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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Minneapolis, Minnesota 06•12•2000

It can be very hard for officers to talk down an emotionally disturbed or mentally ill person. It's even harder when that person is armed.

September 17, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Officer Bill Palmer was one of several Minneapolis PD officers who encountered more than they bargained for at the apartment of an emotionally disturbed person.

On the afternoon of June 12, 2000, a woman inside a small Minneapolis apartment perched stereo speakers atop a window sill facing her neighbors across the alley. She set the stereo tuner's dial somewhere between radio station frequencies and cranked up the volume; the cacophony of static was loud enough to drive the neighbors out of their minds.

It might well have been a case of misery seeking company.

By evening the neighbors had had enough and placed a call to the Minneapolis Police Department to complain about the noise and the woman causing it. But the low priority of the call and confusion about the exact location delayed the arrival of Officer Jeff Parker and Officer John Hawes.

On the Third Floor

Finally on scene, the officers ascended the stairs to the third floor apartment. Following the noise, they made their way to the back corner of the building where the apartment was located. When a knock on the door failed to elicit a response, they pushed on it.

The door slid open.

Beyond the threshold and inside the kitchen area stood Barbara Schneider. In Schneider's hands was a steak knife, gripped so tightly that her bony knuckles bled white.

"GET OUT!" she screamed.

The officers quickly tried to close the door between themselves and the knife-wielding woman. But Schneider had other plans and thus began a violent tug-of-war - with Schneider and Parker pulling the door in opposite directions.

Desperate to keep the disturbed woman at bay, Hawes reached for his can of OC and sprayed it through the crack between the door and its frame until the spray can was empty. He then took Parker's can from his belt and emptied that one, as well. When Schneider finally backed away from the doorway, Parker got on the radio to call for more squads.

Backup Called

Officer Bill Palmer and his partner, Officer Geoff Johnson, started rolling. If Palmer was surprised by the stress in the voice of the normally unflappable Parker, the description of the situation provided context for it.

By the time they arrived on scene, Officer Sarah Saarela and Officer Rob Illetschko were also at the location. With sufficient units in front of the complex, Johnson and Palmer parked in the alley to the rear.

Using a pocket knife, Johnson and Palmer gained access through a door at the back of the building. Walking upstairs, they arrived just as Parker and Saarela were exiting the apartment. Parker told the arriving officers that he and Saarela had gone into the apartment just far enough to determine that Schneider had barricaded herself in a bedroom.

The apartment was so filled with OC that Parker covered the bedroom door while Saarela opened all of the windows in the living room to try to air out the room. Retreating back outside to the landing, they convened with their fellow officers to decide their next course of action.

Writing on the Walls

The officers didn't know how many people were in the apartment and who else could either be at risk of injury from the knife-wielding Schneider or pose a threat to them.

Parker decided to re-enter the apartment and kick open the bedroom door in an effort to get a visual on the situation and encourage a dialogue with Schneider.

Saarela and Palmer followed Parker into the cramped hallway just inside the front door. A mere four or five steps separated them from the only bedroom in the apartment.

As Palmer took a position with limited penetration at the door to the kitchen, Saarela stood opposite him at the door to the bathroom. Behind them, three more officers-Robert Illetschko, Geoff Johnson, and John Hawes-lined up in the hallway.

Junk littered the walls and floor of the apartment. Papers, shoes, garbage, and record albums occupied most of the floor space while scatological murals in red felt tip marker-cryptic words and crude renderings of human forms-adorned the walls.

Parker prepared to kick the bedroom door open.

Even on a good day, breathing or seeing inside the apartment would have been difficult. Now, with the contents of two full cans of OC wafting through the air, Palmer's eyes were so filled with tears that he couldn't see anything.

But before Palmer could tell Parker that it was damn near impossible for him to see, Parker kicked the door open and then scooted back between Palmer and Saarela, joining the three officers behind them.

Parker's kick succeeded in giving the officers what they wanted: a clear view of Barbara Schneider in the bedroom beyond. But they didn't like what they saw.

Schneider was about 10 feet into the room, down on her haunches with her hands clasped in front of her, knuckles facing the officers.

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