BCI says no policies violated in West Acres mall hunt; head of BCI, Fargo chief discuss concerns
MOORHEAD – The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation said Thursday an initial review found no policies were violated in a Tuesday night manhunt that ended in Fargo with armed BCI agents chasing the man through the West Acres mall.
The chase, prompted by what the BCI called a lengthy multijurisdictional criminal investigation, began in Moorhead, where three city police vehicles cut through a golf course, a pursuit city police there say has prompted an internal probe by the department.
In a statement released to The Forum on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the BCI, said the findings that no policies were violated came after a “routine debriefing.”
The statement from spokeswoman Liz Brocker added that, “It is common practice for there to be ongoing reviews and discussions that continue following significant cases such as this.”
Brocker also said the BCI agents did not participate in the pursuit.
Fargo police, who declined to join in the chase when it came into North Dakota because it didn’t meet its requirements for pursuit, have said they believe the incident at the mall was mishandled.
The chase has attracted some national attention. It was featured in ABC World News on Thursday night in a story about the dangers of police chases.
Some of the questions Fargo police had about the mall hunt were addressed in a meeting Thursday between Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes and Dallas Carlson of the BCI.
Ternes told The Forum on Thursday his greatest concern, which he shared with Carlson, was the three BCI agents’ decision to enter the mall in plainclothes with their guns drawn as they looked for Kendall Scott Feist, 33, a wanted man from Bismarck with a history of fleeing, drugs and stolen property.
The chief said surveillance video showed one agent wearing a vest that said “police” and another agent displaying a badge on a chain. Nonetheless, it was difficult to identify the agents as law enforcement officers, he said.
“It seems to me that it was unnecessary for the plainclothes officers to immediately go into the mall in pursuit of” Feist, Ternes said. “I think the better tactic would have been to wait for uniformed officers.”
He said the tactic made mall patrons and workers anxious and created a situation that could have been much worse. He said it does not appear that Feist, who was arrested near the mall in a Dumpster, was an immediate threat to anyone in the mall. Moorhead police said previously they did not have information that Feist was armed.
Despite his displeasure with how the incident unfolded, Ternes was happy with the outcome of Thursday’s discussion. He and the BCI both described the meeting as positive.
“All three entities were in agreement that things could have been done differently, that things could have been done better,” Ternes said.
Though the chief believes the incident was mishandled, he does not see a need for a change in BCI policy or training.
The BCI is the state’s criminal investigation agency. It assists local, state and federal agencies in criminal investigations and drug enforcement.
In charges filed Wednesday, Feist faces felony counts of fleeing a peace officer and damage to property, and one count of reckless driving, a misdemeanor.
He had been wanted on charges filed in Walsh County (N.D.) District Court that alleged he delivered nearly 5 ounces of methamphetamine and some stolen property to a Grafton man in late May.
According to the documents filed in Clay County District Court, Moorhead officers were told agents from the BCI were at a home on Moorhead’s south side to arrest Feist.
Officers were being briefed at a nearby hardware store at around 6:26 p.m. Tuesday when Feist’s tan Dodge Ram pickup left the home, and Moorhead officers spotted it heading east.
One officer put on his lights and siren, but Feist sped off along Highway 52 with two Moorhead officers in pursuit in squad cars.
At Main Avenue Southeast and 24th Avenue South, Sgt. Scott Kostohryz was trying to put stop sticks out but waved the squad cars through.
The fleeing pickup headed through an agricultural field and onto the Village Green Golf Course, where the complaint says an officer followed him.
Lt. Chris Carey, who is heading the internal investigation for the Moorhead Police Department, said three Moorhead vehicles were involved in the golf course chase.
Feist is accused in the complaint of driving over a putting green and through the backyard of a Westmoor Drive home, at one point nearly mowing down two golfers. The pickup speeded through an adjoining neighborhood and another backyard before heading back onto the golf course.
That’s when at least one Moorhead officer, identified as M. Fildes in the complaint, was told to end the pursuit, according to court records.
Carey said the investigation is trying to determine, in part, whether the other two officers were told to end the chase prior to that.
He said it’s also not completely clear which agency is responsible for an unmarked red SUV reported driving at high speeds with the squad cars on the golf course.
Despite Brocker, the BCI spokesperson, saying the BCI was not involved in the chase, Carey said he believed the red SUV belonged to the BCI.
“I don’t know how they define ‘involved,’ ” he said.
He said the SUV did not identify itself to Feist as law enforcement trying to get him to stop, which is one of the legal thresholds for defining a police pursuit, Carey said.
According to the complaint, once the pickup was located near the Eighth Street and 24th Avenue South intersection, Fildes was allowed to pick up the pursuit again as it headed into North Dakota.
The vehicles hit speeds of more than 100 mph on Interstate 94 before Feist’s pickup turned off on the 25th Street exit, which is under construction.
The pickup nearly hit two construction workers there as Fildes was told once again to call off his pursuit, and that a helicopter would monitor Feist’s position from then on.
Carey would not identify which law enforcement agency the helicopter belonged to, other than to say it was not Moorhead’s. He cited the ongoing nature of multijurisdictional drug cases still under investigation in the region as the reason for not disclosing which agency was operating the helicopter.
Moorhead police were not in contact with the helicopter during the pursuit, but it was key in finally locating Feist’s pickup at the West Acres mall, Carey said.
Carey said he hopes to have the investigation completed and reviewed by the police chief within the next six weeks.
The first court date has not yet been set for Feist.