UPDATE: Man who commits suicide in Fargo federal courtroom identified

May 19, 2021

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A man who killed himself inside a federal courthouse in North Dakota after he was convicted for brandishing a weapon at a minor faced a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in prison and a maximum term of life, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Jurors had just departed the Fargo courtroom on Monday when Jeffrey Sahl Ferris, 55, of Belcourt, North Dakota, slashed his throat with what an FBI spokesman called “an easily concealable instrument” and died after U.S. marshals and other court personnel attempted life-saving measures. An autopsy was being conducted Tuesday.

FBI spokesman Kevin Smith said his agency will investigate whether any federal criminal laws were broken in the incident. The U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for security of the courthouse.

“Officials there will review their security procedures to ensure the safety of the courthouse family and those visiting the facility,” Smith said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Nick Chase of North Dakota declined to comment about any details of the incident other than to say there were five employees from his office in the courtroom at the time and “none of them were physically hurt.”

Ferris was found guilty of terrorizing, reckless endangerment and the most serious charge, use of a firearm in relation to a felony crime of violence. Federal sentencing guidelines, which take into account criminal history, acceptance of responsibility and other factors, would have helped determine Ferris’ sentence.

Ferris’ attorney, Ward K. Johnson III, did not respond to email inquiries from The Associated Press.

Ferris was arrested for an incident in April 2020 on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, in northern North Dakota near the Canadian border. Ferris was not an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, according to court documents.

Ferris told investigators he believed several minors were vandalizing property on the reservation and began chasing them with his Jeep. One teen said Ferris was driving “80 mph” and nearly hit some of them while they were fleeing on dirt bikes and four-wheelers.

Investigators said after one of the minors crashed his dirt bike into a fence, Ferris got out of his vehicle and brandished a firearm. Ferris told the youth to stay on the ground, said he was going to call the police and that he “got one,” documents said.

Ferris denied pointing the gun at anyone, the affidavit stated.

The jury found Ferris not guilty on eight counts of assault with a dangerous weapon in relation to allegedly targeting the minors with his vehicle.

The Turtle Mountain Star newspaper reported in July 2020 that a terrorizing charge against Ferris in Rolette County District Court had been dismissed, more than two months after the federal indictment was filed.

Turtle Mountain Chairman Jamie Azure did not return a phone message left by The Associated Press.