Police officer killed 100 years ago | News, Sports, Jobs
January 21, 2021 marks a century since the tragic death of Samuel Leo “Lee” Fahler. Lee’s death was also the most recent death for the Minot Police Department. The fourth of five law enforcement-related deaths in Ward County history, all of which occurred between 1918 and 1921.
Originally from Iowa, Lee first came to Minot before his wife Wanda (who was called Wanie) and their young son Myron, in search of work. Before joining the Minot Police Department in November 1920, Lee worked with the Northwestern Hide and Fur Company, drove trucks for JB Reed Transfer and Storage, and for a time ran his own trucking company called the Fahler Transfer Company. . Despite his inexperience in policing, Lee had respect for the community and was highly regarded by his fellow police officers.
During his short career, Lee gained a reputation for being an officer who served with integrity. In early January 1921, with less than two months on the job, Lee accompanied Police Chief George McDonald on an investigation into an initially unbelievable report. Someone called a railroad police officer who was still operating an illegal alcoholic beverage in his house. When officers arrived, they could clearly see from outside the living room window of the house, the railway policeman operating the illegal device. The two lawyers managed to stop the man, but not without a fight. A few bumps and bruises, and a damaged uniform jacket worn by Chief McDonald later, the man was in custody and a story of local concern was shared in the Ward County Independent.
The ban had been the law in North Dakota since the state’s founding in 1889 and had proven extremely difficult to enforce. With few resources and small budgets to meet state restrictions on alcohol production and distribution, North Dakota law enforcement efforts to keep pace could have served as a warning. to those in the federal government who sought to outlaw the law nationally. Unfortunately, Congress did not appear to heed these early lessons learned in so-called “dry” regions of the country. Despite arrest after arrest, and countless gallons upon gallons of illicit liquor seized across North Dakota for three decades, the illegal alcohol trade has not really made a dent. Yet the federal ban went into effect on January 17, 1920. Attempts to curb the illegal alcohol trade at the federal level soon proved to be fraught with problems for the understaffed Bureau of Prohibition as well. North Dakota local police, sheriffs, and state and federal agents have always done their duty to do whatever they can to enforce unpopular liquor laws.
At 3 a.m. on January 20, 1921, Lee and Officer Christopher Larson reported to the Minot Police Department in the basement of City Hall, then located at 14 1st Ave SW. Lee immediately began patrolling the city center and noticed a vehicle he did not recognize from the area apparently moving aimlessly through the streets and alleys. Keeping a short distance, Lee observed the vehicle, which came to a stop in front of a house towards the north end of Block 300 of 2nd Street SE (the current location of Milton Young Towers). At approximately 4:15 a.m., the driver exited the vehicle and began to walk around. Coming out of the shadow of a residence in the 200 block of 3rd Avenue SE Lee walked over, stopped, the man asked him about possession of the car. The man denied knowing anything about the car and asked why Lee was following him. Knowing the man was lying about the car, Lee arrested him for providing false information, a violation of lower-level city ordinances at the time.
The man’s behavior changed from confrontation to negotiating with an attempted bribe. The now desperate man offered Lee the money he had with him, about thirty dollars to let him go. That amount of money was a little over a week’s salary for a Minot patroller at the time and would be around $ 455 today. Lee told the man “You don’t have enough money to buy me” and returned his attention to the vehicle. In doing so, Lee turned his back on the arrested person, whom he had not yet searched. In the car, Lee quickly found the source of the man’s anxiety, a large supply of illegal Canadian whiskey. Knowing he was facing a heavy prison sentence, the would-be whiskey racer pulled a Lugar pistol from under his jacket and shot Lee in the back, hitting him twice. Falling to the ground, Lee retaliated with three shots as the man ran towards the car. The man then ran to the west of the stage, and Lee wasn’t sure his bullets had found their mark. The commotion woke up the otherwise sleepy part of town and calls for the police department poured in.
Constable Larson rushed to the scene. Lee, still on the ground, said he fired back at the suspect but was not sure he hit him. Larson checked the immediate surroundings, but did not leave Lee and did not see the man. A woman called Larson from Ellison Flats’ apartments, next to the stage east of where the officers were, to offer help. Larson asked him to call a doctor to come and help him. Doctor Eherenfeld arrived shortly after and they took Lee to Saint Joseph’s Hospital. The news was quickly communicated to the rest of the police department who launched a manhunt for the shooter. The shooter first escaped capture when he was not very far. He managed to hide in a basement of a duplex style house in the 300 block of 1st Street SE. Guardian Frank Horner went to the basement to add fuel to the furnace and was greeted at gunpoint by the gunman, who had in fact been shot once by Lee’s retaliatory fire. , demanding help. Horner offered to call the police, but the man barked back, “I don’t need the police. I need a doctor! “ Horner obliged and called a doctor who called the police anyway. Several officers quickly descended into the house, arrested their colleague’s gunman, and also took him to Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
Lee’s prognosis was grim. The surgery presented too great a risk of shock and it was hoped that Lee wouldn’t bleed to death inside until it improved enough for an operation to remove the bullets from the shooter. It just didn’t look right and Lee knew he was dying. Interviews with Lee and his gunman by State Attorney Ragnvold Nestos, Chief McDonald and Captain John Reed revealed essentially the same story of the two injured men. The suspect claimed he did not realize Lee was a cop at first, due to the fact that Lee was not wearing a uniform, believed he was being robbed, but allegedly surrendered. ‘he had known. Unfortunately, that belief may have been true, at least initially. Staff turnover in the police department at the time was very high and new officers were not initially given uniforms due to budget restrictions. That explanation seemed to fall apart, however, given the attempted bribe and, of course, shooting Lee after his arrest with his back turned.
Speaking further with the suspect, he confessed that the vehicle he was driving was stolen in Saskatchewan, Canada, where he also obtained the alcohol. The man’s intention was to return the vehicle to Chisholm, Minnesota, where it had come from, and was looking for a gas station when Lee stopped it. Chief McDonald brought Lee’s family to the hospital and stayed by his side. Lee succumbed to his injuries around 11:30 a.m. on January 21, 1921 as he held Wanie’s hand after telling her and eight-year-old Myron how much he loved them. The Reverend Dr CL Clifford of Vincent ME Church was also present with the Fahler family, offering all the comfort and support he could when Lee passed away. Lee’s shooter also died shortly after Lee’s death, closing the case of Minot’s latest police murder.
The week following his death, the Minot Daily News ran an op-ed citing Lee on his deathbed in a conversation with Chief McDonald asking: “Chief, have I done my duty? “ Throughout the horrific incident which resulted in unimaginable physical pain and fear for the community, the police department, a dedicated police officer and his family, Lee’s validating desire to do what was right stands out as a testimony of his character. The officer did not share any thoughts of revenge, anger or hatred as he left this life. Lee’s last thoughts on earth focused on something far more important; love of family and service to his community.
Lee’s very short policing career shares two very important stories about ethical police conduct. The first, an officer ready to uphold the law even when the suspect was a fellow police officer. The second is to resist the corruption of taking money in exchange for looking away from offenders. Considering the time, these two cases would have been fairly manageable, but Lee and his fellow officers did their duty when the temptation to take an easier, but ultimately wrong path, arose while serving the people of Minot. Lee’s conduct, and his remarkable example, is shared today with new officers from the Minot Police Department as they attend law enforcement ethics training during the training of orientation.
In January of this year, the Minot Police Department intended to hold a centennial memorial service in honor of Constable Fahler’s sacrifice. However, due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event has been postponed. This service is now scheduled for Thursday, August 12 at 10:30 am in the Municipal Auditorium, Room 201. Mayor Shaun Sipma, Minot Police Chief John Klug and Pastor Matt Scherbenske of the Vincent United Methodist Church will speak at the memorial. The service is free and open to the public.