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Nine-hour Fargo standoff ends in arrest

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A nearly nine-hour standoff in south Fargo ended Wednesday night with the arrest of a man who was involved in a standoff with police 15 years ago.

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Fargo police arrested Leonard Ritter just before 8 p.m. after he jumped from his apartment No. 203 balcony at 2433 20th Ave. S. and attempted to flee. Officers Tasered Ritter, who continued to struggle until he was handcuffed, Lt. Steve Lynk said.

An hour earlier, Ritter fired a handgun several times at a SWAT robot after it breached his apartment door. He then began communicating with a negotiator through the robot and authorities who were trying to get him to give himself up, Lynk said.

Police were initially called to the apartment complex just after 11 a.m. with a report of a man in a hallway with a shotgun who was threatening someone. They had been at the same building on Monday in response to an argument between Ritter and another individual, Lynk said.

Officers on the scene spent the first several hours containing the area, blocking traffic and evacuating the complex and others nearby. Several people were forced to leave the area, including a young family with their month-old son who fled as officers with guns approached the building.

Police called in a negotiator and SWAT because of Ritter's September 1994 arrest after a two-hour standoff with police amid accusations that he threatened neighbors and police from his second-floor balcony.

"They chose to not attempt negotiations with him until a point to where they got the SWAT team here and the negotiators," Lynk said.

Attempts by police to open a dialogue with Ritter were unsuccessful because he would not respond, Lynk said. Authorities then sent in the robot.

No one was injured, but the robot appeared to have a flat front tire.

Ritter was then spotted at least twice on his balcony smoking a cigarette. He appeared to make gun gestures and yell at one point.

According to a December 1995 story in The Forum, Ritter entered an Alford plea in East Central District Court to a terrorizing charge that stemmed from a two-hour standoff with police in 1994.

Under the plea, Ritter denied specific allegations made in the charge, but agreed there was enough evidence to convict him of it.

He was accused of threatening neighbors and Fargo police officers from his second-floor balcony.

At the time, he lived at 3401 15th St. S. and he had several guns in his home.

Under a plea agreement, two other terrorizing charges, one from the September 1994 incident and one from a 1993 incident, were dismissed.

Ritter was given a suspended prison sentence and placed on five years of supervised probation.

Ralph Erickson, who was then an East Central District Court judge and who is now a federal judge, told Ritter at the time: "You received a tremendous break. The next time around, you can't expect these kind of breaks."

Willie Kirschner, Ritter's attorney at the time, said his client was under the influence of chemicals and was delusional during the 1994 incident.

Wednesday's standoff forced the closure of a nearby convenience store and left several residents homeless for most of the day, including Cody and Rachael Rothenberger, who live in the same building as Ritter.

Cody Rothenberger didn't even grab his shoes as he darted out the door with Rachael and newborn son, Conor. Their apartment manager had called and told them to leave, but they initially thought it was just a gas leak, he said.

The family spent several hours outside in the shade before heading to nearby First Assembly of God Church, which was offering shelter and food to people displaced by the standoff.

Because of the standoff, they missed Conor's scheduled doctor's visit because their car was cordoned off.

The family remembered to grab formula and a blanket, but forgot diapers and a bottle, which The Salvation Army helped provide.

The Rothenbergers said Ritter was an acquaintance they had found increasingly worrisome recently. They said he believes police had bugged his apartment and semi-trailer, and he told them of once getting into a fight with five police officers and coming out on top.

Ritter, an avid hunter, showed Cody about 10 firearms he kept in a spare bedroom.

"In the beginning, we thought he was OK," said Rachael Rothenberger, "but he started acting stranger lately."

This morning, she said, Ritter stopped by their apartment twice just after 7, looking for Cody. She said he appeared unusually clean cut, with a new haircut and his shirt tucked in.

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Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova contributed to this report.

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The Forum and the Echo Press are both owned by Forum Communications Company.

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