No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
Alexandria is a small town in the south-central portion of the State of Minnesota. It boasts 17 lakes within its city limits, which would make it a fisherman’s paradise, in both summer and winter. Not too far from Alexandria, the controversy-laden Kensington Runestone was discovered, and it remains in a museum for all to see in the town, perpetuating the debate whether Viking descendants truly explored the region in the 14th Century. Carlos Creek Winery hosts the annual Grape Stomp, which is a great time to see an old way of producing wine. And every October, Apple Fest takes over the town. It’s the kind of town that epitomizes Midwest-charm. It is also growing rapidly. It was founded in the 1880’s, and by 1980 had a population of 7,608. Today it boasts a population nearing 14,000, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the Northern Great Plains region. Life in this town is rather slow-paced, despite all the growth and excitement, and it’s that ever idyllic sense of pacing that attracts people to the area. Unfortunately, this wonderful community had its sense of self rocked in the latter portion of the 20th Century, and that’s what we’ll discuss today.
Deputy Curtis Alan Felt
On June 29th, 1978, Deputy Curtis Felt of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was working road patrol, when he was called to the Douglas County Courthouse in Alexandria to transport James Kroupa to the Fergus Falls City Jail, about 50 minutes north on I-94, in Otter Tail County. The reason for the transport was that DCSO’s jail was under construction, and so OTCSO was housing criminals from Douglas County for the time being. Kroupa had been arrested for DUI the year before, and had met every other obligation of the charge, but failed to pay the required fines assessed by the court, and then refused to. The judge ordered he be held in jail for 30 days for failure to pay fines. During this era in Alexandria, there was not court security the same way we know of it now. People routinely came in and out of court, without being required to remove metal objects from their pockets, and to walk through metal detectors, and be subject to pat-down searches. Much of those improvements were made in light of Deputy Felt.
Kroupa became a prisoner in the courthouse, but no one searched him. He had tucked four loaded handguns into various parts of his clothing. As Deputy Felt entered the room Kroupa had been staged in, he pulled out one of the guns and began firing. He struck Deputy Felt multiple times, and fled the courthouse. Meanwhile, Deputy Felt managed to walk to an office and tell county officials he needed help. Kroupa entered a vehicle outside the courthouse, and Alexandria Police Officer Steven Caye, alerted to the incident, spotted Kroupa and chased after him. Kroupa fired another handgun at Caye’s vehicle several times. Officer Lamont Moundson also from Alexandria Police, entered the chase as well, which concluded on a dead-end road. Kroupa staged himself behind a tree, as the officers entered the immediate area, he began firing his various handguns towards them. There was a bystander family on their front porch as Kroupa began firing, and Officer Moundson was fearful they may be struck by gunfire by Kroupa. Officer Moundson engaged Kroupa, wounding him, which led to him being taken into custody through medical transport.
Deputy Felt was receiving aid by ambulance around the time of the shootout, and he was taken to the county hospital, where long lines of police and fire personnel stood, waiting to donate blood for Deputy Felt. Three and half hours after he was shot, Deputy Felt lay on an operating table, when doctors realized there was nothing they could do. He was 23 years old.
Three days after the incident, Kroupa passed away from the injuries he sustained in the shootout. Deputy Felt had been married to his wife for only six months when this happened, and he had two twin brothers who were age seven. Their last view of him was when he was working the shift that led to this incident. Felt’s brothers were out at one of the lakes with another deputy and good friend of Felt, Bill Ingebrigtsen. He was taking them onto the lake to learn how to waterski. As Deputy Felt pulled into the boat launch area to perhaps watch for a little while, he answered the radio call that brought him to the courthouse, so he even did exit the vehicle to hug his brothers, instead only having time to wave goodbye, likely not thinking this would be the last time he would see them.
Too many times there are people that bring up the idea that police are “paranoid” of all the people around them. But one look at this incident, and you would be hard pressed to find a sane person in this profession who wasn’t overly cautious. Think about what led to this deputy’s loss of life. A person who decided on their own to drive drunk, and for a year refused to pay their fines, and couldn’t stand being held accountable by a judge, decided to take it out on the next peace officer he came in contact with. And to add insult to injury, the original officer who arrested Kroupa was an officer from Alexandria Police, not the Sheriff’s Office. Surely, if we believe police are jaded about civilians, then we only have ourselves to blame. It seems all too often in these stories that a lack of personal responsibility is what leads us to ruin.
Of course, this story doesn’t end with Deputy Felt solely. His brothers went on to become deputies. One serves in Ottertail County, where Fergus Falls is, and another in Carver County, just west of the Minneapolis Metropolitan area. While we lost Deputy Felt all too soon, it is clear that a tradition of service began in his honor, and continues to this day.
In memory of Deputy Curtis Alan Felt.