CHICAGO (CBS) — It took 14 hours from Sunday afternoon until Monday morning for chief crisis negotiators to bring a man down safely from a landing on Trump Tower, where he had been hanging from a climbing harness and threatening suicide.
On Wednesday night, the negotiators walked us through their mission. It is a rare and unprecedented look into just how such negotiations are handled.
CBS 2’s Steven Graves was there by the side of the negotiators for much of those agonizing 14 hours.
That man hanging from a rope on Trump Tower, 401 N. Wabash Ave., became a spectacle for many from the ground this past Sunday.
But Chicago Police negotiator Hector Matias had a different view.
“We, of course, were looking eye to eye with each other,” Matias said.
Matias was leaning over the 16th-floor terrace in a harness.
“Any slip of the foot or of the hand, and he was going to plunge down to his death,” he said.
After checking into the hotel with a plan, death is what the knife-wielding man threatened.
The detective said the man never really requested to speak to President Donald Trump, but wanted a platform to spread his own message.
“We’re very reluctant to give into certain demands, only because it could open up the floodgates to other people to attempt to try the same thing,” Matias said.
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But as fatigue wore on and temperatures dropped, the goal became to save the man’s life.
“As we noticed one technique was not working, we tried a different technique,” Matias said.
One tactic was getting journalists involved. CBS 2 was the first station with a reporter on the ground, and that reporter was Graves.
Officers invited Graves up to the balcony. He carefully spoke from a distance on a bullhorn – offering that if he came up, we’d hear his story.
But that didn’t work.
Another tactic negotiators tried was to bring up a friend in person. That failed too.
Police even called the man’s brother in Central Asia. A CPD officer who was fluent in Russian was specially brought in to listen and interpret.
That also failed.
The final tactic that worked? A recorded message from an independent reporter who was out of state – in what amounted to a difficult get – to end 14 hours.
“Suddenly, the knife dropped and he climbed up,” Matias said. “We were extremely fatigued.”
And this incident was especially hard for negotiators who had just come off of a 17-hour standoff with a mentally ill patient before the one at Trump Tower. Crisis calls as a whole this year are going through the roof.
“I don’t know if that’s because of the pandemic,” Matias said. “But for one reason or another, it’s been extremely busy.”
The detective said about 99 percent of negotiations end peacefully, but very few are as widely viewed and extensive as this one.
The man who held negotiators in the standoff was in the headlines again on Tuesday when he escaped from a private ambulance downtown.
He was being taken by private ambulance from Northwestern Memorial Hospital to another hospital around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, when he was able to escape on Washington Street near Dearborn Street, police said. A missing person alert was issued for the man Wednesday night, and he was located early Wednesday morning.