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Grand Forks County sheriff lauds homeowners' 'heroic' efforts to fight violent intruder

Police say 37-year-old Joseph Espinoza attacked the couple for nearly 10 minutes until deputies arrived.

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State investigators examine a window they say was smashed out by 37-year-old Joseph Espinoza as he attacked a couple for their car keys inside their rural Thompson home.
Matt Henson / WDAY-TV
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GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks County Sheriff Andrew Schneider said he can't recall an incident during his career like the one that took place Sunday, Feb. 27, where a shooting occurred at a rural home in Thompson, N.D.

He said the rural Thompson home became a target after 37-year-old Joseph Espinoza crashed a car he had just stolen minutes earlier into a snowbank at an estimated speed of 90 miles per hour on the U.S. Highway 81 curves just before noon.

The car had been stolen from the Hugo's Family Marketplace on South Washington Street in Grand Forks.

"It is believed that one of his motives, was to get a vehicle to flee the area," Schneider said.

The homeowner, who is in her 60s, says Espinoza tried to push her aside when she answered the front door. He wanted the keys to the pickup in the driveway. She said she pushed Espinoza back outside and called 911. Espinoza tried other doors, but eventually kicked out a large front window and crawled into the house covered in blood.

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Her husband grabbed a gun.

"During one of those encounters of entering into the house, a homeowner did have a handgun and did fire a couple rounds in his direction," said Schneider.

The couple says they eventually gave Espinoza the keys but he lost them outside. The homeowner said he came back inside, and she pushed Espinoza down the basement stairs and fought him off with her husband's walking cane.

Espinoza then went after the gun she said.

"A struggle ensured over the weapon, which he was able to take them," Schneider said. "At that time the suspect did fire rounds inside the home."

The 4 shots missed the couple.

The sheriff says the couple fought off Espinoza for about 10 minutes until two deputies arrived.

"That's a long time, boxing matches are only three minutes a round," the sheriff commented.

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Corporal Brandon Rakoczy and Deputy Dustin Wadholm, who is in training, say they were forced to shoot Espinoza after he pointed the gun at them. Espinoza was hit in the leg and is expected to live.

State investigators are reviewing their body cams to determine if they acted appropriately.

The sheriff said the state's stand your ground law should protect the homeowners in this case.

"They are being looked at as victims. We have nothing to believe — by any means — that they would be looked at as a suspect in anything right now," Scheider said. "The actions by the homeowners were pretty heroic, the way that they tried to protect themselves."

Espinoza may be in the hospital for a few more days, and charges won't be filed until he is about to be released.

Police are still waiting on lab results to determine if Espinoza was under the influence of drugs and or alcohol.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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