Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one are in crisis, you can call or text
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
at 988. The hotline is answered locally.
FARGO — When responding to a mental health crisis involving violence, local law enforcement relies on their own negotiation teams instead of bringing in social workers or outside mental health experts .
That’s because officers want to involve as few people as possible in an effort to keep others safe, Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner said.
“We wouldn’t want to put anyone in such a dangerous situation,” he said.
That’s what happened when officers responded to reports of shots being fired in Mapleton, North Dakota earlier this month. Law enforcement also received reports of a man suffering from a mental health crisis.
During the hours-long standoff, officers ordered the man, later identified as Andrew James Martinez, 35, of Mapleton, to come out unarmed. Martinez said he would come out with his gun, according to Jahner.
Fargo police, who were called to the scene to assist the sheriff’s office, fatally shot Martinez after he emerged from a home with a gun, law enforcement said.
Before the shooting, Martinez stayed in a house surrounded by officers for about four hours while a Red River SWAT negotiator spoke to him, Jahner said. The negotiator has additional training in crisis intervention, which is done in conjunction with mental health professionals, social workers and law enforcement in Fargo, West Fargo and Cass County, he said. declared.
These mental health professionals and social workers practice different situations with officers so law enforcement can work on de-escalation techniques, the sheriff said.
Determining how to respond to a mental health crisis depends on the situation, said Fargo Police Lt. Bill Ahlfeldt. Fargo police also have extensive crisis response training, he said.
“Each incident is specific, so there are a number of responses we could have,” he said.
For situations in which a person is suffering from a crisis without posing a threat to the community, law enforcement will call mental health experts or services, Jahner and Ahlfeldt said.
Officers will respond to the area if they may need to intervene, but they try to stay out of sight if their presence could upset someone in crisis, Jahner said. They can try to speak with the person if they want to, he said. Responding agencies will also try to obtain the person’s services.
Officers would respond to someone going through a crisis and exhibiting violent behavior as they would any barricade incident or critical situation, Ahlfeldt said. They would bring in negotiators and try to bring the situation to a peaceful conclusion while trying to keep the community safe, he said.
In the Mapleton situation, Martinez was suspected of firing multiple shots and being involved in criminal activity, Jahner said. Law enforcement would not call outside help for someone engaging in violent behavior, the sheriff said.
The aim was to make sure everyone in the immediate area was safe, he said. Law enforcement ordered shelter-in-place for the town. They then set up a perimeter to keep others out of the house and to contain Martinez, Jahner said.
The sheriff described the talks as ups and downs. Martinez would get angry and then he would speak with officers, Jahner said.
“They weren’t necessarily upset that we were talking to them,” he said. “They were upset about the situation and some of the things that had happened before we arrived.”
Sometimes agencies call families to the scene if the person having a nonviolent mental health crisis asks to speak to family members, Jahner said. Often the family will already be on the scene, Ahlfeldt said.
Officers may be able to get useful information from the family if they are at the scene, Ahlfeldt said. Family members can also help resolve the situation, Jahner noted.
“Usually we don’t try to bring in a bunch of family members because we don’t want anyone else getting hurt,” he said.
In Martinez’s case, his father and brother showed up at the scene, Jahner said. The sheriff’s office did not ask them to come, he added.
Jahner said his department had done a preliminary debrief on the Mapleton incident and would do a more in-depth one later. He said he believed the negotiator in Martinez’s case did everything he could to get Martinez out safely.