Mille Lacs Tribal Court awards $4.2M in beating case

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2011 - 9:32 PM

Cody St. John, 26, was left for dead on the Mille Lacs reservation after he refused to join the Vice Lords gang.

A man who was beaten, mutilated and left for dead in below-zero temperatures after he refused to join the Vice Lords gang was awarded nearly $4.3 million in damages from his attacker by the Tribal Court of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

It's unlikely that Cody St. John, 26, will ever recover the full monetary award, but his attorney, Patrick Noaker, said the court's ruling means St. John can claim wages and assets -- including a tribal gaming stipend -- from his attacker, Keith Wayne Reynolds.

St. John was beaten after midnight Feb. 14, 2006 after he left a relative's house on the Mille Lacs reservation, according to court documents. Earlier that night, Reynolds had approached St. John and demanded that he join the Vice Lords gang. He refused.

As he walked home, St. John was attacked by Reynolds and other gang members. He was beaten, dragged along the road and had the initials "VL" carved into his face, arm and back. It was at least minus-15 degrees when he was left unconscious outside the tribe's community center without pants, shoes or shirt, the court documents said.

Reynolds, 24, of Onamia, Minn., pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in October 2007 and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

In the ruling dated June 7, Judge Richard Osburn wrote that Reynolds' actions were clearly meant to "send a message of violence to the entire Mille Lacs reservation community." The monetary award, which included $3 million in punitive damages, was necessary "not only to punish Reynolds but to deter others from attempting to intimidate the ... reservation community into compliance with criminal gang activity," the judge wrote.

Noaker said Reynolds did not appear in tribal court.

As a result of the beating, St. John suffered a traumatic brain injury and is considered a vulnerable adult. He has permanent scarring and, even now, finds gravel embedded in his back, the ruling said.

Noaker said St. John chose to sue Reynolds in Tribal Court because Reynolds' largest asset is his tribal gaming stipend and because "Cody really felt strongly that this issue ought to be handled through the tribe."

Said Noaker, "Gang activity up on the reservation has been a chronic problem for years. The increasing violence up there has gotten to a point where he [St. John] said we've just got to do something. He wanted to stand up to these guys and say, 'I'm not going to take this anymore.'"

The judge's ruling awarded St. John $1.038 million for past and future physical injuries and medical bills, $250,000 for mental injury and $3 million in punitive damages.

Since Reynolds was released from prison for the assault, he has been convicted of driving after revocation and obstructing legal process. A phone number for him could not be found Wednesday.

Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252

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