North Dakota man pointed AR-15 at officers before they killed him, authorities say
North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said the shooting of Andrew Martinez was justified, meaning officers won't face criminal charges. The Martinez family asked law enforcement to reevaluate how they respond to a mental health crisis.
North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley announced Monday, Sept. 19, that the four officers were justified when they fired more than 20 rounds Aug. 1 at 35-year-old Andrew Martinez.
The Fargo officers who fired their AR-15 rifles at Martinez — Sgt. Travis Moser, Detective Josh Heller, Detective Ryan Jasper and Investigator Jordan Korte — will not face charges, Wrigley said.
That’s because Martinez came out of his home with an AR-15 rifle, Wrigley said during a news conference at Fargo police headquarters. Martinez pointed the gun at officers, Wrigley said.
“There can’t be a more aggressive stance than that,” the attorney general said.
Martinez was hit by police gunfire five times, Wrigley said. He died at the scene.
The officers who shot him were part of the Fargo Police Department's Metro Area Street Crimes team. They remain on administrative leave. The races of the four officers have not been released; Martinez was Caucasian and Hispanic.
The Fargo Police Department is conducting its own internal investigation to determine if policy was followed during the shooting, Chief David Zibolski said.
Martinez suffered from depression but fought against his demons, his family said in a statement issued Monday.
“It’s hard for us to understand how a call for help to save his life during one of his lowest moments ultimately ended his life,” the family said.
Martinez’s family called on law enforcement to reevaluate how it responds to a mental health crisis.
“We are saddened to learn that the attorney general has decided the police officer’s use of force was justified,” the Martinez family said. “We recognize and appreciate the effort made to peacefully resolve the terrible situation that day, but knowing that Andrew was in crisis and not in his right mind, we wish that more would have been done to prevent this tragic outcome.”
The family stopped short of asking for criminal charges against the officers. Instead, the family's statement said they wanted to ensure officers were trained in deescalation best practices so no one else has to experience losing a loved one the way they lost Martinez.
The family hasn't decided whether it will seek legal action as a result of the shooting, their attorney Tim O’Keeffe told The Forum.
“The family is really processing still,” he said.
Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner said he believes law enforcement did the best they could under the circumstances. They couldn’t leave since Martinez posed a risk to the public by firing his gun, the sheriff added.
“This is going to affect a lot of people for a long time, some of them for the rest of their lives,” Jahner said.
'We don't want to hurt you'
The shooting happened during an hours-long standoff at Martinez’s home in Mapleton. The sheriff’s office initially responded at about 10:30 a.m. Aug. 1 to the town roughly 10 miles west of Fargo for a report of shots fired. Martinez’s neighbor said they saw the man outside with a handgun, appearing intoxicated.
Police body camera footage played at the news conference showed sheriff's deputies responding as two more shots were fired.
Law enforcement later found out Martinez was reportedly involved in other criminal activity that day that could have sparked a mental health crisis, Jahner said. He declined to give details on that incident, claiming Marsy’s Law protects the victim in that case and bars him from releasing more information on what happened.
Marsy's Law, if invoked, prevents law enforcement from releasing information that could be used by a defendant to locate and harass a victim and their family. It doesn't bar the release of details about what happened.
When pressed by The Forum about what Marsy's Law covers, Wrigley said he would look into what could be released.
The sheriff’s office called in backup from the North Dakota Highway Patrol and police departments in West Fargo and Fargo. As more officers came to the scene, a negotiator tried to get Martinez to come outside, said Jahner, who described the negotiations as off and on.
Before the shooting, officers interacted with Martinez from behind his home, according to more video shown at the news conference. They asked him to come out with his hands up.
"Andrew, we don't want to hurt you. We just want to talk with you," an officer said in the video.
Another officer said they wanted to take him in "to get looked at," according to the video.
Negotiators clearly and repeatedly told Martinez to come outside unarmed, Jahner said.
“I heard those plea attempts from the negotiator,” he said.
Martinez did not comply with law enforcement's commands, Wrigley noted. The officers were left with no other alternative and made simultaneous decisions to fire their guns based on what they knew, Wrigley said.
"We, as law enforcement, do not train to wait to see what happens because lives can be lost at that point," Jahner said.
Wrigley's office took over the investigation of the shooting after the Cass County State's Attorney's Office asked him to decide whether charges against the officers were warranted.
The case remains open, so further information and video won't be released until the investigation is closed, Jahner said. It's unclear when that will happen.
Some questions remain unanswered. The exact number of rounds fired by officers is unknown, Wrigley said. Their rifle magazines can hold up to 30 rounds, plus one in the chamber.
Some of the magazines may not have been fully loaded, Wrigley said. Officers tried to recover all the bullet cases, but they may have missed some, he added.
During their encounter with Martinez, officers heard what sounded like a rifle being racked, according to Wrigley. Martinez appeared behind a glass door with the barrel of his rifle pointed in the air, Wrigley said. Jahner said one officer described Martinez lowering the gun “Rambo-style” and pointing it at officers.
Video shows an object coming out of the door. Authorities did not show video of the fatal shooting itself to protect the family, Jahner said. The family has not seen the video, O'Keeffe said.
The family wants O'Keeffe's firm to review the footage before they see it, the attorney said.
Martinez did not fire his rifle when he came out of his home, Jahner said. Officers found a loaded 9mm handgun in his home, as well as multiple other guns in an open safe, Wrigley said. Wrigley couldn't confirm how many weapons or what type were in the house.
Wrigley and law enforcement met with Martinez's family on Sunday.
"I can't help but think that, as they gain even additional context going forward, that they will ... it might change their remarks to some degree," Wrigley said, adding that he understands the family members are dealing with difficult circumstances and are seeking answers.