Suspects in 8-hour ordeal in Mahnomen have previous convictions

MAHNOMEN, Minn. - Two men arrested after a more than eight-hour standoff with authorities here Wednesday following the shooting of a sheriff's deputy have had previous run-ins with the law.

Mahnomen standoff
Photo from Christopher Dewey's MySpace page

MAHNOMEN, Minn. - Two men arrested after a more than eight-hour standoff with authorities here Wednesday following the shooting of a sheriff's deputy have had previous run-ins with the law.

Thomas Lee Fairbanks, 32, and Daniel Kurt Vernier, 27, both surrendered at different times Wednesday after barricading themselves in a mobile home for several hours after the shooting.

Fairbanks has convictions for burglary, assault and theft, and Vernier has convictions for theft and assault, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

Wednesday's events began when Deputy Christopher Dewey was about to wrap up what had been a routine shift early that morning when he found a pickup that police had been seeking.

The discovery later ended with him lying on a driveway, critically wounded from two gunshot wounds.


That shooting triggered a standoff with police that ended peacefully when Fairbanks surrendered a few minutes after 4 p.m.

Dewey, 26, remained in critical but stable condition in Fargo's MeritCare Hospital on Wednesday night following operations to treat his head wound and a lacerated liver.

Police from at least 18 law enforcement agencies, including three SWAT teams, swarmed to surround the two men suspected in the officer's shooting and to help negotiate an end to the standoff.

"I can tell you nothing like that's happened in Mahnomen County, and I've been here 20 years," Sheriff Doug Krier said. "You just never anticipate it's going to happen this close to home."

The series of events began about 4 a.m. with a report that a drunken driver was seen leaving the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.

The sheriff's office was looking for a pickup - the truck Dewey located about four blocks west of the Mahnomen County Courthouse.

Dewey followed footprints in the snow to a mobile home about a block west of the courthouse - where the four-year deputy of the department had been married 18 months earlier.

The deputy wasn't able to find the driver, but was called back to the same neighborhood a couple of hours later to investigate a report of gunshots.


At 7:10 a.m., Dewey went to a mobile home to interview two men, officials said.

A minute later his partner, also involved in the gunshot investigation, found Dewey lying in the driveway with bullet wounds in the abdomen and head.

In a news conference after the standoff ended, Krier said Dewey had confronted two men outside the mobile home.

While Dewey was questioning one man, the other shot the officer twice, the sheriff said, adding that both men then holed up in the mobile home.

It was unknown Wednesday which of the two men shot Dewey.

Dewey's partner, who was a block or two away, quickly arrived on the scene after failing to get an answer by radio to a status check. He called for backup, and police quickly cordoned off the area.

Dewey was taken to the Mahnomen Health Center, where he was stabilized before being airlifted to MeritCare Hospital.

Law enforcement agencies from throughout northwest Minnesota and beyond flocked to the scene, wanting to help apprehend those who had shot a fellow officer, said Dave Bjerga, assistant superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.


"This is not unusual," Bjerga said, elaborating on the 18 agencies that were on the scene. "There's not a law enforcement agency in the state that didn't want to be here."

Vernier gave himself up about 9:30 a.m.

It would be seven hours before Fairbanks would surrender a few minutes after 4 p.m. Police negotiators had intermittent contact with the man by phone throughout the day.

"I don't know what his state of mind was," Bjerga said, when asked whether Fairbanks was intoxicated during the standoff. Authorities believe the home the two had holed up in belonged to Fairbanks.

The BCA's mobile crime lab promptly swept the area after Fairbanks surrendered, collecting evidence before the light faded. A gun wasn't immediately found, but Bjerga said police believe Dewey was shot with a handgun.

The Mahnomen school was locked down for the students' protection.

As the investigation was beginning, officers were unable to supply a motive for the disturbances that ended with Dewey's grave wounds.

"This is a tragic situation for the entire community," Bjerga said.

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