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Fairbanks, Vernier make first court appearance in Mahnomen deputy shooting

Thomas Lee Fairbanks is led into the Mahnomen County Courtroom Friday morning for his first court appearance in the shooting of Mahnomen County deputy Christopher Dewey Wednesday morning. Fairbanks had 22 charges brought against him, including attempted first degree and attempted second degree murder. (Brian Basham/DL-Online)1 / 3
Daniel Kurt Vernier is led out of the Mahnomen County Courtroom in February after his first court appearance in the shooting of Mahnomen County deputy Christopher Dewey. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)2 / 3
Thomas Lee Fairbanks flashes a grin after glancing at the squad car holding Daniel Kurt Vernier following their first court appearance in Mahnomen County Court Friday morning for the shooting of Mahnomen County deputy Christopher Dewey Wednesday morning. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE3 / 3

The standoff brought out 18 different law agencies and the first court appearance of Thomas Lee Fairbanks and Daniel Kurt Vernier, though on a smaller scale, brought out a large variety of law enforcement as well.

The two men, involved with the shooting of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Dewey and a standoff with police after the incident, made their first court appearances Friday morning in Mahnomen County Court. Dewey is in MeritCare in Fargo and is in critical but stable condition.

At least 50 police officers packed into the courtroom Friday, along with about a dozen family members and supporters for the two men, waiting half an hour for the hearing to begin. It was delayed half an hour due to the extensive list of charges against the men.

Public Defender Kip Fontaine had to make sure Vernier and Fairbanks understood the charges.

Vernier, 27, appeared first before Judge Michael Kracker, and was charged with 17 counts; Fairbanks, 32, followed with 22 counts filed against him.

Fairbanks has been charged with attempted murder in the first degree, attempted murder in the second degree, felon in possession of a firearm, convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 12 counts of assault in the first degree, attempted theft of a motor vehicle, four counts of reckless use of a dangerous instrument and failure to render assistant for great bodily harm.

Vernier is charged with felon in possession of a firearm, convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 12 counts of assault in the first degree, attempted theft of a motor vehicle, failure to render assistance for great bodily harm and misdemeanor criminal contempt for disobeying a court order to not consumer alcohol due to waiting sentencing on two domestic assault cases.

Vernier's bail has been set at $500,000 cash, $500,000 surety bond or $50,000 cash bond. Given the severity of Fairbanks' attempted murder charges, his bail has been set at $1 million cash, $1 million surety bond or $100,000 cash bond. Other conditions of release include no alcohol, no drugs, no firearms, no going into an establishment that has alcohol, no contact with Dewey or his family and not to leave the state of Minnesota.

Fontaine said in talking with Fairbanks he learned Fairbanks was born in and grew up around the Minneapolis area, but moved to Mahnomen in 2008 when his father was ill with cancer. Fairbanks works for White Earth transit as a driver, and has four children from age 12 years to 10 months. He is in a relationship with the mother of his youngest child. He purchased a house in Mahnomen and is "attempting to turn his life around," Fontaine said.

He requested bail be set lower because the $1 million was "impossible to meet," and Fairbanks would like to continue to work.

Given the seriousness of the charge, the request was denied and set for $1 million.

According to court documents, Vernier and Fairbanks purchased alcohol at Lucky 7 Liquor in Mahnomen. They then went to the Shooting Star Casino and drank until the bar closed. After they left, Shooting Star Casino called the White Earth Tribal Police Department about the possible drunk driving. The information was later given to the Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office.

At approximately 4:11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18, a resident reported the vehicle was located outside his home in a field. Deputies Dewey and Chad Peterson located the vehicle off Fifth Street in a field west of Washington Avenue. They found footprints in the snow, leading from the vehicle to a blue trailer house at 402 West Washington Ave. The deputies knocked but there was no response. They could see shoes inside with unmelted snow on them though.

At 6:22 a.m., the Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call of five possible gunshots fired in the area of West Washington Avenue. The two deputies returned to the area, along with Investigator Paul Osowski, and the three cleared the area after not finding the source of the possible gunshots.

Four minutes later, the sheriff's office received a call from another resident in that area that someone was knocking on the door. Two minutes later the sheriff's department received another call from a different resident saying someone was knocking at the door.

Dewey arrived at that residence as the two males were still on the steps in front of the woman's home. One of the individuals -- later identified as Vernier -- walked past Dewey. Dewey side stepped and the other male -- later identified as Fairbanks -- stepped forward and fired two rounds at Dewey, hitting him in the abdomen and right side of his head.

One minute after he arrived at the scene, a resident called in that someone had been shot. Peterson heard the shots and radioed Dewey to see if he had heard them. When there was no response, Peterson drove to the area and noticed Dewey's squad car rolling backwards. He also saw the two suspects, one with a gun, run across the street to the trailer house.

Peterson put the car in park and radioed for backup.

Dewey was taken to Mahnomen Health Center and lifeflighted to MeritCare. His gunshot wounds caused damage to his liver and one bullet was still in his nasal cavity.

Officers surrounded the West Washington Avenue residence to detain the two occupants, which turned into a standoff involving over 150 law enforcement agents. During that time, gunshots were fired inside the trailer house. Evidence showed later four shots were fired at a north wall in the general direction of law enforcement.

Vernier surrendered around 9:30 a.m. He later gave police a statement, identifying Fairbanks as the shooter and adding that Fairbanks had demanded they steal the squad car. Fairbanks surrendered around 4 p.m., but he refused to give a statement to law enforcement.

Fairbanks has previously been convicted of burglary in the first degree in August 2001; Vernier has been convicted of felony domestic assault in November 2008 and also second degree assault.

The next court appearance for both men is Thursday, Feb. 26, at 9 a.m. in Mahnomen County.