SWAT negotiators considered encouraging Schumacher to kill himself

FARGO--Marcus Schumacher had just killed a Fargo police officer. And he was holed up in his house on the city's north side with several long guns, continuing to fire round after round at officers.

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FARGO--Marcus Schumacher had just killed a Fargo police officer. And he was holed up in his house on the city's north side with several long guns, continuing to fire round after round at officers.

To end this dangerous situation the night of Feb. 10, SWAT team commander Lt. Bill Ahlfeldt said, he told SWAT officers to shoot Schumacher if they had a clear shot.

With the same purpose in mind, Ahlfeldt gave SWAT team negotiators who were talking with Schumacher on the phone the go-ahead to use an unorthodox tactic -- one that police negotiation experts say they've never heard of before.

Ahlfeldt said that a while after he gave the order to shoot Schumacher, his negotiators came to him saying that negotiations had stalled. And they asked if they should try to encourage Schumacher to kill himself.

Ahlfeldt said yes.


"I told them to do whatever they could do to stop him from continuing to engage, or shoot at us," said the lieutenant, who conferred with the incident commander, Lt. Chris Helmick, and with Deputy Chief Ross Renner before approving the tactic.

However, Ahlfeldt said his negotiators ultimately did not use the tactic of trying to push Schumacher toward suicide. "They never talked to him about killing himself," he said.

Though in the end, that's how the 49-year-old died.

Schumacher fatally shot himself in the head after a SWAT team sniper spotted him through a window and shot him twice in the arm, according to a report from Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick.

Renner said the SWAT negotiators decided not to employ the tactic because they had not trained to use it. "If it had been a tactic they were familiar with and a tactic they had trained on with, I would imagine that that might have been employed. I don't know," Renner said.

Ahlfeldt acknowledged that he had not heard of the tactic until his negotiators asked him about it. And he couldn't describe what it would have entailed.

Still, Ahlfeldt went along with it because he felt the threat Schumacher posed to police and to the unevacuated residential neighborhood needed to be eliminated. At that point in the night, police were at a loss as to how to stop Schumacher from shooting, Renner said.

"Every time a bullet left his gun, we didn't know who it was going to hit, who it was going to kill," Ahlfeldt said. "We'd already lost one person."


Renner acknowledged that approving the tactic sounds callous. "Decisions like that are very difficult to make, but you have to look at what the outcome is if he doesn't stop" shooting, the deputy chief said.

The revelation that Ahlfeldt had OK'd such a tactic came through the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation's release of more than 150 documents on Wednesday, March 30. The documents were part of the bureau's investigation into the death of Schumacher and the officer he killed, 33-year-old Jason Moszer.

Ahlfeldt briefly mentioned the tactic in a report he submitted to the bureau. But it turns out he had not mentioned it to Chief David Todd.

"I hadn't heard that one before. That sounds odd to me," Todd said when asked about the tactic described in Ahlfeldt's report. "It doesn't sound accurate to me."

Ahlfeldt was interviewed as part of the Police Department's internal review of the standoff, but he said the tactic he approved did not come up.

Ahlfeldt said he didn't recall which negotiator asked him about using the tactic. Detective Philip Swan was the officer designated to speak on the phone with Schumacher from the 911 dispatch center that night.

Swan is not a SWAT negotiator, but he's trained as a crisis intervention officer. He began speaking with Schumacher early in the standoff and continued, with the help of SWAT negotiators, because he had built a rapport with him, Ahlfeldt and Renner said.

In his report, Swan does not mention any consideration of trying to encourage Schumacher to kill himself. Swan wrote that Schumacher told him multiple times that he was not suicidal.


"I felt that Marcus and I had created a lot of rapport with each other, but at the same time that did not seem to stop Marcus from shooting his guns in the house, after repeated attempts from me asking Marcus to just stop and be done," Swan wrote.

Ben Tisa is a SWAT operations expert based in San Francisco. He said he's never heard of a police commander giving negotiators clearance to use such a tactic and that he's not aware of the tactic being taught in any police negotiation schools.

Tisa said the tactic goes against a negotiator's typical goal of calming down an unstable person. "The negotiators are there primarily to de-escalate the situation," he said.

Carole Lieberman, a forensic psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif., also said she's never heard of such a tactic. "There's really no excuse for agreeing to encourage him to kill himself," she said. "It's extremely unethical."

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