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Woodbury hostage negotiators receive top honors

The Washington County hostage negotiation team, members of which worked for hours to remove 10 people from a deadly situation last year at the Red Roof Inn, received an award on Monday for their work.

Three Woodbury police officers - detectives Jeff Zerwas, Chris Rheault and Michelle Frascone - were among Washington County SWAT hostage negotiators honored at the Special Operations Training Association Conference awards banquet in St. Cloud, Minn. The nonprofit law-enforcement group honors tactical teams from the Upper Midwest.

"The professionalism and dedication to doing exceptional work as a crisis negotiations team was acknowledged with these awards," Zerwas said in a statement. "We are fortunate to have the right mix of people in our organization."

Other Washington County SWAT negotiators from Cottage Grove, Stillwater, Forest Lake and the Washington County Sheriff's Office were also honored at the banquet.

Meanwhile, Rheault was also named Hostage Negotiator of the Year at the ceremony.

An award nomination described Rheault as one of the first officers to respond to the Red Roof scene on Aug 31, 2012. He was eventually able to negotiate terms that allowed 10 hostages to leave one by one after a tense situation that lasted about four hours.

"His quick ability to quickly establish rapport with the suspect saved numerous lives that morning," the nomination states.

An 11th hostage, Mark Henderson, was killed early in the disturbance after he fled the Red Roof room. Woodbury police on the scene opened fire on Henderson after he bolted toward them, moments after a gunshot was heard coming from the room. Though officers suspected he had a gun at the time, Henderson was later determined to be unarmed. A grand jury later cleared the officers in the shooting incident.

The suspect in the Red Roof case, Demetrius Santreell Ballinger, of Stillwater, was charged with 27 felony counts, including second-degree attempted murder for allegedly shooting at Henderson. He also faces sexual assault charges for allegedly raping teenage females inside the room.

He remains in Washington County jail awaiting his next court appearance.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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