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Dave Roepke, Published February 09 2010

Police walk fine line with man’s suicide

Trying to talk down potential suicide victims is already one of the most difficult tasks police face.

An incident Saturday afternoon in which a 53-year-old man shot and killed himself upped the ante, when the man armed with a pistol ended his life near 25th Street and Main Avenue – one of the busiest corners in Fargo.

Dealing with an armed, suicidal person in a wide-open area like that is such a volatile case that only officers certified as negotiators are likely to have any specific training on a similar encounter, said Tod Dahle, the police captain who oversees training.

“This is an extreme situation where officers were put in a very difficult situation,” Dahle said.

Any negotiation is complicated in that instance because officers are worried that the potential suicide victim could end up being violent toward others, he said.

Dahle said training covers de-escalation strategies and other “verbal judo” meant to settle people down, and figuring out how to calm a situation is part of what experience brings. But there are limits to what you can plan for.

“Even when you’re providing the training, I don’t know if that’s what you’d have in mind,” he said.

Saturday’s incident began about 12:20 p.m., when the man – identified by police Monday as Barclay Thomas Lesher of Fargo – told an officer who had stopped to help a motorist in the 2400 block of Main Avenue that he wanted to harm himself.

Roughly 20 minutes later, Lesher shot himself just a few blocks away in the 100 block of 25th Street South. Police cordoned off portions of Main Avenue and 25th Street for more than an hour.

If the shooting had not happened so soon after the initial contact with police, one of the 10 negotiators trained through the multiagency Red River Valley SWAT Team would have likely been involved, Dahle said.

At least five officers witnessed the shooting, said Sgt. Mark Lykken. Since police didn’t fire any shots and weren’t “active in his death,” there won’t be an internal report about the incident and no one was put on paid leave, Lykken said

“Our role there was to plead with him,” he said.

Lykken said officers who were on the scene will have access to confidential peer-group counseling.

Police investigated to see if Lesher had harmed anyone close to him before taking his own life, and it appears he didn’t, Lykken said.

“There’s nothing to indicate it was anything but a suicide,” he said.

Lesher was convicted in 2007 on charges of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia and in 1997 for disorderly conduct. A phone number for a family member couldn’t be found.

Lykken wouldn’t say if the follow-up investigation by police discovered anything that could have prompted the suicide.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535