A 10-hour standoff next to an elementary school ended peacefully Monday night when a Coeur d’Alene man surrendered to police.
It took hours of negotiation and several rounds of tear and pepper gas before Thomas Bernard Graham, 40, finally came out of the pink duplex at Seventh Street and Harrison Avenue. Graham was arrested on two outstanding felony warrants and misdemeanor obstructing charges, then taken to the Kootenai County Jail
Graham was inside the duplex, perhaps visiting friends, when deputies noticed his truck parked in back and attempted to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. A duplex resident said Graham “flipped out” when the officers arrived. Somehow Graham ended up in the crawl space above the ceiling and allegedly tried to escape through the other side of the duplex.
Police scanners squawking in the back yard had awoken Rebecca Potts, who lives in the other side of the duplex, about 8:30 a.m. Monday. About the same time, the pregnant woman heard noises in the attic space and screamed as a knife blade stabbed through her ceiling.
“All of a sudden this knife comes through my ceiling and I was like ‘Oh my God,’ ” Potts said as she stood a block away watching police with their guns drawn surrounding her house. “I almost had a really bad anxiety attack.”
Law enforcement officers then knocked on the door and asked Potts and her boyfriend, Dan Parks, to leave the house. Parks said he didn’t even have time to put on socks before officers forced them out of the house and down the street.
Meanwhile officers locked down neighboring Bryan Elementary School, evacuated several houses and closed nearby streets. One woman in a house directly across the street carried a baby to safety as a Coeur d’Alene police officer stood by with his gun drawn.
Graham had barricaded himself in the house along with Kayla Hentschke, 18, who was allegedly asleep in a bedroom and unaware of the standoff for nearly four hours, Coeur d’Alene police Sgt. Christie Wood said. About 12:30 p.m. Hentschke crawled out a bedroom window after hearing an officer call her name on the outdoor public address system
Hentschke told police that Graham had a gun and had said he wasn’t going to jail.
The Joint Special Response Unit, which includes law enforcement officers from Kootenai County, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, dressed in riot gear and surrounded the duplex shortly after the residents were evacuated. Negotiators set up a command post in a former military truck a block away and talked with Graham periodically on cell phones. Later in the afternoon, the team broke a window in the duplex and threw in a phone for Graham to use. Officers also used the PA system to encourage Graham, repeatedly yelling “Come on out, Tom. Come on out.”
When that failed, officers shot several rounds of the tear gas and pepper spray mixture into the home.
“We are trying different persuasive methods to get him out,” Capt. Steve Childers said as a plume of smoke from the gas came from the house.
In the end, officers stormed the back of the house as Graham approached a front window to talk to a negotiator, Wood said.
Local officers are familiar with Graham and that’s why Wood said the deputy recognized his truck parked in the duplex’s back yard. The deputy also knew that someone driving the same truck had sped away from a city officer hours earlier. The officer abandoned the Sunday night pursuit to avoid a high-speed chase on Seltice Way.
Wood said Graham had a March 9 warrant for felony burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle and felony eluding, which carried a $250,000 bond.
Graham also had a second warrant for failure to appear for a 2004 drunken driving arrest. During that August 2004 arrest, Graham told a Coeur d’Alene police officer that he had been “hiding out in Idaho for three years” to avoid the California Department of Corrections where he was wanted on a parole warrant, a police report shows.
Potts and Parks said they didn’t know Graham but thought he was a friend of Adina Ahlers, the woman who lived in the side of the duplex where Hentschke had been sleeping. The relationship between Ahlers and Hentschke was unknown late Monday.
Ahlers said she didn’t really know Graham and that he was a friend of a friend. Ahlers said Graham had come to the duplex sometime Sunday night or Monday morning and he “flipped out so bad” when the police knocked on the door. Ahlers left the duplex when police arrived.
During the standoff, students at the elementary school were moved into the gym and away from the classrooms that faced the duplex. The children exercised, sang, read and ate their lunches sitting on the gym floor with trays in their laps.
By 2 p.m. half of the students had been picked up by their parents. At day’s end, the remaining students were taken to nearby Lakes Middle School where they caught their regular buses. No students were allowed to walk home.
Coeur d’Alene School District spokeswoman Janet Filer said that the elementary school staff will meet today to discuss the lockdown and will send letters to parents.
Filer said that Principal Joel Palmer reported that the day went well and that there was an “environment of safety and calmness.”