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'So out of character': Bail set for suspect in shootout with deputy; foster parents, friends puzzled by his actions

By Archie Ingersoll / The Forum

ADA, Minn. – It was a question Steven Henderson’s friends and foster parents were unable to answer: How could a young man they knew as caring and nonviolent end up being accused of shooting a Norman County deputy during a traffic stop.

“What he did is extremely wrong, and he’ll have to deal with the consequences to that,” said Henderson’s foster father, Anders Macy. “At the same time, it truly surprises us that this occurred.”

Henderson, 19, made his first court appearance Thursday on charges of first-degree attempted murder of a peace officer, bringing stolen goods into the state and two counts of receiving stolen property. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are all felonies.

A criminal complaint showed that Henderson and his brother had just traveled from Oklahoma to Minnesota when they were pulled over Tuesday in a black Dodge pickup that Henderson had stolen the day before in Kansas or Nebraska. He had found a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun inside the glove compartment, the complaint said.

On Tuesday morning, the Norman County Sheriff’s Office received a report from someone saying the pickup was suspicious. The deputy found the truck, which had no license plates, and stopped it on County Road 39 near County Road 12. Henderson was driving, and his brother, William Henderson, was in the passenger seat, the complaint stated.

William Henderson, 18, had an arrest warrant for failing to appear in court on misdemeanor charges in Pennington County, so the deputy placed him in the back seat of his squad car. The deputy returned to the pickup, and then headed back to his squad car. At that point, Steven Henderson opened fire with the handgun, the complaint stated.

The first round hit the deputy, who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest, in the back, and another round struck his portable radio on the front of his vest. The deputy grabbed his sidearm and returned fire but missed, the complaint said.

Steven Henderson drove off, and officers found him two hours later in woods near a vacant farmstead a few miles from the scene of the shooting.

He told investigators he does not remember shooting the deputy. He said he recalls seeing the deputy arrest his brother and then talking with the deputy. But after that, his memory is blank until he came to in the woods with the gun next to him or in his hand. Police later recovered the gun from the pickup, the complaint said.

William Henderson told investigators he saw his brother shoot at the deputy. He estimated his brother and the deputy each fired eight to 10 rounds, according to the complaint. No charges have been filed against William Henderson in connection with the shooting.

The deputy, identified in the complaint as Nathan Warner, was treated Tuesday at a Fargo hospital and released.

Norman County Sheriff Jeremy Thornton said Warner, who has been a deputy for 6½ months, was about to take a new job as an officer with the Wadena Police Department, but in light of the shooting, his time with the sheriff’s office has been extended.

“He will continue on with my department until this whole situation is taken care of,” Thornton said.

‘So out of character’

Norman County Attorney James Brue told the judge at Thursday’s hearing that Steven Henderson, who attended school in the Fertile-Beltrami district, has family ties to Oklahoma. Brue said that if Steven Henderson was released on bail, he would possibly abscond and would be a threat to public safety. Henderson’s attorney, public defender Kip Fontaine, offered no response to Brue’s statements.

District Judge Jeffrey Remick set bail for Henderson at $1 million cash with conditions, $1.5 million cash without conditions or $1.5 million through a bail bondsman, with conditions.

Randy Smith and his sister, Brittany, attended the hearing to support Henderson, their friend since childhood. They had trouble believing the allegations against him.

“Something had to, like, make him really mad to do it,” said Brittany Smith, 19. “He would do anything to protect his family, like any of us would do anything to protect their family.”

Henderson’s foster parents, Anders and Nancy Macy, also attended the hearing. The couple met Henderson through a youth group at a church in Beltrami.

“He’s been a part of our family for the last three or four years,” Anders Macy said. “The Steven Henderson we know is a very kind, polite, helpful, energetic, be-involved kind of young person. He is a young fella that had a bright future.”

He went to Fertile-Beltrami High School where he wrestled, played football and ran track. He did not graduate but earned his GED certificate.

News of the shooting left his foster parents “tremendously disturbed,” Anders Macy said. “We put a lot of time and effort into Steven, but, more importantly, it’s so out of character for Steven to have reacted the way he did.”

Henderson did not have a prior criminal record in Minnesota. In North Dakota, his only conviction was for possession of alcohol as a minor, filed in 2012 in Minot’s municipal court.

He’s being held at the Northwest Regional Corrections Center in Crookston. His next court hearing is set for May 7.

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