Breaching perimeter, bringing firearms poses dangers to law enforcement
Scott Edinger, Jamestown chief of police, said people threatened to bring their own guns during a recent standoff on Aug. 4.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that nobody brought a gun to the scene.
JAMESTOWN – Breaching a perimeter and citizens bringing firearms to a standoff are dangerous not just to law enforcement but also to the general public and themselves, said Scott Edinger, Jamestown chief of police.
“I’ve probably been in maybe a couple of dozen of these,” he said, “and in every one of those occasions, there have been people that have come from the outside that have complicated the situation.”
During the standoff incident Thursday, Aug. 4, Edinger said he wasn’t the only law enforcement officer who saw citizens threatening to bring guns and wanting to take matters into their own hands.
“I happened to be in the place where one particular person showed up yesterday and wanted to get their kids out of the day care, which is completely understandable, and our first priority yesterday was that day care,” he said Friday, Aug. 5. “The kids are always going to be our first priority. The general public is always going to be our first priority to protect.”
Armed citizens have no training or understanding in dealing with James Valley Special Operations Team tactics during a standoff, Edinger said. He said law enforcement does not know who the person is or the individual’s intentions, he said.
“Is this a person who is looking to help out the individual that we are dealing with because we’ve had that happen,” he said. “We don’t know if they (citizens) are threatening to bring their own gun, are they going to harm that person who is causing the issue and putting their children in danger or their family members or their friends? We have no idea of their rationale or what their judgment is so we can’t let them (inside the perimeter).”
Kevin Gene Garnica, 41, no confirmed address, was involved in an hours-long standoff Thursday, Aug. 4, where he was reportedly armed with a gun and a knife at an apartment building at 119 5th St. NW No. 9 in Jamestown. He is in the North Dakota State Hospital, and the Stutsman County State’s Attorney’s Office will review and decide what charges are appropriate.
Edinger said there are situations where people can defend themselves because law enforcement cannot be everywhere all the time and it takes time to get to a location.
“You just have to realize if you are going to take on that responsibility you are taking on that liability,” he said. “You may be taking on that liability for others as well, so you have to be aware of that.”
Edinger said the dangers of driving through a perimeter of the area that law enforcement agencies determine to manage a situation to protect the public and themselves include obstructing law enforcement’s line of sight of the individual involved in the standoff. He said the individual who is involved in the standoff may provoke another incident if he or she has a gun.
“They may shoot at the person who is driving by,” he said. “They may not understand who that person is. A lot of these people are delusional and if they see something they don’t understand they may perceive it as a threat or an opportunity and they could harm that person.”
Edinger also said law enforcement don’t want people inside the perimeter because they are closer to the area of the standoff, which increases the chances of the individual getting away.
He said the individual seeing crowds of people gathering near the standoff Thursday could have cost law enforcement more than an hour to resolve the incident. He said his assumption is Garnica was embarrassed and didn’t want to come out of the apartment once he saw crowds of people gathering.
“So that’s an hour longer that officers have to be out there, that’s an hour longer that businesses have to be closed, that’s an hour longer the power is off in somebody’s apartment not powering the refrigerator, and it’s an hour longer that somebody is out of work,” Edinger said.
Edinger said two businesses were closed down, a day care was evacuated and people were displaced from their homes and apartments on Thursday. He said semitrailers were diverted to residential streets which were just redone and will get damaged much sooner.
“The economic impact, the damage to the infrastructure, the number of hours of overtime, the wear and tear, the psychological impact, it’s huge,” he said.
Protocols, decisions during standoff
During the standoff Thursday, a shelter-in-place order was put in place for the neighborhood as law enforcement set up a perimeter and attempted to contact Garnica. After receiving more information that Garnica had a knife and a gun, a day care and surrounding apartments were evacuated.
“Anytime there is something like this we are going to request a shelter in place at least in the near vicinity,” Edinger said. “If there is a reason for us to believe that they are not going to be much of a threat outside of a certain area, that’s where we are going to limit that perimeter. If somebody has a rifle, obviously that poses a threat at a much greater distance and through many more barriers than a knife or a handgun might. That’s going to change things.”
He said an evacuation of residences and businesses is ordered when law enforcement thinks other people who are within the vicinity of the incident have a high probability of being in a higher risk of danger if something happens.
The decision to establish a perimeter also depends on if the person is a threat to the public, he said. On Thursday, law enforcement was aware Garnica had threatened to harm officers and nobody was in the apartment. He had also reportedly held a woman against her will overnight and threatened to kill her before she escaped.
“We can’t let him back out in the public because he has been a threat,” Edinger said. “We are not going to let him go.”
Law enforcement also equipped itself with larger firearms because it is unknown what type of gun an individual has during a standoff. He said a pistol’s accuracy diminishes quite a bit at 25 yards.
“We don’t want to be outmatched,” he said. “It’s more about accuracy and what the potential threat is.”
The James Valley Special Operations Team was called to the standoff because it has the tools, training and equipment to handle those situations. He said the Special Operations Team works together all the time and has thousands of hours of training.
The James Valley Special Operations and Crisis Negotiations were also called to the standoff on Thursday to try to resolve the situation without anyone getting hurt with minimal damage done to property.
“Obviously when we are forcing an issue … it used to be you would send officers through a door,” Edinger said. “Well, there is no reason to do that. Property can be replaced. People can’t.”
The door and window were breached using a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle with a ram, which creates a feeling of less security for an individual involved in the standoff because law enforcement has a view inside the building, he said.
“They may be more likely to surrender,” he said.
Before Garnica came outside and was hit with less-lethal munitions — bullets that come out of a military-style grenade launcher but the front 2 inches are made out of foam rubber or wood — contingency plans were put together ahead of time. He said law enforcement determines many possibilities and tries to predict some of the most likely outcomes to make a plan for those situations.
“The idea of that is getting him to surrender, getting him to drop whatever he has that is a threat and do it with as minimal force as possible,” he said.
He said the less-lethal munitions forced Garnica back into the apartment. If Garnica would have kept walking or running down the street, he would have been outside the range of the less-lethal munitions where they wouldn’t be as effective and he could have gotten close to members of the public or escaped the perimeter.
“Now we have to reevaluate,” Edinger said, referring to him escaping the perimeter or getting close to the public. “What is the likelihood that he is going to find a hostage or do something very desperate? We can’t predict the future and we can’t read his mind so we just have to reevaluate.”
The reason the standoff took over five hours is because law enforcement wanted to give Garnica every opportunity to surrender on his own.
“I know there are a lot of people out there that just get frustrated with the time that it takes,” he said, “but it’s ironic because then the next time, the next person is evaluating, ‘Well you really rushed into that, didn’t care about the person. You were just worried about getting home to your family.’”
The person who is involved in the standoff pays for the damage done to property. Edinger said none of the damage would have been done if the individual had not escalated a situation into a standoff.