A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

Cloquet man charged in stranger home invasion case

An observant police officer and a likely DNA match led to the arrest of a 43-year-old Cloquet man last week on suspicion of trying to strangle a woman in her home this summer.

Cloquet detectives and officers arrested Brendan Gareth Smith Friday afternoon after an extensive investigation of a home invasion June 7. Smith appeared in Sixth District Carlton County Court Monday, Oct. 10, charged with first-degree burglary and third-degree assault, both felonies. He was granted a public defender and bond was set at $250,000.

According to the criminal complaint, the victim was asleep in a bedroom facing the backyard the night of June 7, when an intruder entered the home just before 4:30 a.m. and allegedly began strangling her with both hands around her neck. She woke up at his touch, struggled and tried to scream, alerting her husband in another room.

Her husband told police he entered the room after hearing his wife make a noise that “didn’t sound right to him.” He saw the man standing next to the bed and got into a brief fight with the man, pushing him out the back door. The man allegedly said he “got the wrong house,” and ran down the hill behind the residence to get away. The husband described that man as a 6-foot-2 white male with a beard, wearing a blue hoodie and black pants. He did not recognize him as being one of his neighbors on the dead-end road.

Detectives obtained DNA evidence from the scene, which was later analyzed by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension laboratory.

Police work helped pinpoint the suspect. According to the criminal complaint, the previous day Cloquet police officer Andy Wappes observed a vehicle parked at the Cloquet Chamber of Commerce parking lot just after 1 a.m. Wappes stopped and investigated, calling a second police officer, Sgt. Zack Sandstrom, to respond after he thought he heard someone or something in the woods to the west of the vehicle, a maroon 1993 Toyota Previa.

Days after the incident, in the late evening hours on June 11, surveillance cameras at the victim’s home captured footage of a person approaching the deck stairs behind the house. The individual in the footage resembled the male intruder.

Sgt. Sandstorm recalled the vehicle from June 6 about a week later and located a photo of the registered owner, Brendan Smith. He resembled the description of the intruder. Police also discovered Smith was a noncompliant predatory offender.

In late July, detectives attempted to execute a search warrant for the suspect‘s DNA. He was resistant and refused to provide a sample. In August, detectives executed a second search warrant for the man’s DNA. Again he refused to comply, but he was restrained and a sample was obtained and sent to the BCA lab for analysis.

The BCA recently informed the Cloquet police that the samples submitted to their lab contained DNA matching the suspect.

On Oct. 6, the Carlton County Attorney’s Office issued an arrest warrant for the man and he was taken into custody without incident, police stated.

“On behalf of the Cloquet Police Department, I would like to extend our continued thoughts and sympathies to the victims of this traumatic incident,” said Cloquet police chief Derek Randall, expressing thanks to the detectives, officers and others assisting in the investigation. “This crime created fear and anxiety for many citizens, especially in [the immediate area] and Sunnyside neighborhoods. Our department is steadfast in pursuing justice for those affected by criminal activity.”

Smith was convicted of felony fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2013 in Carlton County. A sentence of three years was stayed in favor of supervised probation. He had to register as a predatory offender, complete treatment and follow all conditions of his probation agreement.

Smith’s next hearing is set for 10:15 a.m. Oct. 24.