Law enforcement adapts to handle new challengesLaw enforcement weapons, technology and tactics have evolved 30 years after two U.S. marshals were killed in a shootout outside of Medina, N.D. Gordon Kahl and his son, Yorie, were involved in a shootout that left U.S. Marshal Kenneth Muir and Deputy Marshal Bob Cheshire dead on Feb. 13, 1983.
By: By Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Law enforcement weapons, technology and tactics have evolved 30 years after two U.S. marshals were killed in a shootout outside of Medina, N.D.
Gordon Kahl and his son, Yorie, were involved in a shootout that left U.S. Marshal Kenneth Muir and Deputy Marshal Bob Cheshire dead on Feb. 13, 1983.
Weapons law enforcement had were typical for the time, six-shot revolvers and 12-gauge shotguns, according to officials. Muir only had a .38 caliber revolver and no body armor, according to the 1990 book “Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus, Murder in the Heartland.”
The group Kahl was affiliated with, Posse Comitatus, believed the federal government was theologically evil. As God-fearing Christians members of the group felt they had the right to defend themselves, according to “Bitter Harvest.”
The shootout lasted less than half a minute around sundown on a Sunday in 1983. Today the immediate law enforcement response would have been different.
“We became more aware of the movement that was going on as far as the posse for No. 1, and after the shootout we became aware that we were outgunned,” said Dave Orr, Stutsman County sheriff at the time of the incident. “We had pistols and shotguns and they were using semiautomatics and rifles, and they were much more accurate than a pistol.”
The Stutsman County Sherriff’s Office, U.S. Marshals and Medina Police Department all responded.
Brad Kapp was the only local deputy at the time and lost a finger in the shootout. Orr traveled directly to Medina, but by the time he arrived the incident was over.
It took less than a year for Stutsman County commissioners to react and upgrade weapons and bulletproof vests for deputies.
“They realized what had happened and realized we had a shortfall, and the commissioners at that time were very good about getting us get whatever we needed at that time,” Orr said.
Now sheriff’s deputies here carry semiautomatic pistols with magazines carrying 10 to 15 rounds. Deputies also carry a rifle and shotgun in law enforcement vehicles, according to Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff.
Thirty years ago federal agents had better resources than what they have today to keep a close eye on the Posse Comitatus, Orr said. The movement eventually died out in Stutsman County about a year after the shooting.
“They (Stutsman County Posse Comitatus) were having meetings down south of us, in Linton or Ashley to figure out what they were going to do,” Orr said. “But by that time the U.S. marshals and the FBI were following them pretty close and gathering intelligence on vehicles and people and putting that all together.
“The information was distributed, so in case you happened to stop one of those vehicles that night when you were out on patrol you would have a heads up on it,” he said.
In the past 30 years, tools to better protect law enforcement and tools to be better prepare law enforcement have changed locally and nationally.
“The bulletproof vest, the weapons are improved, the computer equipment, the things you can use to analyze what people have done in an instant in your patrol car or at your office before you respond to something like this —to know what their history is, to know what their mentality is, you have so much more at your disposal today than we had back in the late ’70s, early ’80s,” said Paul Ward, U.S. marshal for the district of North Dakota.
Ward has been in law enforcement since 1979. On Feb. 13, 1983, he was working as a sheriff’s deputy for the Ward County Sheriff Department.
The news of the shooting came across the teletype (essentially a typewriter connected to a computer) and Ward went to his post north of Minot on U.S. Highway 283.
“There isn’t a time when I drive from this area past Medina that I don’t think of this incident because having been involved in it at the onset working a roadblock for signal 100 as a deputy knowing what took place and then fast forwarding 30 years from this incident, 30-some years in law enforcement all I have to do is drive by that sign and see the Medina sign,” Ward said. “Now as a marshal it puts yourself in a different perspective. It makes yourself think this is a tragic situation and anything I can do as the marshal to prevent something like this from happening in the future, I’ll do.
“Whether it’s as a result of training, as a result of more and more intel (intelligence), deployment of deputies, the way we handle the arrest, whatever I can do to avoid a tragedy like this in the future I will do.”
Ward said no one incident directly impacts training, but hundreds of incidents all across the country could dictate future training procedures.
“You have to remember that law enforcement, although some agencies have individual training, the training for all law enforcement is typically the same, particularly on the federal level, so one incident in one particular district, or one particular state, may lead to new training nationwide for all of the marshal service or any other type of law enforcement,” Ward said. “To say that individually the incident in Medina caused different training, that wouldn’t be a fair statement because you have to take everything collectively.”
Ward said the marshals who responded that Sunday were aware that Kahl almost always had a gun on him. But now those marshals would be trained to identify possible outcomes based on profiles of people’s behaviors, he said.
Weapons for law enforcement officers are more effective now as the .38-caliber revolver and 12-gauge shotguns have been replaced.
Data is now readily available via a computer in most law enforcement vehicles.
Ultimately Ward said the choice comes down to officers in the field, even though training, intelligence and weapons have improved.
“It’s unfortunate that some people think the way they think, and some people react the way they react and it’s a reality and there’s nothing we can do about it except for deal with it,” he said. “You can’t explain it. I don’t know why Gordon did what he did. … I look at it like trying to rationalize an irrational act. It’s impossible, I can’t figure it out. I truly wish it didn’t happen.”
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at email@example.com