Something Stinks About Grand Forks Police Shooting

UPDATE: The Grand Forks Herald has more details from a press conference this afternoon. Law enforcement is claiming that there were suicide concerns regarding Mr. Elliot and that he tried to ram a squad car which resulted in his shooting. But if the explanation is as simple as that, what’s with the delay in releasing the story?

Three days ago a man was shot by law enforcement officers in a hospital parking lot in Grand Forks. Since then, law enforcement has largely resisted informing the public about the troubling incident, prompting a chiding and entirely justified editorial from an outraged Grand Forks Herald.

Initially local law enforcement tried to pass the buck to the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, but they were rebuffed when the AG’s office told them they need to handle their own media inquiries.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, a Democrat from Grand Forks and ever the calculating opportunist, has even inserted himself into the situation demanding a joint press conference between the Grand Forks City Police, the University of North Dakota police force and the Attorney General’s office.

 

Schneider’s rank political grandstanding aside, this incident is disturbing to say the least. Here’s what we know so far, thanks mostly the Herald.

  • David James Elliott, a Grand Forks resident, was shot six times in the parking lot of Altru Hospital at about 12:45am on Saturday. He was shot in the face and, according to his wife, will need reconstructive surgery. He is currently being treated at Altru.
  • Elliott was chased by law enforcement officers after someone reported his pickup as a suspicious vehicle near a Wells Fargo Bank.
  • The chase, at least near the end, was apparently low-speed as officers had deployed a spike strip and popped Elliot’s tires.
  • The chase involved the UND Police Department, the Grand Forks Police Department, the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Patrol.
  • It was a UND campus police officer who shot Elliot. The name of the officer is not being released.
  • Elliot has no meaningful criminal history. His record consists of minor traffic offenses.
  • Elliot was apparently unarmed, according to his wife.

That’s pretty much all we know. We don’t know why Elliot allegedly ran from police.  We don’t know why police gave chase.

It’s worth noting that many law enforcement agencies have prohibitions on continuing high-speed chases for non-serious crimes. I’m not sure how those policies apply here, given the myriad of jurisdictions involved, but it’s hard to imagine a car chase is justified for someone who fled after nothing more serious than a suspicious vehicle report.

Once they had the guy’s license number, did the chase need to be escalated? That’s no doubt the issue law enforcement is grappling with at this point, and perhaps the reason they’re being so reticent with the public about the incident.

There is still a lot of information here we don’t know. In fact, law enforcement has created a vacuum into which all manner of speculation can be spewed, which is a major problem no matter how the situation with Elliot plays out.

But also a problem is that there doesn’t seem to be, so far, any evidence that this situation with Elliot needed to be escalated to a multi-agency chase which culminated in the shooting of what was apparently an unarmed man (I’m guessing that if Elliot was armed we’d have heard about that from law enforcement by now).

On a related note, can someone tell me why we have separate law enforcement agencies for our college campuses? That seems needlessly redundant. They should be folded into their respective city police departments.

It makes sense to have a law enforcement presence on campus. It doesn’t make sense to treat that presence like their own mini law enforcement agency.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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