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Search & Survival: How SWAT Team Got Cleveland Gunman

Mike Tobin, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Moments before he surrendered Friday night, the gunman holed up inside the Peter B. Lewis Building cracked open the door of a closet he was hiding in and fired twice at SWAT-team members.

He missed, and those would be the last shots he would fire. Police, who had orders to shoot to kill, could have riddled the closet door with bullets. But they held their fire, not knowing whether their target had a hostage hidden with him.

Then they persuaded the gunman, whom they later identified as former Case Western Reserve University graduate student Biswanath Halder, to walk out with his hands raised and end the seven-hour standoff.

"You don't really have time to be scared," said Sgt. Robert Havranek, a member of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's SWAT team who was among the 70 police involved in the gun battle with Halder. "It's not about thinking, it's about reacting."

Yesterday, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Robert Triozzi denied bail for Halder, who has been charged with one count of aggravated murder and two counts of attempted aggravated murder. Homicide detectives believe Halder was upset because he claimed people in the building had tampered with one of the numerous Web sites he maintained. Halder had filed a lawsuit against a CWRU employee, but it was dismissed.

Halder's appeal was denied last month.

Halder, 62, did not speak during the hearing.

There were droopy bags under his deep-set eyes while he stood in a white prison jumpsuit and dark socks. He was unshaven, with his thinning hair combed forward.

But Friday, police said, Halder was wearing a wig, helmet and bullet-proof vest. Prosecutors said he smashed a rear door at the distinctive Frank Gehry-designed building, entered the atrium and began shooting.

When it was over, one person was killed and three people were wounded, including Halder.

New details about that effort emerged yesterday, when members of the sheriff's SWAT team talked about the standoff.

Cleveland police had secured much of the first floor, but their ranks were stretched thin when sheriff's deputies arrived about 5:15 p.m. SWAT teams from Euclid also responded.

Almost all of the deputies' raids focus on known drug houses. Their job is to arrest people on outstanding warrants while avoiding angry dogs, confused relatives and the occasional bullet. Most raids are over within 30 seconds.

But the Lewis building provided a unique set of challenges. Because of the open design and curving walls, police were often exposed. Halder, police said, spent much of the night darting between the third and fourth floors, shooting at police below.

"He would shoot and scoot," said sheriff's Capt. Charles Corrao. "We could constantly hear movement but never figure out where he was."

Before they were sent off on their various assignments, each group of SWAT members was given at least one officer from each of the four departments, so the various teams could communicate with their colleagues. The strategy was to take control of the building floor by floor.

"We wanted to squeeze him," Corrao said. "We had to force him back and make him retreat until we got control."

That required the officers to first secure the stairwells. They didn't want the gunman to be able to move between floors. Once a stairwell was safe, teams from either side would go room to room looking for the gunman and rescuing trapped students and workers, then meet and move to the next floor.

After spending about 45 minutes securing each floor, police knew that only the fifth floor remained. They entered room 501, an auditorium-style classroom, when the gunman took his final two shots before surrendering.

The best part was when people were taken to the "safe room" in the basement and realized they were finally safe, said Sgt. Don Michalosky.

"You could just see they were deathly afraid," he said.

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