NEW PHOTOS: Pursuit across Moorhead golf course into West Acres mall leads to scrutiny
MOORHEAD – The Moorhead Police Department has launched an internal probe into Tuesday’s pursuit of a wanted man who drove through a busy golf course as three squad cars chased him, sending golfers scurrying for safety.
The handling of the chase, which ended with an arrest at West Acres mall in Fargo, has also prompted Fargo police officials to question the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s decision to have plainclothes agents hunt for the suspect, Kendall Scott Feist, in the mall with their guns drawn.
Feist, who had felony warrants for his arrest, was spotted at a business in the Moorhead Industrial Park about 7 p.m. Tuesday, and he drove off before officers arrived, Moorhead police said.
When officers tried to pull him over on Main Avenue Southeast near 24th Avenue South, he sped away and eventually drove across the Village Green Golf Course, tearing up greens and fairways.
Terry Kragero Jr. said he was on the driving range hitting balls with his 5-year-old son when he heard sirens and saw a helicopter overhead. Kragero at first thought there had been a car accident, but then he saw the pickup driving down the range, bouncing over small hills as it went.
“He was coming straight at us,” the 31-year-old father said. “I grabbed my son, and we kind of started running back toward the clubhouse.”
Kragero said the pickup veered away from the golfers on the range and continued through the course, with three squad cars in pursuit. He guesses the pickup was going about 40 or 50 mph.
On Tuesday night, Moorhead police Sgt. Scott Kostohryz told The Forum that officers did not pursue Feist onto the course. But a bystander’s video, which was posted on The Forum’s website, clearly shows three squad cars chasing the pickup around a water hazard. Lt. Tory Jacobson, a Moorhead police spokesman, said Kostohryz may not have had all the information regarding the chase at the time.
Village Green superintendent Rick Dauner did not see the vehicles driving on the course, but he did find the damage left at several holes.
“It was mainly tire tracks, and where he turned, he ripped up the grass a little bit,” Dauner said. “We’re lucky … he didn’t take out anybody on the golf course.”
Jacobson said the chase was stopped at some point on the course for public safety reasons. Officers caught up with the pickup as it was heading west on Interstate 94, and they resumed the pursuit but stopped again, this time for the sake of construction workers near 25th Street South in Fargo, Moorhead police said.
As the pursuit moved into North Dakota, the Fargo Police Department learned of it from Moorhead police and the BCI. But the supervising officer for Fargo police at the time decided not to have the department take part in the chase because the other agencies had not provided a sufficient reason to do so, said Lt. Joel Vettel, a Fargo police spokesman.
“Under our policy, the parameters of that event did not match the parameters for our officers to engage in the pursuit,” Vettel said.
The pickup was eventually found parked in the West Acres lot, and Fargo police went to help arrest Feist. “We acted as perimeter officers, tried to secure the scene, slow the situation down,” Vettel said.
Three plainclothes BCI agents pursued Feist into the mall; at least one of the agents was carrying a long gun, and at some point, all three had their guns drawn, Vettel said, pointing out that these tactics have raised concerns among Fargo police officials.
“Certainly, anytime you have individuals that are not in uniform, and they’re plainclothes individuals entering a crowded facility such as West Acres, that has the potential to cause some pretty extreme panic,” Vettel said. Moorhead police have said they had no information Feist was armed.
Vettel said Fargo police have been discussing the pursuit with BCI officials, specifically the reason for it and whether it could have been handled better. A BCI spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the case is under investigation.
Alie Huber, 19, said she was working at Orange Julius when she saw plainclothes and uniformed officers, some with guns in hand, dash through the mall’s food court. Huber said she and other mall workers had no clue what was going on.
“We were all freaking out,” she said.
West Acres property manager Chris Heaton, who reviewed surveillance video, said Feist entered the mall through J.C. Penney and left through an exit near bathrooms by the food court. Feist then hid in a trash bin where officers eventually found him, Heaton said. Officers also detained a passenger in the pickup but released him because he had no warrants for his arrest, authorities said.
Heaton said the incident in the mall lasted less than five minutes. In that time, the mall began entering lockdown mode but stopped after Feist was captured. That’s why there was no announcement over the mall’s speakers and no phone calls informing businesses of the lockdown, he said.
Heaton said communication between mall officials, who weren’t immediately aware of what was happening, and law enforcement could have been better. He said mall officials have spoken with Fargo police and hope to meet soon with the BCI.
“It is concerning to us that agents with guns drawn would be running through the mall in full view of customers and tenants,” he said. “We’ve reviewed the video footage, and it was a scary situation I’m sure for some people.”
Jacobson said Moorhead police did a routine review of the pursuit Wednesday, and there was enough concern that a lieutenant was assigned to investigate whether any policies were violated. The internal investigation will examine officers’ reports, video from squad cars and audio recordings from the 911 dispatch center, he said.
“We have all the information,” he said. “It’s just a matter of pulling it together and making a good determination.”
The department’s pursuit policy lists “hazards to uninvolved bystanders or motorists” as one of several factors to consider when deciding to end a chase.
The policy also says officers should take into account whether police know the identity of the fleeing suspect and whether “the need for immediate capture outweighs the risks associated with continuing the pursuit.” In this case, Moorhead police began the chase after North Dakota BCI agents notified them that Feist was in Moorhead, Jacobson said.
During the chase, a helicopter helped police track Feist. In such instances, the pursuit policy says officers should consider whether it’s necessary to continue the chase on the ground.
Jacobson declined to discuss any specific policy violations that may have occurred, but he said the department will re-evaluate its pursuit policy. “I certainly share the concern that when you have a pursuit that goes out onto a golf course, that’s an extraordinary event,” he said.
Feist, a 33-year-old from Bismarck, was booked into Cass County Jail. In connection with the chase, he faces felony charges for fleeing police and criminal damage to property.
The felony warrants that initially led officers to look for him were filed May 30 in Walsh County. There, he’s charged with delivery of methamphetamine and two counts of possession of stolen property.
According to court documents, Feist delivered a stolen all-terrain vehicle, snowmobile trailer and about 4¾ ounces of meth to a Grafton man on May 28. Feist allegedly knew the man would split the meth, worth about $10,000, into smaller amounts and deal it to users, the court documents said.
Feist has a criminal record dating back to 1999 that includes felony convictions for burglary, theft, aggravated assault and meth possession.
Emily Welker and Kia Farhang contributed to this report.