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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

The Satan Squad

Looking up, she saw the officers and jumped up cat-like. The officers saw the knife still clasped in her hand.

Schneider screamed, "I SEE THEY SENT THE SATAN SQUAD!"

Even as they yelled for Schneider to put the weapon down, the officers knew they were wasting their breath. The woman's mind was clearly in some other orbit and God only knew how their presence registered in her disturbed mind. In a bid for self-preservation, the officers began a hasty retreat for the door, stumbling over the junk accumulated at their feet.

Schneider calmly began to count backward from 10.

Countdown to Tragedy

Palmer realized that when Schneider got to zero they were going to have a big problem, one that the officers' close proximity to her and one another would only make worse.

The officers continued to try to back out of the apartment. Stepping on people's feet and on junk on the floor, Palmer's balance was compromised, his footing iffy.

Out of the corner of his eye, Palmer saw Saarela stumble. With his left hand, Palmer grabbed onto Saarela's shirt and tried to yank her up to keep her on her feet. He looked back and saw that Schneider had reached the door of the apartment, a mere five feet from the officers.

As Schneider clucked off each number double-time, Palmer came to the terrifying realization that there would be no way in hell for them to get safely out of the apartment and close the door before she reached zero.

And all too soon, she completed her countdown.

At "One," Schneider's wild eyes regarded the officers as though pleasantly surprised that they were still there. She started her advance and in a matter of a few steps she was on top of them.

There was no time for any last second demands, no time to even think. It was time to react.

Firing Center Mass

Palmer wasn't aware of his first trigger pull. All he would remember was the sight of two shell casings-his own and Saarela's-flying in synchronized arcs as though fired simultaneously.

Inside the doorway of the apartment, their rounds sounded like canon fire.

Schneider was now on top of Palmer and Saarela. Palmer pulled the trigger several more times without any seeming effect.

I don't believe it, he thought. I'm firing center mass and she's not stopping!

He pulled up his sight and aimed it right in the middle of her face.

He doesn't remember pulling the trigger, only seeing Schneider drop as though someone cut her legs out from underneath her. When she fell, her hair landed atop his boots.

The officers rolled her over.

A portion of her hand where she'd been holding the knife was completely gone, blown away by the officers' rounds (someone had literally aimed at the threat). There were three or four additional wounds in the right lower quadrant of her abdomen and four more dead center in her chest. Another round had entered Schneider's left cheek, traveled around her skull, and exited into the bedroom.

The officers immediately started CPR and tried to open an airway as they summoned rescue, an ambulance, and a supervisor. They tried their best to revive the life of the poor woman who had been so irrationally intent on taking theirs, but Palmer's seven years of experience as an EMT proved for naught.

As soon as rescue personnel arrived and took over, Palmer left the scene. He can't forget the expression on Schneider's face as she appeared to recognize the gravity of the situation. With a final look of fear the 49-year-old Schneider-who had been diagnosed as mentally ill years before-died at the scene.


The Barbara Schneider incident proved devastating on multiple fronts for the officers involved and for many people in Minneapolis.

Immediately following the shooting, the officers were nominated to receive a departmental award and invited to an awards banquet. Soon after that invite, the precinct commander informed them that the awards and the invitations to the banquet were rescinded.

The shooting was very controversial. Advocates for the mentally ill argued that the police could have handled the situation with more sensitivity. A lawsuit was filed. It was dismissed.

Reflecting on the incident, Palmer, who is now a sergeant, understands the anger.

"This incident was Monday morning quarterbacked a great deal," Palmer says. "I think we had a collective 20 or 30 years of law enforcement experience at that door. But none of us had ever had an experience where we faced a person with an edged weapon who wouldn't do exactly what we told them to do. So I think we all had the assumption that we're going to open this door and we're going to engage in a dialogue and we're going to sort it out."

Of course as Palmer and the other officers learned that day, talking down a rational person with a weapon is one thing. Talking down a disturbed person is quite another.

"We didn't have a lot of mental health training to prepare for this incident," Palmer continues. "We had an hour or two in the academy. I don't think we understood exactly what the problem was that we were dealing with. That night we were overconfident. We thought 'every other time we've had a situation like this, we talked our way out of it, and that's what will happen here.' So what we planned on when we went in there was to establish a dialogue. We just didn't understand that was not going to be in the playbook."

The playbook has since changed. The Minneapolis Police Department has deployed a Crisis Intervention Team modeled on the Memphis Police Department's C.I.T.

(See "Saving Future Barbara Schneiders," below.)

Palmer himself now trains officers in dealing with the mentally ill in the hopes that another Barbara Schneider tragedy can be averted.

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