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May 12, 2005 - The Des Moines Register (IA)

How 'Sting' Spiraled Out Of Control At South Side Motel

'We Didn't Think Weapons Would Be Involved,' An Officer Says. Gun Smoke Got So Thick It Set Off The Fire Alarm

By Tom Alex and Jennifer Jacobs, Staff Writers

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The suspects weren't supposed to be armed. When the drug buy was complete, the plan was to surprise them. Uniformed police officers waited, ready to pounce, in a room across the hall at the Heartland Inn on Des Moines' south side.

But before before the "reverse sting" was over, there was enough gun smoke to trigger the hotel's fire alarm, and five people from both sides were on their way to the hospital with bullet wounds.

Police on Wednesday charged Dennis Schofield, 24, of Des Moines with 10 counts of attempted murder for Tuesday's shooting, which terrified hotel guests and had law enforcement officials concerned about what one described as "open season on cops."

Police said Schofield and another suspect, Lee Castillo, 27, came to the hotel, near the Des Moines airport, with the intention to pay "more than $10,000" for "a large quantity" of methamphetamine. Little did they know it would be sold by an undercover officer for the Mid Iowa Narcotics Enforcement unit, which is made up of about 20 officers from various local law departments.

Authorities on Wednesday would not be specific about how much meth they took to the hotel room, how much money the suspects brought, or how the transaction was set up.

One thing was certain: "From the information we got, we didn't think weapons would be involved," Police Sgt. Todd Dykstra said.

Here's what police say happened:

The suspects agreed to buy the drugs, and the undercover agent signaled for the arrest team. Castillo, of Des Moines, smelled the trap as he left the hotel room. Unarmed, he charged at a group of police officers who moved into the hallway behind a protective shield. Schofield pulled a handgun and began firing.

Clive Police Officer Mark Rehberg was hit in the leg. He went down in the second-floor hallway. Holly Glenn, a Des Moines police officer, also was shot in the leg.

Police fired back, and Schofield kept shooting with Castillo in front of him. Castillo went down with wounds to the buttocks and groin.

Schofield fled to a nearby stairwell, bolted down the steps and encountered Paul Feddersen, a special agent with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement. Schofield shot Feddersen in the hand at "nearly point-blank range" before he dashed outside the hotel, where he was wounded by officers.

Schofield and Castillo remained hospitalized late Wednesday. Their conditions were not disclosed. Feddersen and Rehberg were released from a hospital Wednesday afternoon. Glenn was treated and released Tuesday night.

Five officers who returned fire have been put on paid leave, a routine move that precedes a detailed investigation in all police shootings.

Such undercover drug operations are, by definition, unpredictable, said Des Moines Police Maj. Judy Bradshaw. She said the officers, undercover and uniformed, plan to lessen the risk to the public and gather as much information as possible in advance about the suspects.

Drake University law professor Robert Rigg said so-called reverse stings usually target large-scale drug dealers, but he pointed out that "a large quantity in Iowa might be different than in New York or Minneapolis."

Rigg said that police in reverse stings "are encouraging people to break the law."

Although the operations don't meet the legal definition of entrapment, he said, "defense lawyers will look at that as a possible defense: Would it cause a normal, law-abiding person to break the law?"

John Henry Hingson III, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argued that reverse stings are "essentially government creating a crime."

"Frequently people involved in them have an interest in the commission of a crime but don't have the ability," said Hingson, of Oregon City, Ore.

Des Moines defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown said the sting operations are common when police get word that someone wants to buy drugs in a "larger-than-use amount." Authorities then charge the purchasers or try to get them to provide information on their acquaintances.

"They try to flip everybody they bust," Brown said. "In my experience, they make an overture to everybody at least once." In police officers' view, Tuesday's event was another in a rash of recent shootouts with suspects.

"Everybody is alarmed," Chief Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Bill Vaughn said.

Vaughn was at a news conference to update the media on wounded Sheriff's Deputy Mike Lose when Tuesday's shooting broke out.

Lose was off-duty was he was shot earlier this month near Easter Lake Park in a confrontation with a man he thought was driving recklessly in his neighborhood. Lose remains hospitalized with paralysis in his legs.

"From the public safety side we sometimes kind of feel it's open season on cops," Vaughn said. "You walk away from an event like this in which three were not seriously injured, but injured from gunfire, it does affect morale.

"Everybody's upset about it and wished it just wasn't part of the environment that we work in, but certainly that's what we are seeing more and more of these days."

Police said Schofield, after he was taken into custody, said: "I should have shot all of you."

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