Officer’s death stuns Southwest residents

The Southwest community was stunned after the death of Minneapolis Police Officer Melissa Schmidt, killed Aug. 1 after a shootout at the Horn Towers housing complex, West 31st Street and Blaisdell Avenue South.

The 60-year-old woman, as yet unidentified, also was killed in the exchange of gunfire.

The incident occurred after police received a call about an armed woman in a car. Officers Schmidt, 35, and Tammy Friestleben, 37, spotted the vehicle in the Horn Towers’ residents’ parking lot.

The officers found the driver in the building’s lobby and talked with her, according to news reports. When the woman requested a bathroom trip, the officers followed her. It was in there that Schmidt was shot in the abdomen beneath her bulletproof vest. The 60-year-old woman also was shot and killed.

On the blackboard by the first-floor reception desk at the complex, someone wrote in large cursive letters, "You are still safe here!!!"

Mike Bastyr, a Horn Towers resident for two-plus years, described Schmidt as the kind of person who would help anybody. He had only talked to her a handful of times, but said when he did, ‘"I talked to her like I had known her a long time."

Community involvement

Schmidt’s loss has deeply affected neighborhoods she previously served. She worked as a beat officer in the Stevens Square-Loring Heights neighborhood early in her career. She also worked a stint as a SAFE Officer for the Lyndale neighborhood where Horn Towers is located.

"She didn’t wait for the calls. She went out in the community and talked to people," said David Delvoye, the safety coordinator for Stevens Square Community Organization, who worked closely with Schmidt.

Doug Kress, SSCO’s executive director, said the neighborhood has two public housing complexes, and Schmidt covered them in her public-housing assignment.

"Because we had the relationship built with her as a person, she was able to carry that relationship into public housing — which is often a difficult group to get involved in the neighborhood," Kress said. "We were starting to build those ties."

Schmidt also continued to drop in on neighborhood events, Kress said, such as a late July showing at "Movies and Music in the Park." The two started chatting.

"I said, ‘It would be great to have you come back to the neighborhood. One of our beat officers moved over to a different position.’" Kress said. "She said, ‘Well, I like what I’m doing now.’"

City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) is a former community crime-prevention specialist with the Minneapolis police. Schmidt replaced him and his partner in Lyndale and CARAG when they stepped down.

"She was an incredible officer who really understood community policing," Niziolek said.

He said his office was flooded with calls from the community after the shooting.

Gay/lesbian outreach

Third Precinct Commander Lt. Sharon Lubinski said the death has left the department devastated. She noted that Schmidt was adept not only at representing the community as a whole, but also the gay and lesbian community, of which she was openly a part.

"She was willing to be in uniform doing outreach to the gay community, most recently in June of this summer," Lubinski said. "I think that is significant."

Schmidt is the first Minneapolis police officer to die in the line of duty since Officer Jerry Haaf was killed in 1992. Schmidt apparently is the first gay or lesbian police officer in the history of the Minneapolis Police Department to die in the line of duty.

"Losing such a strong officer who showed leadership and could help to build those bridges, that is going to be a loss," Niziolek said.

Horn Towers and the community are sponsoring a memorial service for Schmidt during National Night Out, Tuesday Aug. 6, 7:30 p.m. at Horn Towers. Mayor R.T. Rybak and Niziolek will speak.