Man in standoff was suicidal
February 14, 2014
The 73-year-old man who allegedly threatened to shoot officers on two separate nights in the past month if they came to his rural Lake View acreage was suicidal and has a history of alcoholism and depression, according to court documents.
James Fertig was arrested Monday after a one-hour standoff with about 20 sheriff's officers from Sac and Buena Vista counties. It ended after several telephone calls between Fertig and officers when Fertig walked out of the house, unarmed.
He was charged with two felonies for a threat of terrorism and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Both are punishable by up to five years in prison.
Fertig has lived in the modest home at 3129 340th St. for more than 25 years and garnered little attention from law officers until September, Sac Sheriff Ken McClure said, which began a spate of alcohol-fueled incidents that led sheriff's deputies to twice surround his house in the past three weeks.
Fertig's previous felony conviction was 30 years ago and was the culmination of a six-year stint of arrests for driving drunk, public intoxication and arson - in which he attempted suicide by setting fire to a garage and refusing to leave it, court documents from those cases show.
The incidents appeared to coincide with his divorce from wife Nancy.
In August 1979 after he was released from jail for a public intoxication arrest, Fertig allegedly went to his ex-wife's house with two shotgun shells and said: "These will take care of the problem, and I'm going to do it where you can see me so you will know it's your fault."
The year before, in May 1978, a man reported that Fertig set fire to a garage at First and Main streets in Lake View. Fertig tossed a burning piece of paper onto some clothes he had soaked with gasoline as part of a suicide attempt, court documents show.
Fertig refused a police officer's order to leave the garage, and the officer and another man dragged Fertig out to save his life.
He was charged with felony arson and obstructing justice but pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and was released on probation. Fertig later violated that probation with a public-intoxication arrest and served 60 days in jail.
"Mr. Fertig's behavior when he drinks leads to his involvement in criminal behavior," a state corrections supervisor wrote in 1980.
A series of OWIs in 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983 led a judge to sentence Fertig to up to five years in prison in Mount Pleasant's medium-security unit, where Fertig underwent alcoholism treatment, court documents show.
Fertig was imprisoned from 1983 to 1986, after which Gov. Terry Branstad restored Fertig's right to vote, but not his right to own a firearm.
It's unclear how he obtained the two shotguns and three small-caliber rifles that deputies found at his rural Lake View acreage on Monday.
That search was spurred by two recent incidents.
On Jan. 24, someone reported that Fertig was suicidal and threatened to shoot anyone who came to help him, according to court documents.
All available Sac County deputies, along with state highway patrolmen, gathered a few miles from Fertig's house as one of the patrolmen tried to negotiate with Fertig by phone.
Four deputies parked just west of the house, awaiting orders to move in as part of a "rapid response," the documents show.
"Fertig sounded drunk, was home alone, and had a shotgun with six rounds in it," the negotiator reported, according to the documents. "Fertig did not want anyone on his property and just wanted left alone."
The officers later backed off.
But then on Saturday, an intoxicated Fertig allegedly made an eight-minute 911 call and threatened to "shoot any car driving by (his house) if he thought it was law enforcement," court documents show. A deputy monitored the area that night, and Fertig made no more 911 calls.
A sheriff's deputy requested on Monday a search warrant to retrieve Fertig's firearms - which was granted by a judge - and a special tactical team of officers surrounded the house about 5:19 p.m.
A negotiator talked with Fertig by telephone several times over the course of an hour, and Fertig surrendered.
He did not show a weapon nor threaten to use one during the talks, McClure said. McClure worried - given Fertig's suicidal past - that the man might have wanted a deputy to shoot and kill him, what is commonly known as "suicide by cop."
"That was a very legitimate concern," McClure said.
Fertig was released from the Sac County jail on Wednesday.
He declined to comment to the Daily Times Herald about the situation when reached by telephone later that day but said: "There better not be any more stories" in the newspaper.
His next court hearing is set for Feb. 24.
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