A Grand Forks police officer is confirmed to have died when an attempt to serve eviction papers elicited gunfire Wednesday, May 27, at a south Grand Forks apartment building.
The officer – whose name is being withheld pending notification of relatives – was a member of the Grand Forks Police Department. He is the second death related to the incident, which also took the life of a woman who was in the apartment at the time.
It started around 2:30 p.m. as a routine service of eviction papers at the residence of Salamah Q. Pendleton, 41, of apartment 303 at 2627 S. 17th Street, according to Lt. Derik Zimmel, a spokesman for the Grand Forks Police Department. It quickly escalated into gunfire, initiated by Pendleton, according to Zimmel.
The sheriff's deputies summoned additional officers to the scene.
“A male subject from within that apartment, unexpectedly and without warning, opened fire," Zimmel said. "The officers called for immediate assistance.”
Among those shot were two officers, including one from the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office and the Grand Forks Police Department officer who has died, Zimmel said. The sheriff's deputy is in stable condition.
Zimmel said Pendleton suffered a gunshot wound and was transported to the hospital. He also said a woman was found dead inside the apartment.
“During the course of the incident, the male suffered a gunshot wound and was transported for that injury. Two officers suffered gunshot wounds (and) they were both transported for their injuries," Zimmel said. "And we do have a female in the apartment found deceased from apparent gunfire.”
He said that because the Grand Forks Police Department and the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office are involved, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation will take the lead in investigating the incident.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page website, it is the first line-of-duty death for a Grand Forks officer since 1966, when GFPD Officer Robert D. Martin died in a motorcycle crash. In 1952, Sheriff Henry S. Halvorson died in a car crash.
Wednesday's death is the 33rd gunfire-related death of a North Dakota peace officer since records began being kept in the late 1870s, according to the Officer Down site. There also have been three deaths related to stabbing and another by assault.
Related stories: WATCH: Police processional for fallen Grand Forks officer
As the event unfolded Wednesday, people nearby were well aware there was a growing crisis. A Grand Forks Herald reporter who lives near the apartment complex heard approximately eight shots. When the reporter rushed to investigate as the incident unfolded, he was stopped and frisked by law-enforcement officers. He then saw officers running to the scene with rifles.
A young man who declined to give his name told the Herald he was playing a video game in his nearby residence when he heard numerous shots.
“I was playing and all of a sudden I heard five, 10, maybe 15 shots ring out,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was right above or wherever.”
Officers from the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office, Grand Forks Police Department, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the UND Police Department and the U.S. Border Patrol were on scene shortly after the incident. They taped off the crime scene as numerous bystanders watched and took video. Streets near the scene were closed almost immediately.
“To my understanding, it was gunfire without warning,” Zimmel said. “That's one of the aspects of law enforcement. You go to a call that is something as simple as execution of civil paperwork, and it can turn very violent in a hurry.
“I think all of us are going to struggle with this one,” Zimmel said. “Whether you’re on the scene, whether you’re involved, whether you’re asleep and wake up to this news – brothers and sisters, when one hurts we all hurt. So we’re all going to have a tough time with this one.”
Zimmel said he considered the scene stable and believes there is no further threat to the public.
Wednesday evening, a press conference was held by GFPD Police Chief Mark Nelson and Sheriff Andrew Schneider. Nelson said the purpose of the briefing was not to discuss details of the case, but to honor the officer who died.
"I want to be perfectly clear. I'll be honest with you," Nelson said. "If I want to look and say, 'What's the purpose of the press conference,' the purpose is to honor an officer who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and we'll work through the details."