MADISON — A Norfolk man who was sentenced to probation in September could face prison time after he allegedly absconded from probation over the holidays.

Ryan Fester, 29, appeared in Madison County District Court on Wednesday on allegations that he violated the terms of his 18-month probation term, which he was sentenced to in September. Fester had been convicted of possession of meth and was ordered by District Judge James Kube to comply with strict probation terms until March 2023.

In June 2019, Fester was given an opportunity to complete the Northeast Nebraska Drug Court program and have his felony conviction dismissed. But, following numerous violations, Fester was terminated from the program in July 2021 and subsequently sentenced by Kube.

On Dec. 24, Fester left a short-term residential treatment center in Columbus against the advice of treatment specialists, according to an affidavit supporting Fester’s arrest.

Fester was told by a probation officer to report to the District 7 probation office in Norfolk on Dec. 26, but he apparently failed to show up.

On Dec. 27, the probation officer was able to get into contact with Fester over text. Fester indicated that he was hoping to be admitted into a facility in Lincoln and that he had an interview scheduled on Jan. 2.

The probation officer asked Fester where he was at the time, according to the affidavit, but he apparently would not disclose his location and told the probation officer that he would not return to Norfolk.

Fester was told by the probation officer that, despite his intentions to move to Lincoln, he still needed to comply with the terms of his probation, including drug testing. Fester reportedly texted the probation officer again that he had an interview scheduled for Jan. 2.

“That’s your info. And your compliance,” he said.

Then on Dec. 28, police assisted the probation officer in conducting an at-home visit at Fester’s residence, but he wasn’t at the residence. On Dec. 30, the probation officer again contacted Fester via text, and he indicated that he was sick and continued to refuse to comply, the probation officer alleged.

On Jan. 3, a day after Fester said he had an interview scheduled at the Lincoln facility, the probation officer contacted him again, asking him if he was at the facility. Fester said he wasn’t at the facility, and he was ordered to show up at the Norfolk probation office the next day. He apparently didn’t comply.

A document alleging the violation was filed in district court on Monday. The Madison County Attorney’s Office subsequently filed a motion to revoke Fester’s probation and for a warrant to be issued for his arrest. Fester was apprehended shortly thereafter, but court documents didn’t indicate whether he was arrested in Madison County or elsewhere, or if he turned himself in.

Fester, who reportedly tested positive for COVID earlier this week, made his court appearance on Wednesday over Zoom from the Madison County Jail. Kube appointed Brad Ewalt to represent Fester at future hearings, but Fester was without an attorney on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old didn’t deny or admit to the allegations made by the probation office but instead offered an explanation.

“When I was in treatment and then left, there were people who were fighting and it was too much,” he said. “I was supposed to have an interview last Sunday (in Lincoln). I called (the Lincoln facility) three times and kept getting voicemail. I kind of panicked at that point and wanted to avoid going back to Norfolk; I’ve got lots of bad memories.”

Fester said he “exhausted” all the treatment options in Norfolk and Columbus, and that Lincoln or Omaha would give him more options. He was simply trying to get “a different kind of help,” he said.

“Should I have stayed in contact with (my probation officer) even if I was trying to get probation transferred? Yes,” Fester told Kube. “... It was a matter of me panicking and really just trying not to go back to Norfolk. It was wrong of me, and I understand that. I’m looking for something different.”

Fester, whose bond was set at $100,000, with 10% required for release, asked Kube to amend his bond to a personal recognizance (PR) bond.

Matthew Kiernan, deputy Madison County attorney, objected to giving Fester a PR bond, citing the manner that Fester allegedly violated his probation.

“This is an absconding type of case, as well as the fact that he left treatment against doctors’ and treatment providers’ orders,” he said. “His history and truthfulness of this matter is of some concern.”

Kiernan recommended a 10% of $20,000 bond for Fester, which Kube agreed to.

“It might be possible for you to go elsewhere for additional treatment or have your probation extended,” Kube said. “But until that gets worked out, I’m concerned about where you would go and how you would get there. Before we have a chance to review your case and figure out whether that’s a possibility or not, I think it’s important that you stay here until you talk to a lawyer and we make some progress on this.”

Fester is scheduled to be arraigned on the alleged probation violation on Thursday, Jan. 20. If it is proven that Fester violated his probation, Kube could either leave him on probation, extend his probation, admonish him or hand down a combination of those options.

Kube also could revoke Fester’s probation and resentence him for the crime he was convicted of — possession of meth, a Class 4 felony. Fester would then face up to 2 years in prison.

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