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Fire, chase leads to arrest

Ely Echo - Staff Photo -

UPDATE: The following is a press release from the Ely Police Department:

On Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 1006 hours, the Ely Police Department was dispatched to the sounds of a domestic at 45 E. Boundary Street in the City of Ely. Upon Law Enforcement's arrival, a female was observed sitting on the back steps. Broken glass was all over the back steps along with an axe next to the female. While speaking to the female, she told law enforcement that her boyfriend, Jason Keith Gillson, age 49 had shot her phone. The female showed law enforcement a wallet that attaches to a phone, with what appeared to be a bullet hole. The Ely Police Department moved to a safe distance from the residence with the female and requested additional officers.

At a safe distance, but still in sight of the residence, the Ely Police Department called Gillson on the phone. Gillson answered the phone and the Ely Police Department attempted to persuade him to come outside. Gillson refused and got agitated over the course of the phone conversation and eventually hung up on Law Enforcement. Additional Officers arrived on the scene to assist.

As officers were watching the house, heavy smoke began coming from the back of the residence and the fire department was requested. As officers began going towards the residence, Gillson quickly exited the backdoor with a shotgun and moved towards a vehicle. Officers yelled commands for Gillson to drop the gun and he threw the shotgun to the ground. Gillson got into a vehicle, backed up, and fled the scene.

Officers pursued Gillson south onto County Road 21 and then onto County Road 904. Gillson came to a stop on the 904 Road and exited his vehicle and fled from officers into a wooded area. A short time later an officer observed a male fitting Gillson’s description come out of the woods and pursued him. The officer identified himself and gave Gillson commands to stop and show his hands, which he refused. The officer was close enough to deploy his taser which contacted Gillson dropping him to the ground. A small handgun was recovered near Gilson’s left arm. Gillson was then taken into custody and brought to the Virginia Hospital for medical clearance and then to the Virginia Jail. Gillson was charged with 1st Degree Arson, Reckless Discharge of a Firearm within the Municipality, Fleeing a police officer in Motor Vehicle, 4th Degree Peace Officer Assault, and Domestic Assault.

The Ely Police Department would like to thank the following for their assistance; the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department, MN DNR Enforcement Division, Babbitt Police Department, East Range Police Department, Breitung Police Department, Ely Fire Department, Babbitt Ambulance Service, and Ely Area Ambulance Service.




An Ely man was jailed Wednesday on five criminal charges, including three felonies, after he allegedly started his house on fire and led authorities on a chase that ended near Babbitt.

James Gillson, 49, was apprehended and reportedly tased on what’s known as the “904” Road after fleeing Ely and later abandoning his vehicle.

Police chief Chad Houde said his department was dispatched to a domestic at 45 East Boundary on Wednesday. A female was sitting on the back steps of the residence when police arrived.

Houde said he spoke with the female who told him Gillson had “shot her phone.”

Houde said he had her go by the road and called for additional units since Gillson was being considered as a dangerous individual due to a prior incident involving gunfire.

Houde contacted Gillson by phone but was hung up on and as they were figuring out a game plan and closing off Boundary Street, Houde saw smoke out of the back of the house. The fire department was paged to the scene.

“The homeowner exited with a shotgun and he was given commands to put the gun down. He finally threw the gun to the ground and then fled from officers. Gillson was later apprehended off the 904 Road.

Houde said Gillson was taken into custody but had to be tased. Babbitt ambulance was called to check on him after he was subdued by officers.

Using a search warrant, Houde said recovered items corroborated with the story that the female told him.

“People get upset we can’t keep people in jail and we get frustrated too. At the time he was out on bond and didn’t have any restrictions on what he could do,” said Houde.

According to St. Louis County Jail records, Gillson was arrested on felony counts of:

• Arson, first degree, damage to dwelling;

• Fleeing an officer in a motor vehicle;

• Dangerous weapon discharge/firearm.

Gillson also faces previous a gross misdemeanor count of fourth-degree physical assault on a police officer, and a misdemeanor count of domestic assault, in connection with an Aug. 20 incident.

Both incidents took place at Gillson’s home at 45 East Boundary Street, with the Ely Fire Department responding late Wednesday morning to a report of a fire at the home.

A witness indicated that firefighters were extinguishing the blaze and hosing down the structure when an unidentified female reportedly made attempts to get inside.

The same female allegedly assaulted a reporter/photographer for another media publication and damaged her camera, according to a witness at the scene.

The extent of the damage at the home is unclear at the moment, and Gillson had apparently fled the scene by the time fire crews arrived.

Law enforcement personnel from several agencies were in pursuit and a high-speed chase went from Highway 21 to County Road 904.

Scanner reports indicated that police believed that Gillson was armed. He later abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot, and was ultimately tasered and arrested.

Jail records as of Thursday morning indicated that Gillson remained in custody, and that no bail has been set.

The city of Ely will be looking to post the house as inhabitable.

Gillson was earlier charged for the August incident at his house after he allegedly shot the front tires of a vehicle and fired a shotgun at a garage door.

In that incident, police were called to the home by a woman who said she was staying with Gillson and was being held hostage by him.

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