodson’s neck. By the time he went up to help pull Dodson out of the truck, the alleged altercation was over. He testified that Balowski complained of ankle and knee pain and mentioned he thought he might have aggravated the location where the sergeant had surgery.
Dr. Michelle Kuster, owner of All-Access Care on Jebavy Drive, testified that her clinic is under contract with the sheriff’s department to handle all work-related injuries. She read from her clinic’s records that Balowski had surgery on Dec. 5, 2018. Following the incident on Feb. 13, Kuster’s clinic saw Balowski twice in February and twice in March 2019. Kuster testified that Balowski was off duty for nearly a month after the incident in Walhalla, and he served in light duty for two weeks before returning to the road patrol.
Hull testified that she witnessed the altercation between her brother and the police through the back window of Galvich’s car. She stated that she saw her brother hit the police officer before they managed to get him out of the truck. Sailor testified to Hull’s full custody of her son, and stated that as long as she had reliable transportation to pick him up that night, she could get him.
The trial resumes Thursday morning with the prosecution expected to finish calling any witnesses it has. Dodson is represented by Peter VanGelderen, a Grand Rapids-based attorney. He is expected to call witnesses for the defense tomorrow.