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He shot at police, but they brought him in unharmed. How these officers diffused a dangerous situation

The Emergency Response Unit in Olmsted County, Minnesota, responded to a standoff Aug. 20. The man, Michael Molitor, 37, of Pine Island, fired several shots at law enforcement. Molitor, an Army

Police car lights crime crash arrest
Members of the Emergency Response Unit in Olmsted County during a training session Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. The unit trains at least twice a month using several different tactics and different scenarios.
Contributed / Rochester Police Department
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Michael Molitor attempted to make good on threats he made to friends earlier this month that he'd try "suicide by cop" when he allegedly holed up in a Pine Island, Minnesota, residence and fired at least two volleys of gunfire wildly at police.

Molitor, a 37-year-old Army veteran who will hit two decades of military service in January, had been deployed several times including one 2006 tour in Iraq.

He's facing four felony charges related to the Aug. 20 incident where he's accused of donning a bullet proof vest, strapping an AR-15 to his chest and lying to police about having a female hostage in the hopes they would come in to rescue her.

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'I plan on dying'

Molitor, of Pine Island, served on active duty from approximately 2004 to 2008 with the 1st Infantry Division based in Fort Riley, Kansas, according to Lt. Col. Kristen Augé, the Minnesota National Guard's State Public Affairs Officer. In 2013 he joined the Minnesota National Guard and is a member of the Rochester based B Company, 2-135 Infantry Battalion.

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"Like many soldiers, he saw traumatic things," his lawyer, Nicole Anlauf Kettwick, of Anoka, Minnesota, said.

The criminal complaint against Molitor reads like he is having a mental health crisis. He tells law enforcement that morning that he's armed and has a handcuffed hostage but refuses to show evidence of the hostage or provide a last name. Police are going to have to come into the residence to get her, Molitor tells them.

"I plan on dying today," he tells one Goodhue County Sheriff's deputy. Later that morning, he threatens to start shooting at people's houses. "Do you want me to take my pistol out and start shooting in the air," he tells the same deputy who's trying to get him to disarm.

Michael Molitor
Michael Molitor, 37, of Pine Island, is a Staff Sgt. in the Minnesota National Guard. He's accused of shooting at law enforcement during an hourslong standoff. His attorney has submitted a motion to get him released from jail so he can attend a veteran focused treatment center in Texas.
Contributed

Molitor's father, Ray Molitor, describes his son as a fun loving and caring man. Someone who would help family friends lay down sandbags to help prevent a home from being flooded. Someone, who, as a high school student, went to a nursing home to play cards with residents and tried to get to know them. He enjoys hunting and is fond of boating on the Mississippi River, something Ray Molitor and his son did when Molitor was a child.

"He's very friendly," Ray Molitor said. "He's not the person that the media is portraying."

At one point, according to Ray Molitor, his son obtained an associate's degree in law enforcement from Alexandria Technical and Community College. He wanted to be a cop, Ray said.

How to save a life

So what does law enforcement do when faced with an armed person — someone trained as an infantryman in the Army — obviously having a mental health crisis?

During the incident, the responding deputy doesn't believe Molitor has a hostage and is only trying to get police to go in full force. But with Molitor actually by himself in the house, law enforcement can afford to wait this one out. By the early afternoon, Goodhue County SWAT, along with the members of the Olmsted County Emergency Response Unit, have arrived to work on a surrender plan.

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"When most people hear SWAT or ERU, they think it's all about the tactics and kicking doors and using force for stuff," Olmsted County Sheriff's Capt. James Schueller said. "That's a small part of it."

Olmsted County Emergency Response Unit
Members of the Emergency Response Unit in Olmsted County during a training session Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. "There's many situations where your patrol officers or police officers show up at a situation and they do not have the skills or the equipment to handle the situation. So who do the police call when they can't solve the problem," Rochester Police Capt. Aaron Penning said. The answer to that in Olmsted County is their ERU team, who trains twice monthly to deal with a variety of situations.
Contributed / Rochester Police Department

The ERU is comprised of around 30 members from the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, the Rochester Police Department, Mayo Clinic and the Rochester Fire Department. They train for the worst but hope for the best, according to Schueller, who said tactics over the years has changed.

"The philosophy right now is and has been for several years, this 'breach and hold' that is 'Let's get away so we can start talking and see what we can do with that,'" he said. "If it takes several hours or maybe longer to get to a resolution that doesn't involve having to use weapons, then it's time well spent."

The dialogue between Molitor and law enforcement continues into Saturday night.

At first, Molitor signals he may surrender but that plan falls through. He is seen drinking beer with a firearm walking in and out of the residence's garage and has stopped responding to calls.

Getting a surrender

Around 6:10 p.m., law enforcement sets off a diversionary flash bang while officers move into place to better observe the home.

By 7:30 p.m., law enforcement sees Molitor in front of the residence, eventually emerging still dressed in body armor with his AR-15 on his upper body. He speaks to the law enforcement negotiation team by phone and at one point holds his rifle at a low ready position towards one of the armored vehicles before turning inside.

A short while later, Goodhue County Sheriff's personnel uses the arm of an armored vehicle to breach a windowpane and then repositions for a breach. An officer deploys five chemical munition rounds into the house to isolate Molitor to one part of the residence.

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While deploying the munitions, a volley of gunfire comes from the home, quickly followed by a second round of shots. One round hits an armored vehicle. Law enforcement estimates that between 20 and 22 shots have been fired.

They don't fire back.

Both law enforcement and Molitor's lawyer confirme that alcohol played a role during the incident, something that may have contributed to his decision to pull the trigger but also affects the placement of his rounds.

"When he's just firing randomly, he's not thinking about where his rounds are going," Olmsted County Sheriff's Capt. Chris Wallace said. "So if we engage in some type of gunfire with him in a residential area, we have to account for our rounds. We don't want rounds flying by him and going into the residence next door."

A few minutes after Molitor sends over 20 rounds towards law enforcement, he exits the garage without his rifle but did not comply with law enforcement demands, eventually he pulls up his shirt to show he was not armed.

An officer shoots pepper ball rounds at Molitor, who retreats back into the residence before again emerging a few minutes later and complies with law enforcement commands.

Wallace, who oversees the ERU, said firing on somebody is a last resort. "If the danger of him engaging our officers again or continuing to fire isn't there, then we're going to proceed without doing that until we really have to," he said.

What training is for

After Molitor was taken into custody he would tell an officer during transportation to jail that he only shot at law enforcement because they "shot him first."

The mutual aid between agencies, training, an armored vehicle and less lethal tools enabled law enforcement to respond to the incident differently than simply engaging in a shootout, according to Rochester Police Patrol Capt. Aaron Penning.

IMG_4243.JPG
Members of the Emergency Response Unit in Olmsted County during a training session Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. "The evolution (of SWAT) really is centered around technology," Rochester Police Patrol Capt. Aaron Penning said. "In many regards, we use a significant amount of technology to safely handle calls. It's not uncommon that we'll resolve our calls with drones, robots and other technology like that."
Contributed / Rochester Police Department

"All of those allowed us to take in an individual in full body armor with an AR-15," Penning said. "He shot several times out the back and several times out the front. Our member were shot at, vehicles were shot, but he was taken into custody without being harmed."

As of Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 31, Molitor is being held in the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center on a $1.5 million bail or bond with no conditions or a $750,000 bail or bond with conditions. A district judge also ordered him to surrender all his firearms.

Kettwick has submitted a motion to the court to amend his release conditions to allow him to attend an inpatient veteran focused treatment center in Texas.

"We're doing our best to get him into treatment and get him some help," Kettwick said. She doesn't know if jail is the right place for him.

"I think sometimes veterans go through their service and are lost when they come back," Kettwick said. "I think sometimes our country fails with reintegration," she added, saying that he only attended a few days of online reintegration from his last deployment to Djibouti, a small country in the horn of Africa.

Molitor is scheduled to appear in Olmsted County District Court Friday, Sept. 2.

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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