The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 15, 2007

Shooting put newspaper in the sights

By Joe Spear

Three weeks ago, a tragedy took place that the Mankato community has not experienced in some time, if ever.

Two local police officers were shot in the line of duty in the small town of Amboy. Fortunately, they survived. And just like other members of the community, the people who work at this newspaper send our good wishes and prayers to Rob Sadusky of the Mankato Police Department, Chris Nelson of the St. Peter Police Department and the officers’ families.

We hope they will be able to find strength to deal with this tragedy and recover physically and mentally from it. We also understand the stress this kind of incident puts on all law enforcement in the area and we also wish everyone the best in dealing with this grim reminder of police work.

Also, our thoughts go out to the family of Jeff Skjervold, who apparently turned the gun on himself after shooting the officers in a string of events that is still not clear.

The officers were responding to a report of a domestic dispute that turned very strange and dangerous. We know our readers depend on us to tell them what happened, and more importantly, if they and their families are safe.

Unfortunately, we were not able to do that in a way that was friendly to law enforcement.

It is never our intent to interfere with police doing their job, especially in these kinds of situations. But four hours into the standoff, dozens of readers and members of the community were calling our offices looking to us to tell them if the rumors about five people being shot dead were true.

One of our reporters had been on the scene for several hours and had been told nothing of what was going on. Another reporter was called in to start looking up the names of people in the Amboy region where the event was taking place. We use farm plat books in these cases. It’s a way to find out who lives where and it’s a common practice in the newspaper industry.

Our regular police reporter Dan Nienaber began calling neighbors to see if they could tell us anything that was happening. We only resort to this method of reporting if police are giving us absolutely nothing and there is, in our mind, a compelling need for the community to know if they are safe or not.

Had police told us just the basics, that two officers had been shot and they were attempting to talk to the suspect, we would have not pursued leads on our own and certainly would have known not to call the suspect. If we know police were negotiating in a stand off with a suspect, we would not call that suspect.

Nienaber called a neighbor near the scene who referred him to another neighbor. In the next call, unbeknownst to Nienaber, he had Skjervold on the line. Still not knowing who he was talking to, he asked Skjervold if he knew what was going on.

At that point, Skjervold revealed he had shot two police officers and they had shot him in the stomach. It was a brief conversation, and Skjervold hung up.

Nienaber then confirmed parts of the story with a Blue Earth County sheriff’s deputy on the scene. We had heard that one of the officers shot was Rob Sadusky. We called the hospital to confirm a condition. The hospital followed its usual practice of providing the condition of patients admitted.

We put a short version of the story on our Web site and published a longer version in the Christmas Eve edition.

Law enforcement was not, and in some cases still is not, happy with the way we handled the reporting. They have accused us of interfering with their attempt to get Skjervold to give up his weapons and come out.

Conversations on The Free Press community forum on our Web site keep alluding to the “real story” and allege there’s a lot more to the events reported so far. The Free Press will follow up completely on the event when the police have finished their investigation.

I know law enforcement will not get over their disagreement with us soon. It was never our intent to call Skjervold. We did it by accident.

But it was our intention to get some kind of news out by deadline to let our readers know that, yes, this was a serious public safety situation. Whenever police are shot, there is danger to the rest of the community.

To let people know that and let them know as soon as we possibly can was our goal. We believe the public good was served by our stories.



Joe Spear is managing editor at The Free Press. Contact him at jspear@mankatofreepress.com