Pope County man's texts about 'death by cop' lead to lockdowns in Grant and Otter Tail counties, court records say
While investigating alleged threats that Gregory Hartwig made, the Pope County Sheriff’s Office obtained text messages from Feb. 16 between Hartwig and his ex-wife.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected from earlier version, based on information from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.
A Pope County man who authorities say caused the evacuation of the Grant County Courthouse on Tuesday with his threats also caused Otter Tail County Social Services to close for the day, court records say.
Although the criminal complaint says that Douglas County Social Services went on lockdown, that was not the case, according to Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen. Wolbersen said Friday morning, Feb. 19, that his office wasn't notified of the possible threat until after the suspect was arrested.
The 40-year-old suspect, who is from Villard, has a history of mental illness, texted about “death by cop” suicide and made threats against public workers months before he was arrested on Tuesday, Feb. 16, in Douglas County, according to court documents.
Gregory Allen Hartwig was charged in Pope County District Court with making violent threats with reckless disregard to the risk, a felony.
According to the criminal complaint:
While investigating alleged threats that Hartwig made, the Pope County Sheriff’s Office obtained text messages from Feb. 16 between Hartwig and his ex-wife. Hartwig allegedly texted that he didn’t know if he’d live long enough to sign papers, added that he would kill himself that day and mentioned "death by cop," which would refer to confronting officers and compelling them to shoot him.
The complaint also mentions a report from the Fergus Falls Police Department in September 2020, where Hartwig was described as suicidal and homicidal. In that instance, Hartwig was upset with Otter Tail County Social Services and stated he was going to kill a social worker.
In another text message to his ex-wife on Feb. 11, Hartwig told her to “stay tuned – it'll be on the news." When his ex-wife asked what he was talking about, Hartwig indicated that there were “23 days left (until his birthday) and he couldn't tell anyone because then they will say it’s premeditated."
Those messages, Pope County investigators said, came on the heels of the Feb. 9 mass shooting at a Buffalo, Minn., clinic, which prompted a sheriff’s deputy to contact the FBI, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minnesota Fusion Center, a division of the BCA that collects and analyzes information regarding organized criminal, terrorist and all-hazards activity in Minnesota.
Through the investigation, authorities learned that Hartwig is a paranoid schizophrenic, bi-polar and does not take medication, according to the complaint.
On Feb. 16, after the Pope County Sheriff’s Office alerted surrounding agencies of the threat of death by cop, social services offices in Grant County went on lockdown and the Otter Tail County Social Services closed for the day. (While not mentioned in the criminal complaint, a news release from the Grant County Sheriff's Office said the Grant County Courthouse and County Office Building in Elbow Lake were evacuated because of a a “specific, credible threat.”)
A Pope County Social Services supervisor had informed Hartwig earlier in the day that visitation with his children was ending, and he had made a comment to the effect that he was putting her “on his list.”
When authorities located Hartwig and talked to him, he said he was on edge because no one was helping him and it was pushing him off the deep end, according to the complaint. Hartwig allegedly said he hadn’t taken any medications for his mental illness for at least eight years.
Hartwig also talked about threatening Otter Tail County Social Services back in October 2020. Hartwig said he told the worker that he was irate and that it would be funny if social worker’s heads got ripped off if they treated people that way, according to the complaint.
The threat charge against Hartwig carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. As of Wed., Feb. 17, he remained in custody at the Douglas County Jail.