In the eyes of some, the Minneapolis police officers who shot and wounded a suicidal man after he refused to drop his knife during a standoff in a City Hall interview room showed restraint in the face of danger and acted appropriately — even heroically.
Others question whether the officers acted properly when they drew their guns and fired on a teen who appeared to pose a threat only to himself.
The man they shot, 18-year-old Marcus Fischer, was recovering at a hospital Wednesday from both self-inflicted wounds and bullet wounds. Later that day, prosecutors charged him in connection with a shooting that led to his arrest.
The case raises concerns about how far officers should go to stop a person from harming himself, said Michael Quinn, a law enforcement consultant.
“The question really is, given the circumstances and what you’re dealing with, did you exhaust other options?” said Quinn, a former Minneapolis sergeant who trains police departments across the country. “If you look at the recent history of the Minneapolis Police Department, and given some of the shootings that they’ve been involved in recently, it gives you the feeling that cops are being very quick to shoot.”
Still, he added that officers have a moral obligation to intervene when someone’s life is at risk, while weighing their own safety and that of others.
“When you’ve got a guy that’s already cut himself multiple times, you’ve got a lot of blood, and trying to deal with somebody who’s got a lot of blood on him, it’s really, really difficult,” Quinn said.
Lt. Bob Kroll, head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, on Wednesday again asserted that the officers were “heroes.”
He said the officers were forced to make a split-second decision, because the man was already losing a lot of blood from self-inflicted injuries. After exhausting other options, the officers had to act to stop the man in order to save his life, he said.
“In looking at him, he appeared to be losing skin color; he kind of collapsed at one point,” said Kroll, who watched video of the 8½-minute standoff. “I mean where do you weigh in? Do you think the police would be scrutinized if we left him and let him bleed out?”
His defense of the officers rankled some.
“When police use their weapons, they’re never firing to save your life,” said Ron Edwards, a longtime department observer.
“Those officers were heroes because they shot to save his life? Oh, so where were you firing at? Were you firing at his shoulder? Were you firing at his knees?” asked Edwards.
On Wednesday, a clearer picture of the events leading up to the shooting began to emerge.
After his arrest at the Mall of America Bloomington on Monday afternoon, Fischer was brought to police headquarters for questioning. At some point during the interview, the detective handling the case, Sgt. Kelly O’Rourke, and left the room, according to department sources. When he returned, Fischer was stabbing himself in the neck and chest with a knife.
Several investigators, including O’Rourke and Lt. Rick Zimmerman, who heads the Homicide Unit, huddled outside the room briefly to come up with a plan. In the meantime, they summoned two patrol squad cars to headquarters for help in subduing Fischer, according to department sources. One of the arriving officers, David Martinson, was carrying a Taser. He fired it, but it failed to stop Fischer. Fischer ignored repeated commands to drop the weapon and get down on his knees and appeared to advance toward the officers at one point, according to several people who have seen a video of the encounter. Zimmerman was negotiating with Fischer when several of the officers fired their guns, apparently in response to the young man’s actions, according to sources.
What isn’t known is how many officers fired, how many shots there were and how many of them struck Fischer. The union said that, on advice of lawyers, no officers involved were talking to reporters.
Fischer was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he remained under police guard, according to court records. A hospital spokeswoman said that she had no information on his condition.
The incident also raised questions about why police didn’t discover the knife Fischer was carrying.
Department sources say they plan to put metal-detector wands outside interview rooms at police headquarters and in every precinct house across the city. Suspects and witnesses would now go through screening before being interviewed, officials said. While acknowledging that that is only a temporary solution, they said they hoped it would prevent similar episodes.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the incident, said agents are interviewing officers who were involved in or witnessed the shooting. The agency said it would provide the names of the officers once all of those interviews are completed.
Later on Wednesday, prosecutors filed charges against Fischer in connection with a robbery in northeast Minneapolis.
Fischer was charged with first-degree assault, first-degree robbery and possession of a handgun by a prohibited person, but because he remains bedridden, no court date has been set.
According to authorities, Fischer arranged to buy a Kel-Tec 9-millimeter handgun from a 21-year-old Elk River man, who agreed to meet him on the afternoon of Dec. 13. But after the man and a friend let Fischer hold the gun, he pulled out his own firearm and said that the Kel-Tec was now his, prosecutors said.
As he left, he shot the Elk River man once in the chest, according to a criminal complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court Wednesday. The man’s condition is not known, but police said that he remains hospitalized.
The victim’s friends later concocted a story about how the man had been shot during a road rage incident in Ham Lake.