FARGO - When a robber walked into the Howard Johnson Inn on Thursday afternoon and showed the clerk a handgun, court records say she blurted out, “Are you serious?”
Apparently, he was - because the man opened fire, hitting a nearby wall. Minutes later, the situation turned even more serious, as a Fargo officer shot the suspect in an exchange of gunfire police say was prompted by the suspect shooting first.
On Friday, authorities identified the suspect as Eric Lee Webb, 30, who was charged in Cass County District Court with Class A felony robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm, a Class C felony.
Webb has an extensive criminal history in Iowa including assault, domestic assault, robbery and third-degree burglary convictions, according to online court records.
The native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was shot at twice by Fargo Officer Matt Niemeyer after running from the motel with a bag stuffed with cash, interim Police Chief David Todd said Friday.
Webb first fired at two officers who caught up to him near the former Sahr’s Sudden Service at Sixth Avenue North and Fourth Street near the Howard Johnson’s, with Niemeyer returning fire and hitting Webb, Todd said.
In a news conference on Thursday, Todd had said he wasn’t sure who fired first. The police chief didn’t say Friday whether Webb was hit by one or both of the rounds fired by Niemeyer.
“It was a very dangerous, life-threatening situation for our officers,” Todd said.
Webb remained hospitalized Friday at Sanford Medical Center with a gunshot wound.
His girlfriend, Samantha Flick, declined to comment on his condition. At about midnight Thursday, she posted on Webb’s Facebook page in an attempt to contact his mother.
“He is hurt BAD!” she wrote.
The shooting by Niemeyer, a Fargo officer for seven years, is being investigated by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. While that investigation is pending, Niemeyer has been placed on administrative leave.
“These reviews are a high priority for our office, and we take the responsibility seriously,” said Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the BCI, in an email. “We will conduct a thorough and complete review of the Use of Force as quickly as possible but obviously it will take some time to complete.”
Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said Webb will likely have a hearing next week, either in court or in the hospital. The Fargo Police Department is investigating the robbery.
According to Niemeyer’s city personnel records, his supervisors have described him in employee evaluations as being “not a complainer” and “having a great attitude.”
Niemeyer has also received two letters of recognition, one for providing police honors for Lt. Jeff Skuza’s funeral in March 2014, the other for his work during an armed standoff in March 2011.
However, Niemeyer received a letter of reprimand as a relatively new officer for accidentally discharging his AR-15 rifle at the scene of a June 2009 robbery.
Lt. Joel Vettel said in the 2009 incident, Niemeyer had taken his rifle from his squad and was helping to search for the robber when his sergeant told him to put it back and come into the store to help with the investigation there.
As he was holding his rifle pointed at the pavement, trying to make it safe to put back in the squad by removing the live round, the gun accidentally went off, Vettel said.
Since Niemeyer was holding the gun down pointed in a safe direction, no one was hurt.
“It is something we don’t take lightly,” Vettel said.
Vettel said Niemeyer was following procedures in holding the gun pointed down that are designed to minimize the potential risk of harm to others. He was required to undergo remedial training as part of the incident.