A farmer who chased down a thief and held him at gunpoint until authorities arrived now faces a more serious charge than the thief himself.

Kenneth Englund, 74, was charged with second-degree assault, a felony. The thief, who the sheriff said admitted stealing about $5 worth of gasoline from Englund's neighbor, was charged with misdemeanor theft.

Sheriff Mike Ammend said people can't take the law into their own hands, and that Englund's actions were "an invitation to a shootout. There's so many things that could have gone wrong here."

On Oct. 15, Englund pointed a gun at Christian Harris Smith, 28, and a woman at the vacant farm next to Englund's place in Bradford Township. He then chased their vehicle at speeds of 70 mph, according to the criminal complaint. A 3-year-old child was in the vehicle.

During the chase, Englund used a cell phone to call the sheriff's office and asked if he should "blow them away," according to the complaint. His shotgun turned out to be unloaded.

Englund, a Township Board member for 37 years, pleaded not guilty, was released without having to post bail and is to return to court Feb. 22.

Smith was charged with another theft and was held in the county jail on a felony warrant from another state.

Prosecutor Dan Conlin said no one is looking to put Englund in jail. He said the charge fits the facts, but the case doesn't need to be resolved as a felony.

More than 350 people attended a fundraising dinner for Englund last month and a petition has circulated supporting him.

Bradford Township, about 45 miles north of Minneapolis, does not have a police force, and Englund said criminals can escape by the time a deputy arrives from Cambridge, 15 miles away.