Assisted Suicide

Minneapolis officials insist police did everything by the book before Clay Fingerman killed himself. But nobody wants to talk about the shotgun left by his door.


It was a little after 5:00 a.m. when Fingerman returned to Erickson's home and found the shotgun the police had left by the door. This time, Erickson says, he decided not to call the MPD. He knew that Fingerman was scared of the police (a fear both Erickson and Boyd attribute to a drunk-driving arrest in Texas years ago). And now that Fingerman was armed the situation seemed too volatile. Instead he led his friend into the bedroom and tried to talk him down. "I sat him in my lap, facing a mirror. And I said, 'You're not well. This not a picture of a well guy. But there are places that can help you. It doesn't have to be like this." To Erickson's surprise, Fingerman agreed to seek help. But with two demands: no more cops and no psychiatric wards. "I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe this was coming from him, because he could be a very stubborn guy. But he'd finally surrendered. And that's what's so tragic about what happened," Erickson says. "He'd gotten to the point where he might have been able to get his life back in order, but he never got the chance."

Figuring that Fingerman needed to be "detoxified," Erickson called the Betty Ford Clinic in California. No answer. Then he dialed up the renowned Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minnesota. A staffer answered the phone. Erickson inquired about Hazelden's admission procedures, letting it be known during the course of the conversation that Fingerman was in desperate shape and that he had a gun. "She said, 'You're giving me heart palpitations,' and I said, 'Well, how you do you think I feel?' But I told her I wasn't in any danger. And I told her at least three times that we didn't want the police here." Finally, Erickson says, the staffer promised that a Hazelden caseworker would call back at 8:00 a.m. Erickson was relieved. It was just after 7:00 a.m.

What Erickson didn't know was that someone from Hazelden had called the Minneapolis Police Department. According to a police report, whoever called from Hazelden reported that Erickson had "told them he was being held in his home by another male who was armed with a gun." (The caller's identity has been redacted from the police report. A spokeswoman for Hazelden told City Pages that Hazelden could not comment on any aspect of the incident). The Fifth Precinct responded quickly, dispatching four beat officers from the day shift to the scene and simultaneously attempting to establish contact at the door and via phone. The sudden commotion riled Brandy along with Erickson's other dog. While they barked wildly, Fingerman retreated to a small bedroom in the northwest corner of the home, shotgun in hand. "I told Clay, 'Stay calm. I'll take care of this. I'll be right back,'" Erickson recalls. "Those were the last words I ever said to him."

Officers Marvin Schumer and Scott Shepard, sidearms drawn, were the first to reach the door. According to Officer Schumer's account of the incident, an agitated Erickson tried to persuade them to back off. "He told me, 'The gun's inside here and we don't need police. We can handle this,'" Schumer wrote in his report. "I told him we needed to come inside to make sure everything was OK....and he told me, 'Just go away' and began closing the door." (Erickson remembers his words a little differently: "I told them, 'The situation is under control. He's still got the gun but has agreed to go to Hazelden.' And then I said, 'Please don't come in, because if you come in, he's going to kill himself.'") According to the report, Schumer then blocked the door with his body and pulled Erickson from the home. Erickson says he told the officers that Fingerman would shoot himself if they entered the home. Another officer on the scene, Robert Cunningham, then handcuffed Erickson and placed him in the back seat of a police cruiser parked on the street out front.

It was now 7:30 a.m. For the next twenty minutes, Clay Fingerman remained on the bed, a shotgun to his neck. He asked for Erickson and, according to Officer Cunningham's report, repeated "over and over that he wanted us [the police] to leave.'" Schumer, Cunningham, and Ofcr. Sarah Saarela were standing just inside the entryway where, through the open bedroom door, they could make out a reclining figure and a shotgun. Schumer's report states that Fingerman began laughing hysterically, asking whether he should shoot himself in the head, and then threatening to shoot the officers if they entered the bedroom. At an impasse, the three police officers retreated on the orders of Sgt. Cheryl Alguire, who, upon arriving at the scene, made the call to establish a perimeter around the home and bring in an Emergency Response Unit, the MPD's version of a SWAT team. The ERU never had a chance to do anything. Three minutes after the officers backed out of the house--and before the ERU arrived--Fingerman pulled the trigger. Erickson heard about the report of a gun fired on the police radio, handcuffed in the back seat of a squad car. "It was my worst nightmare realized," he says now. "I'd hoped to see Clay being led out of the house and taken somewhere he could get help. Instead, I saw him rolled out on a gurney."

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