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Man, officers involved in fatal West Fargo shooting identified

Justin Dietrich1 / 5
Justin Dietrich was holed up in a pickup truck before he was shot by members of the Red River Valley SWAT Team Monday night in West Fargo. (WDAY-TV image)2 / 5
Shane Aberle3 / 5
Troy Hannig4 / 5
West Fargo Police officers walk to the scene of a Monday night shooting that occured after a standoff at 1003 11th St. W. in West Fargo.David Samson / Forum News Service5 / 5

WEST FARGO — Authorities have identified the man fatally shot by members of the Red River Valley SWAT Team during a Monday night standoff as Justin Lee Dietrich, a 32-year-old Fargo native who had a criminal history and was suspected of possessing stolen handguns.

West Fargo Police Chief Heith Janke said the incident began about 8:30 p.m. Monday, March 12, when a West Fargo officer tried to pull over Dietrich. However, the attempted traffic stop turned into a high-speed chase through the city, Janke said.

Dietrich rammed a West Fargo police vehicle during the pursuit, and he eventually stopped in the 1000 block of 11th Street West. There, he holed up in his pickup truck, and Janke said authorities believed there were weapons in the vehicle.

At 10 p.m., the SWAT team took over negotiations with Dietrich. At 10:37 p.m., he got out of his truck, "refused to follow commands, and posed an imminent deadly threat to the SWAT operators. Four SWAT operators fired at the suspect," according to a joint news release from Fargo and West Fargo officials.

Dietrich was taken by ambulance to Sanford Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

It remains unclear why the officers saw Dietrich as "an imminent deadly threat." West Fargo spokeswoman Melissa Richard said she could not confirm whether weapons were found in Dietrich's vehicle or whether he was armed when he was shot. Moorhead police and a representative of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation directed all inquires about the shooting to West Fargo officials.

Two of the SWAT team members who fired at Dietrich were identified as Sgts. Shane Aberle and Troy Hannig of the Fargo Police Department, according to North Dakota officials.

Aberle has been with the Fargo Police Department for 15 years, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in December 2013. In 2008, during a 20-hour standoff in Luverne, N.D., Aberle's helmet was hit by five shotgun pellets at close range. The shooter, Darin Dahl, was convicted of attempted murder and reckless endangerment, both felonies.

Hannig has been with the Fargo Police Department for 10 years, and became a sergeant in January 2017.

The Moorhead Police Department identified the two Minnesota-based SWAT team members who fired at Dietrich as Moorhead Officer Brandon Desautel and Clay County Deputy Kyle Diekmann. Desautel and Diekmann have each been with their respective agencies for four years. Their photos were not provided in compliance with Minnesota's data practices law, Moorhead police said in a news release.

All four officers are on standard paid administrative leave. The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting.

Felony charges

Dietrich was set to appear in Cass County District Court on Wednesday, March 14, on a felony terrorizing charge. In that case, he was accused of threatening to kill his father at his father's south Fargo home on Oct. 24.

According to court documents, Dietrich was drinking heavily at his father's home and the two argued. The father told investigators he ran upstairs and retrieved his handgun, loaded a round into the chamber, and pointed the gun at his son. Dietrich grabbed the gun barrel and twisted it away. As he did so, a round was fired into a piece of furniture and the floor.

The father said he again pointed the gun at his son and recocked it, and Dietrich said, "Come on shoot me Dad — shoot me — I don't care anymore!" according to court documents.

Dietrich and a woman left the house, but he returned later that night and was arrested on an outstanding warrant, court documents said.

In a separate case, Dietrich pleaded guilty in 2016 to a felony count of terrorizing in Cass County. Also, a Grand Forks County warrant had been issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in court on charges of meth possession in December.

'All the chaos'

Barry Nitzkorski, who lives at 1003 11th St. W. with his wife Donelle Nitzkorski, saw Dietrich damage his parked vehicles.

"The suspect came flying in, took out the mailbox, hit my wife's car and my company car. Police started drawing weapons," he said. "We got the alert pretty quickly to go into lockdown."

Nitzkorski said they heard Dietrich yelling and screaming inside his truck but none of what he said was understandable.

Officers eventually escorted the Nitzkorskis out of their home, and the couple went to a relative's home about a mile away where they heard the gunshots that ended the standoff.

Officers allowed the Nitzkorskis back inside their home to get overnight supplies, and the couple spent the night at a hotel with their puppy. "It was amazing how well we were treated despite all the chaos," Donelle Nitzkorski said.

The shooting occurred a block south of West Fargo's Westside Elementary School, which police used as a staging area during the standoff. Classes resumed as normal on Tuesday, March 13, said district spokeswoman Heather Konschak.

Miranda Sorlie moved in three houses down from the Nitzkorskis in October. She and her son had left home just before 9 p.m. to run an errand and returned to find their street blocked off and no information about what was happening.

Sorlie circled the area and monitored news outlets to learn what was going on before she was finally able to return home after 1 a.m.

Sorlie said it's concerning that police pursued Dietrich at such high speeds through what has been a quiet and peaceful residential area. "It's a good thing this happened now in March," she said. "If it would have been June, we for sure would have been outside. Everybody would have."

A CodeRED phone alert was issued for the neighborhood on Monday night, and residents living within a quarter mile of 1003 11th St. W. were asked to shelter in place. However, not everyone received the alert.

"We're new to the area, so we didn't have CodeRed," said Julie Fraser, who lives nearby. "Apparently you need to sign up for that if you don't have a landline."

From her home, Fraser could see the vehicles that blocked Dietrich's truck as the standoff unfolded.

"The police did an amazing job, and we felt safe the entire time," she said. "People need to remember, for the officers and the suspect's family, we need to pray for them because no one wants this to happen to their kid."

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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