“He had slit his neck with some object. There was blood all over the walls in the courtroom, and the Marshals had wrestled him to the floor,” the witness told WDAY. “You could hear him screaming, ‘I can’t breathe.’”
The FBI confirmed to the Associated Press that the defendant died in the courtroom after cutting his own throat with an unknown object.
“I can’t remember the last time an event like this happened where somebody was able to smuggle in some contraband into a federal courtroom and die of a self-inflicted wound. Very, very, very odd. Very unusual,” FBI spokesman Kevin Smith told the Forum newspaper.
Authorities have yet to identify the man, but federal court records show that a jury in Fargo was deliberating on Monday in the case of Jeffrey Sahl Ferris, 55, who was accused of nearly running over seven children last year and threatening one child with a gun.
The incident took place on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians’ reservation in north-central North Dakota, but Ferris was not a member of the tribe, according to federal court documents. He lived in Belcourt, N.D., the reservation’s main settlement, and was a descendant of tribal members, Native News Online reported.
Ferris was charged in May 2020 over the incident, which took place the previous month on the reservation. Federal prosecutors say he endangered and terrorized the group of children by driving at them at “excessive” speeds in a Jeep and then brandishing a 9mm handgun.
He was tried last week in Fargo’s Quentin N. Burdick U.S. Courthouse, where the children he was accused of trying to run over were all scheduled to testify. On Monday, court records show, U.S. District Judge Peter Welte approved a request to provide meals for the jury while it deliberated.
Around 2 p.m., the jury returned a partial guilty verdict, Smith said, adding that he was unsure what counts exactly Ferris had been found guilty on. The jury left the courtroom, while Welte considered several requests from Ferris’s attorney, the Forum reported.
Welte declined a request to release the man until his sentencing and also refused to release him for 24 hours to deal with a child custody issue, the Forum reported. That’s when the defendant, who was standing, slashed his throat, the witness told WDAY.
“He did the self-harm after he heard the verdict and after the jury had left the courtroom,” Smith told the AP.
The FBI said the agency would launch an investigation into how Ferris was able to get a weapon past courtroom security. North Dakota U.S. Marshal Dallas Carlson described the weapon as a sharp object possibly made of plastic, the AP reported. The object may have been a letter opener, according to Native News Online.
“We need to officially document what happened in that federal courtroom today,” Smith told the AP. “All the questions you have, we have. What was the sharp object, how did it get into the courtroom, those questions, what did people see him do.”