Mugging near Lake Harriet unnerves residents

Violent attacks in park areas very rare

Minneapolis park officials say they are taking steps to improve safety near Lake Harriet after three teens reportedly assaulted a 57-year-old man near the Bandshell late November.

Park Police are stepping up patrols, clearing buckthorn in the area and working with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board officials on improving lighting along the lake’s pedestrian paths, said Brad Johnson, park police chief.

Beyond those steps, the recent cold snap has also put a damper on crime. “With the cold weather, things have quieted down considerably in the area,” Johnson said.

Still, the Nov. 17 attack on long-time Linden Hills resident Michael Tillemans, an employee at Bayers Do It Best hardware store, 4312 Upton Ave. S., has left many unnerved.

Violent-stranger attacks like Tillemans’ are rare near the city’s Chain of Lakes. Only about 2 percent of reported crime in Minneapolis occurs in all of the city’s parks combined, Johnson said.

Park Board Superintendent Jon Gurban said city officials are hoping Tillemans’ attack was an “isolated” incident.

Three teens approached Tillemans from behind and attacked him near the Bandshell at 8:10 p.m., Johnson said.

The teens looked for money, but Tillemans told him he didn’t have any on him. He was thrown to the ground and suffered a broken left femur. He has been recovering from his injuries at home.

Tillemans did not get a good look at his attackers and hasn’t been able to provide police with detailed descriptions, Johnson said.

The assailants have been described as three teen-age males, two white and one black. They appeared to be 14 to 18 years old, he said.

So far, police haven’t made any arrests.

Kris Arneson, inspector of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fifth Precinct, said Tillemans’ attack has been the only aggravated assault reported in Linden Hills since June.

“Residents don’t have to fear a band of thugs roaming the neighborhood,” she said.

Overall, there have been 54 reports of Part One property crimes since June, which includes burglary, larceny and auto theft. During the same time period last year, there were 53 reports of Part One crimes, including three aggravated assaults and an aggregated robbery, Arneson said.

Citywide, crime has jumped about 25 percent compared to a three-year average. An increase in aggravated assaults has been one of the driving factors in the overall increase.

Mayor R.T. Rybak’s budget calls for 71 new police officers next year. The City Council will vote on adopting the budget Dec. 19.

Bob Bayers, Tillemans’ manager at the hardware store, said the Linden Hills resident has been overwhelmed by the outpouring from the community in the wake of the incident. Tillemans has turned down requests for media interviews.

“He’s a very private person,” Bayers said at the community meeting.

The attack came as a shock to Tillemans, who was just about a block from his home. He was “totally blindsided,” Bayers said.

He recently stopped by the store to check in on his co-workers, said Joe Young, a clerk at Bayers.

While the incident has alarmed Tillemans’ co-workers, Young said he isn’t fearful. He’s worked at the hardware store for 10 years and continues to walk to work from his home a couple of blocks away.

“I would not say I’m scared now,” Young said. “Stuff, unfortunately, is going to happen.”

Others in the neighborhood agreed with Young. Duane Duden, who spent a recent icy afternoon bundled up on the edge of Lake Harriet trolling for a large muskie, said he thought the area was  percent safe.”

Duden, a regular on the lake since 1958, said he feels much safer near Lake Harriet than in his neighborhood on Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street.

Those who attended the Nov. 28 community meeting, however, had a different take. Several spoke up with concerns that the city has taken a piecemeal approach to crime prevention and neglected Southwest neighborhoods.

Runners who frequent the paths around the lake said they were frustrated by dark patches along Harriet pedestrian trails and a perceived increase in vandalism and burglaries.

One of the runners in attendance was newly elected City Councilmember Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), who has co-chaired the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council. She pledged to work with city and park officials on crime-prevention strategies at the Nov. 28 meeting.

Gurban and Johnson responded to the concerns by saying that park and city police officers are in constant communication about crime trends.

As for lighting, Gurban said park officials face challenges in updating an aging lighting system. There are 2,000 light poles along the city’s park system, and it costs $2,500 to replace each one, he said.

The Park Board has endorsed a new light fixture for the parkways but is waiting on approval from city officials, he said.

Bayers said Tillemans is expected to recover from his injuries in a couple of months.

“He just wants to get over the attention, heal from this and get back to work,” he said.