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Police review shooting incident

The Fargo Police Department says it could have better notified Jesse Ellingson's family after an officer fatally shot the 25-year-old in February. Fargo Chief Deputy Keith Ternes said an internal investigation of the shooting -- headed by a commi...

The Fargo Police Department says it could have better notified Jesse Ellingson's family after an officer fatally shot the 25-year-old in February.

Fargo Chief Deputy Keith Ternes said an internal investigation of the shooting -- headed by a committee of six department members -- will officially be released in the next couple of weeks.

"The committee identified a number of issues, none of which are overly concerning to me," Ternes said.

One of the main problems the committee acknowledged was that officers did not immediately give Ellingson's family members information regarding the incident, he said.

On the night of the shooting, Ellingson's girlfriend, Jessica Knecht, called Ellingson's parents to tell them what had happened, Ternes said.

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When Ellingson's parents arrived at the hospital, they waited in a room for two hours without being told anything, said his mother, Bambi Woodward, of Northwood, N.D.

"We weren't allowed to see him," Woodward said. "His body was considered evidence."

Early that morning, Ellingson's parents were told their son had been shot possibly twice in the shoulder, she said.

"We could have been a little more sensitive in providing information to the family the night of the incident," Ternes said. The shooting occurred on Feb. 2 when Fargo Officer Brad Zieska shot Ellingson five times, said a report issued by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

According to the report, Zieska retreated 70 feet with Ellingson walking toward him, wielding a machete and crouching "like a wrestler ready to pounce."

Ellingson quickened his pace toward Zieska and the officer fired seven shots, hitting Ellingson five times -- in the chest, head, neck and leg, police reports say.

Ellingson is being buried today, Woodward said.

After reviewing the BCI report, Cass County States Attorney Birch Burdick said Zieska was justified in his actions and would not be charged with any crime.

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The Police Department conducted its own investigation of the incident in order to identify problems with either the department's policies or the actions taken by individual officers, Ternes said. One of the review's preliminary conclusions was that officers should have more firearms training, he said.

As is, officers must complete four hours of firearm training every quarter.

The Police Department reviewed its use of force policy and decided it did not need to be changed, Ternes said.

For more than half a year, the Police Department has talked about buying tazers, or non-lethal stun guns, for officers to have as another containing device.

However, Zieska would have been justified in using his gun in the Ellingson incident even if he had had a tazer at the time, Ternes said.

Before 2001, Fargo police officers hadn't had to fatally shoot anyone, Ternes said.

"Fortunately (police) don't have a lot of experience with how to deal with us" because they don't deal with many shootings, Woodward said.

Since 2001, Fargo officers have fatally shot two people.

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The police department needs to codify a policy regarding police officers who seriously wound or kill offenders, Ternes said.

While Ternes said another such incident will probably occur, he said, "Hopefully it will be in 30 years."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Lisa Schneider at (701) 241-5529

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