Tracking the toll of gun violence

Posters at an October rally for peace displayed a photo of Abdi Liban, who was killed in a shooting near Lake & Pleasant Oct. 19. Credit: Photo by Michelle Bruch

About this project: The Journals have taken an in-depth look at gun violence in Minneapolis, along with strategies locally and nationally to fight the problem.


Gun violence claimed the lives of more than 40 people in Minneapolis in 2015 and two people this year — including a 25-year-old Brooklyn Park man in North Minneapolis on Jan. 26 and a 20-year-old West St. Paul man on New Year’s Day in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.

Hundreds more have been injured during shootings.

A total of 256 people were injured by gunfire in Minneapolis in 2015 — up from 227 in 2014, according to Minneapolis police records. As of Feb. 8, there have been 29 shooting victims in 2016.

They include two women struck by bullets in an Uber car near the Penn Avenue exit on I-394W on Sunday, Jan. 10.

The women left downtown around 2:30 a.m. in the Uber vehicle. One victim was shot in the arm and another in the back. They were taken to HCMC with non-life threatening injuries, according to police. The freeway shooting remains under investigation and police haven’t released any information about what motivated the violence.

Reports of shootings on the weekends after bar close in the city have become routine. The Warehouse District has been a hot spot for gun violence, as have neighborhoods on the North Side and in South Minneapolis.

The city reported 49 homicides last year — up from 32 in 2014 — and the highest number since 2006 when Minneapolis had 57 homicides. Many of the victims were black men under the age of 30 who died from gunfire.

The number of homicides, however, is down considerably from the record 97 murders in 1995 — the year the New York Times gave the city the nickname “Murderapolis.” Minneapolis had a higher murder rate than New York City that year.

Still, the uptick in violence is troubling in a city that has seen historically low rates of violent crime for many years.

A national trend 

The increase in homicides mirrors trends in many major American cities across the country.

Chicago had the most homicides of any city in America in 2015 with a total of 468 — up from 416 in 2014, according to the Chicago Tribune. Overall, more than 2,900 people were shot in the city last year.

The increase in gun violence in Minneapolis prompted Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Mayor Betsy Hodges and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to announce a new strategy in mid-November targeting violent gun offenders.

Six veteran MPD investigators have formed a new violent crimes investigations team. Freeman has assigned a prosecutor with experience working on gang and gun violence cases to work closely with the team.

The Minneapolis Police Department also has two new National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) investigators that work closely with the ATF on shooting cases.

Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief of Staff Medaria Arradondo said the new violent crimes investigations team can take a deeper dive into gun crime investigations. They look at each incident, “peel back the layers,” and determine what kinds of risk factors the victims faced, he said.

Harteau has also been active at the national level in calling for more action to address gun violence.

At the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Chicago in late October, she said more needs to be done to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

“The only common denominators we’re finding in every city that has been plagued with this increase is that repeat offenders are illegally getting their hands on firearms. That is why these conversations are vital to addressing this problem with a sense of urgency,” Harteau said.

She was also invited to speak at the launch of former Congressman Gabby Giffords’ new bipartisan coalition focused on combatting gun violence and domestic abuse in mid-October in Washington, D.C.

The Women’s Coalition for Common Sense will focus on preventing stalkers and abusers from accessing guns.

Harteau was the only law enforcement official invited to be part of the coalition.

“As a law enforcement officer, too many times I’ve seen the tragic and horrific results of gun violence against women and their families,” she said. “And too many times, I’ve seen how deadly of a mix that domestic abuse and access to firearms can be.”

City Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) plans to introduce a resolution Feb. 18 at the City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations committee meeting that calls on Congress to pass legislation repealing the ban on gun violence research as a public health crisis through the Centers for Disease Control.

Gordon joins several other local leaders across the country affiliated with the National Network to Combat Gun Violence in pushing for the repeal on the research.

“Gun violence is clearly a public health issue,” Gordon wrote in a recent letter to constituents. “Minneapolis has recognized this for a long time. Indeed it is an important element of our Youth Violence Prevention plan. As a city and a nation we need our best scientific minds and resources to help us address this major public health crisis, which resulted in 12,518 deaths and 22,886 injuries in the U.S. in 2014.”

The victims 

Three people were shot to death in Minneapolis as the result of domestic violence last year, according to the 2015 Femicide Report recently released by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. In total, 34 people throughout Minnesota were killed due to domestic violence in 2015, up from 23 the year before.

The domestic violence victims in Minneapolis who were killed by guns include: Ayan Abdi Abdulahi, Eugenia “Gina” Tallman and Victoria Alvarez.

Abdi Abdulahi, 21, of Bloomington was shot and killed by a boyfriend on April 11 in South Minneapolis. Ahmed Abdirahim Abdi, 17, was later arrested in Kansas City, Mo., and charged with second-degree murder.

Gonzalo Galvan, 50, has been charged with first-degree murder for fatally shooting his wife Tallman, 48, and her daughter Victoria Alvarez, 15, in South Minneapolis on Sept. 25.

The couple’s 7-year-old son was at home during the murders and has been taken into protective custody, according to the Femicide Report. Tallman had told family members that she had planned to leave Galvan. He had three separate domestic assault charges, but none resulted in convictions.

The most high-profile homicide of 2015 was the shooting death of Jamar Clark, 24, by police during an altercation on Plymouth Avenue on the North Side in the early hours of Nov. 15. Two officers involved in the shooting remain under investigation by the FBI. The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has completed its investigation and forwarded findings to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

The shooting prompted protesters to setup an encampment at the 4th Precinct. Eight days after Clark was shot, another shooting near the police station made national news. Four men shot five protesters (all black men) around 10:40 p.m. on Nov. 23 near the police station — a racially motivated crime that sparked outrage locally and across the country.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman charged Allen Lawrence Scarsella, 23, of Lakeville with second-degree assault and riot charges on Nov. 30 in connection with the 4th Precinct shooting. Three other men with him at the time were also each charged with one count of second-degree riot-armed with a dangerous weapon.

Other people fatally shot in 2015 included Julio Mozo-Cuate, 42, in Kingfield. He was shot multiple times in an alley after an apparent robbery on Oct. 18. Three men and one woman have been charged in connection with his murder.

One day later, Abdi Liban, 61, a security guard at the nearby Horn Towers, was shot to death near Lake & Pleasant in the Lyndale neighborhood. His case remains under investigation.

Other high-profile shootings in downtown Minneapolis left many unnerved as well. Dejon Frazier, 18, of Burnsville was charged Sept. 23 with second-degree murder in connection with the shooting of Sabrae Mcalester, 16, by a bus shelter near 4th & Hennepin shortly after 2 a.m. on July 5.

The Warehouse District was rocked by gun violence again on Sept. 12 when three men engaged in a gun battle near 5th & Hennepin around 2:30 a.m. Six people were injured in the shooting.

The county attorney’s office charged Maurice Carter, 25, and Detroit Davis-Riley, 26, with nine counts of first-degree assault for shooting in the direction of police officers three days later. Then on Sept. 21, Demarco Lavelle Gunn, 23, was charged with second-degree assault for his role in the gunfight.

Freeman addressed the City Council’s Public Safety & Regulatory Services Committee following the shooting spree.

“We know that crime has bumped back up,” Freeman said. “It’s increased everywhere. … Nobody can really explain all of this. The one thing that we know and we’re very aggressive about is trying to keep guns out of the hands of felons.”

Minneapolis police inventoried 685 guns as evidence in 2015 with more than half recovered from the city’s 4th Precinct (North Minneapolis.)

Sentences for gun crimes 

Many people involved in gun crimes are repeat offenders.

When police leaders announced the formation of the new gun violence investigations team, they also provided an analysis of gun offenders in 2015.

By the end of October, 526 people had been arrested in incidents where guns were recovered. Of that group, 17 had been arrested more than once with a gun in 2015.

Since 1990, that same group of 526 have been arrested by the MPD a total of 6,271 times.

In mid-October, Harteau denounced the spike in gun violence after a homicide occurred in Kingfield.

 “This community needs peace. We need people to put the guns down. These (recent) cases aren’t necessarily related but the common denominator is gun violence,” Harteau said, as she was surrounded by community members at the scene. “Addressing gun violence is a priority for Mayor Hodges and me. We are looking at all of our resources right now. Many of our suspects in the shootings this year have lengthy criminal histories. They’re not first time offenders in the criminal justice system and we need to find ways to connect those dots, and try to predict and prevent shootings before the next one occurs.”

The mandatory minimum sentence for a felon in possession of a gun in Minnesota is five years, but judges don’t always stick to that guideline.

Gun crimes can also be difficult to investigate because witnesses often want street justice and retaliation, making it difficult for police to gather information, police leaders have said.

A jury found a 30-year-old St. Paul woman guilty of second-degree murder Feb. 1 in the shooting death of a 32-year-old Minneapolis woman at Augie’s Cabaret at 5th & Hennepin on Oct. 18, 2014.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 14 for Jasmine Nicole Jones.

Jones turned herself into the Hennepin County Jail later in the day after the fatal shooting of Lakisha Marie Neal and handed over a 9mm handgun to authorities.

Surveillance video at Augie’s captured the entire shooting, showing Jones pulling out a handgun and shooting Neal.

The women had been fighting for a while, according to the criminal complaint filed against Jones. They got into a verbal dispute in the club that later turned physical. Bouncers separated the women and then they headed to the back of the club. Witnesses also confirmed that Jones pulled out a gun and shot Neal in the head before heading out the back door.

Neal was pronounced dead at the scene.

In another case of gun violence, a Brooklyn Park man recently pleaded guilty to shooting a cab driver on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge on Sept. 4 — an attack that left the driver with bullet wounds in his right thigh and right forearm, according to the criminal complaint.

Anthony Terell Ford, 21, also pleaded guilty to a drive-by shooting at a McDonald’s at 45th & Lyndale shortly after the cab driver shooting. He admitted in court to the shootings and said he was drunk that night.

Ford shot at the taxicab around 2:50 a.m. and then later fired at a woman while she was in the McDonald’s drive-thru. Two children were also in her car at the time.

Ford has pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree assault, one count of drive-by shooting and one count of being a felon in a possession of a gun.

His sentencing hearing is Feb. 12 and he faces the potential for more than 14 years in prison.

Another Minneapolis man also recently pleaded guilty to murder charges for the shooting death of a 19-year-old man in the Stevens Square neighborhood on May 6.

Eugene Watkins, 19, is facing a 30-year prison sentence for killing Jason Adams. He will be sentenced March 7.

Watkins went to an apartment in Stevens Square with the intention of buying marijuana from Adams. He then pulled out a gun and told one of Adams’ friends to hand over all of the drugs, according to the criminal complaint.

Adams also pulled out a gun and the two men started shooting at each other.

Watkins, who was also wounded, was arrested at the hospital. Adams died at HCMC of a gunshot wound to the abdomen, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

Adams grew up in the Armatage neighborhood.

Denis Houle, a neighbor of Adams’ family, told the Southwest Journal that his son grew up playing basketball with Adams.

“Jordan was a really nice kid,” he said. “He was definitely the best player on the team. There was never a reason to think that anything like this was going to happen.”