Courtesy Matt Henson, WDAY

Bismarck— According to a criminal affidavit, North Dakota Highway Patrol Lieutenant Steven Johnson is charged with a misdemeanor count of sexual assault, but he is claiming that charge was filed in revenge for firing a sergeant.

Johnson was the patrol commander for the Southwest Region. He was stationed in Grand Forks for a number of years before moving west. He was Sergeant Travis Skar’s supervisor in the department’s Southwest Region.

According to the criminal complaint: Johnson, along with Skar, Johnson’s wife and two other people decided to use Johnson’s hot tub after a night of partying just before Christmas in 2020.

“They had been out that evening and, as I understand it, had been drinking,” said Cass County Assitant State’s Attorney Ryan Younggren, who is working the case as a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest.

Several months later, Johnson’s lawyer Chris Redmann said, the lieutenant learned Skar was having an affair on duty and lied about it.

Skar was fired.

Redmann claims the same day Skar was fired, a woman went to Bismarck police and reported that Johnson touched her under her bra while she slept on his couch on the night they had partied and used Johnson’s hot tub.

Redmann says Johnson “vehemently denies the accusations against him. … He volunteered to take and passed a polygraph.”

Johnson was charged nearly a year after the incident.

“There’s always more evidence than is simply filed with the court,” said Younggren.

Johnson’s lawyer said this is a case of retaliation.

“This case reeks of revenge (with) a clear motive for the alleged victim to lie,” Redmann said.

Redmann went on to say his region of troopers continue to support their former lieutenant, saying, “He was the quintessential boy scout of the patrol.”

Younggren would not directly respond to the revenge claim.

“What I’m focused on is responding in the courtroom and dealing with the evidence that we have and, at the appropriate stages, presenting it when it’s needed,” he said.

“We look forward to his (Johnson’s) trial date, an acquittal and his ability to return to the highway patrol once he proves his innocence,” Redmann said.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Colonel Brandon Solberg declined comment due to the open court case.

A request to obtain the troopers’ personnel files regarding their firings is under review due to the criminal case.

Johnson is scheduled to go on trial in February. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a year in jail.