Johnson City police avoid hostage disaster

By Megan R. Harrell


   Police and negotiators defused a potentially violent hostage situation Thursday afternoon. Police took 29-year-old Michael A. Riddle, Dry Creek Road, Washington County, into custody after more than a two-hour standoff at 302 Sunset Dr., Johnson City.
   Police began to follow Riddle at noon because they suspected he had stolen a gun and ammunition from a downtown store. The pursuit continued to Sunset Drive, where Riddle abandoned his vehicle in the parking lot of the professional office buildings in the 300 block.
   Riddle then entered the building, searched for the first unlocked door and entered the office of Wiseman, Fields & Company. Riddle held one of the employees, Shanna Tate, 22, hostage with a 12-gauge shotgun. The only other employee in the office at the time was able to back out of the room unharmed.
   "He was not demanding anything. He used the hostage to keep us at bay," said Ron Street, Chief of Police. "We had a good dialogue with him and let him know that we did not intend to hurt him. I do not think he wanted to go to jail."
   Employees in the neighboring offices were evacuated or contained by police. Dr. Margaret Robbins, who has a private practice in the block of offices, was evacuated through a window with four others. "The window had been painted shut. An officer banged on the outside and we had a little adrenaline going. I have been trying to open that window for a year," Robbins said.
   Police described the communication between themselves and Riddle as "almost a continuous conversation" from the time he entered the office. "Through our communication we were able to let him know that if he needed help he had to turn her loose. It was the worse thing he had done and he needed to let her go," Street said.
   Riddle released Tate, unhurt, at 2:47 p.m., then exited the building himself two minutes later. Police called on one of Riddle's friends to help them negotiate the release of the hostage.
   Riddle was taken immediately to the Johnson City Medical Center for evaluation, then released into police custody.
   Riddle faces several charges, including two counts of aggravated assault and one count of kidnapping.