Report: Police considered encouraging suicide in standoff

A report out of Fargo today says a SWAT team was ready to use an odd approach to end a shooting spree in which a police officer was killed. It considered encouraging the shooter, Marcus Schumacher, to kill himself.

Ultimately, that’s what Schumacher did, but not at the urging of the police, the Fargo Forum reports today.

“I told them to do whatever they could do to stop him from continuing to engage, or shoot at us,” SWAT team commander Lt. Bill Ahlfeldt 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, [Deputy Chief Ross] 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 details of the unusual tactic came in the release of documents surrounding the February incident from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which has been investigating the spree in which Schumacher died after killing police officer Jason Moszer.

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.”