Believed armed suspect extracted from Bloomington stormwater system after day-long saga

By around 5:30 p.m. a man believed to have been armed with a rifle was removed from the stormwater culvert near 6th Street and Indiana Avenue on the edge of Indiana University’s Bloomington campus.

It’s the place where the Campus River starts its journey under downtown Bloomington, flowing southwest.

A statement from Bloomington police said, “The suspect has been safely removed from the storm drain and will be transported to an area hospital to be evaluated. ”

That ended a day-long saga that started around 9:30 a.m., about a half mile southwest of 6th and Indiana—south of Seminary Park, along 1st Street between College Avenue and Walnut Street.

[This article has been updated below with additional information from a BPD news release issued shortly after midnight.]

Indiana Avenue (between Kirkwood Avenue and 6th Street) as well as Walnut Street (between 1st and 3rd streets) were cordoned off for much of the day.

According to Bloomington police department spokesman Captain Ryan Pedigo, the same suspect had been investigated earlier in the morning by the Monroe County sheriff’s office and was wanted on four felony charges. Pedigo did not have further information on those charges at the time of his press briefing around 5 p.m.

Pedigo said around 9:30 a.m. officers responded to Seminary Park for a report of a man that was attempting to hit people with a large steel pry bar about three feet long. When officers arrived, he had fled. But officers were told the suspect had retrieved a small hatchet from a vehicle parked at the Kroger parking lot and threw it at people in the park.

Officers were told the suspect was last seen headed south towards 1st Street, Pedigo said. Near a large stormwater drain exit between College and Walnut along 1st Street, officers found some clothing that appeared to match the description of the clothing he was last seen wearing.

Officers yelled down into the large stormwater drain and a man yelled back. The man told officers not to come inside the tunnel, that he was armed with a rifle and that he would shoot them if they came in the tunnel, Pedigo said.

Bloomington police then started systematically searching through the stormwater sewers that directly feed that exit, Pedigo said. That search work was aided by small robotic cameras from the city of Bloomington utilities, which are normally used to check stormwater sewers for leaks, Pedigo said.

Responding to a B Square question, Pedigo said the man’s claim to have a rifle was consistent with the clean, unspent rifle rounds that officers found in the stormwater drain—which did not appear to have been there very long.

Along Walnut Street and nearby alleys, The B Square watched as officers attempted to make verbal contact through open manholes and storm drains. They told him to come out with his hands up and empty. Eventually, they dropped flash-bang noise diversion devices into storm drains in an effort to make him come to the surface.

The B Square counted at least eight loud bangs. Smoke came up through the storm drains along the street. Responding to a B Square question, Pedigo said he could not comment on operational decisions like the deployment of the noise diversion devices.

By a bit before 5 p.m. when Pedigo briefed the press, the police activity along Walnut Street had not caused the man to surface.

As Pedigo was briefing the press at the corner of 3rd Street and College Avenue, he had to take a call—it was news that contact had been made with the suspect about a half mile away. The suspect had made his way northeast through the underground culvert. He had been taken into custody likely somewhere under Kirkwood Avenue—but at that moment Pedigo did not have detailed information .

In the time it took the B Square to walk to the area near 6th Street and Indiana Avenue, the suspect had been brought out of the stormwater culvert and placed in an ambulance, according to other reporters at the scene.

The day’s events were supported by several agencies from different jurisdictions: Bloomington police department, Indiana University police department, Indiana State police, city of Bloomington fire department, city of Bloomington utilities, Ellettsville fire department, and Ellettsville utilities, the Monroe County sheriff’s office, among others.

[Updated on Sept. 21, 2022 at 4:45 a.m. A news release issued by Bloomington police shortly after midnight includes additional details about the day’s events.  The suspect is identified in the news release as Eli Swartzentruber, age 37.

The news release credits Swartzentruber’s apprehension to Loki, the K-9 partner of state trooper Richard Klun. The capture came about 500 feet into the stormwater tunnel measured from the entrance of the entrance at 6th Street and Indiana Avenue. That’s estimated to be somewhere under Kirkwood Avenue.

According to the release, officers were able to see a man matching Swartzentruber’s description using a city of Bloomington utilities camera that had been deployed about 500 feet into the tunnel measured from the 6th Street and Indiana Avenue entrance. At first, Swartzentruber said that he would come out of the stormwater sewer on the north end, but then destroyed the camera and tried to flee to the southwest. It was at that point that the K-9 unit was deployed, according to the news release.

According to the news release, Swartzentruber had just an empty handgun holster when he was arrested. Officers did not find a handgun or rifle anywhere in the stormwater sewers after a search. They did locate several unfired .30-06 rounds, as well as a hand scythe and a machete. The news release says that in the coming days officers will search the stormwater system for firearms.

The news release does not describe the felony charges related to the Monroe County sheriff’s investigation that Swartzentruber was alleged to have been involved in early in the morning on Sept. 20. The sheriff’s office had been attempting to locate him in connection with the incident that he was alleged to have been involved in earlier in the morning. But the new release does say that he had an outstanding arrest warrant out of Daviess County for a felony charge of Battery Against a Public Safety Official.

The news release says that Swartzentruber was charged with Attempted Battery with a Deadly Weapon (a level 5 felony) and Intimidation (a level 6 felony). The investigation is still active and additional criminal charges may be forthcoming. The news release describes Swartzentruber as “transient.”]

[Updated on Sept. 21, 2022 at 11:15 a.m. Likely related to the four felony counts on which he was being sought on Tuesday morning, the jail booking report for Swartzentruber lists four felonies: Sexual Battery, Strangulation, Residential Entry, and Residential Entry. A separate entry for Swartzentruber includes another two felony counts, Battery and Intimidation, which are likely related to acts he is alleged to have committed against people in Seminary Park before fleeing into the stormwater system.

The jail booking report lists an address for Swartzentruber in Worthington, Indiana.]

Photos: Stormwater drain suspect (Sept. 20, 2022)

3 thoughts on “Believed armed suspect extracted from Bloomington stormwater system after day-long saga

    1. “According to the news release, Swartzentruber had just an empty handgun holster when he was arrested. Officers did not find a handgun or rifle anywhere in the stormwater sewers after a search. They did locate several unfired .30-06 rounds, as well as a hand scythe and a machete. The news release says that in the coming days officers will search the stormwater system for firearms.”

  1. I wonder if it is common that a person can enter the storm water drain? It seems that it could present many possible problems

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