Shortly after 8:30 Wednesday morning, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus marshalled their forces at St. Paul Police Department headquarters and launched an early start to Christmas for hundreds of sick children.
Using a St. Paul Police motorcade with sirens blaring as an escort, the department's Cops and Kids program first visited Children's Hospitals and Clinics on Smith Avenue. Later Wednesday afternoon, they were to appear at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare on University Avenue E. It is the 14th year for the event.
Santa, who left the police station driving a motorcycle and not a sleigh, and Mrs. Claus, who was riding in the sidecar, planned to deliver more than 500 gifts over the course of the day. And a handful of elves tagged along to help.
So did several police horses and Duke, a K-9 officer.
At Children's, Santa even played a little air hockey with one young patient.
Officer Amy Rahlf, who has been on the Cops and Kids planning committee for 14 years and has played Mrs. Claus for the last past three, said the event means as much to the cops as it does to the kids.
“It’s just amazing as you visit with the children and see their smiles when Santa and Mrs. Claus walk into their rooms,” she said. “It brings joy to everyone who participates in this event to really make it a special day for the children and their families.”
Cops and Kids is supported by donations from St. Paul businesses and organizations. Other police fundraising events -- including an officer-organized motorcycle run, chili cook-off and Koins for Kids collection -- provide money for the program. Police also give gas cards to some families with children in the hospitals to help ease the stress of getting to and from the hospital to visit their kids.
St. Paul police officers and firefighters are stepping up to help dozens of families have a good holiday meal -- by going grocery shopping with kids.
This is the third year for Heroes and Helpers, which builds on the St. Paul Police Department’s annual Shop with Cops event. Both programs are designed to strengthen the bond between St. Paul’s emergency responders and the families they serve.
The District 2 Community Council, the St. Paul Police and Fire Departments, St. Paul Public Schools (Hazel Park Academy) and Target are partners in the program.
The Little Canada man convicted earlier this month of manslaughter for fatally shoving another man into oncoming traffic should be retried, his attorney said.
In a motion filed Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court, attorney Bruce Rivers wrote that Michael J. Merten III should receive a new trial for the following reasons: interests of justice, the accident or surprise could not have been prevented by ordinary prudence, and because the conviction was not justified by the evidence, or was contrary to the law.
A jury convicted Merten on Nov. 12 of first-degree manslaughter and acquitted him of second-degree murder with intent and second-degree murder without intent while committing a felony.
Jurors were confused by the law, Rivers said Wednesday, and should have acquitted Merten of manslaughter if they found no evidence to convict on the felony murder counts. Elements required for a second-degree murder or manslaughter conviction are the same, he said.
"The very thing they used to acquit him of felony murder is what they used to convict him of manslaughter," Rivers said. "They would have to have found that my client acted with the intent to cause bodily harm" to convict him of either murder or manslaughter.
Evidence at trial showed that on the evening of Aug. 20, Merten, 41, became embroiled in an argument with Preston Hilgren, who called his father, Robert Hilgren, 47, for backup. The three men tussled on the frontage road of a mobile home park in Little Canada off of Rice Street just north of County Road B2. Merten lived in the park, and the Hilgrens had been visiting friends there that evening.
Preston Hilgren fled soon after his father arrived. Witnesses testified that Merten ran across Rice Street followed by Robert Hilgren. Merten and Robert Hilgren bumped chests in the middle of the road. At one point, Merten pushed Robert Hilgren, who was struck and killed by an SUV.
Rivers has contested that Merten acted in self-defense, an argument bolstered by one 911 caller who said that it appeared as if Merten was trying to run from the fight and ask passing motorists for help.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Rachel Kraker told jurors that Merten started the scuffle with Preston Hilgren and then finished the fight by running into the street and calling out for Robert Hilgren. Robert Hilgren's wife and a motorist both testified that Merten's push seemed timed with the arrival of an SUV.
The motion is expected to be heard in court sometime before Merten's sentencing on Dec. 23.
If a new trial is granted, Merten would only be retried on the manslaughter count and not the two murder counts.
At trial, it was Rivers who offered the manslaughter count as an option for jurors to consider. The move is available to defense attorneys in such cases, and is not unusual.
Asked why he presented the option given the possible legal confusion, Rivers said, "The defense has a duty to ask for lesser [charge] if it makes sense to, and I thought it made sense in this case."
Police are investigating the armed robberies of Walgreens locations in White Bear Lake and Maplewood that happened back-to-back Friday.
A short time later, a Walgreens in White Bear Lake was robbed by a suspect with a similar description. Investigators from the Maplewood and White Bear Lake police are working to determine if the robberies are connected with others in the metro area.
Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call 651-767-0640 or 9-1-1. Anonymous text message tips can be sent by texting the word Maplewood and the tip information to TIP411 (847411).
A St. Paul city vehicle was stolen from a work site Monday, and when it was recovered, the city employee's sandwich was also missing.
Bana Nong, 31, whose residence is unknown, allegedly took the city-owned 2014 Ford Focus from Seventh and Wabasha streets, according to one count of motor vehicle theft filed against him Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court.
According to the complaint: A city public works employee parked the car in the area so he could inspect a construction site. He left the car running and its orange strobe light activated. The employee was walking in front of the car when he heard a car door close.
"...he turned to see the Focus driving the wrong way down Wabasha Street," the complaint said.
The employee activated the car's global positioning system to help police trace its location.
Police stopped the Ford Focus on Selby Avenue near Mackubin Street and arrested Nong.
"[The city employee] recovered the car and indicated that a sandwich was missing from his lunch box and that the orange strobe light had been disabled and possibly broken," the complaint said.
Nong allegedly told police that he took the car, then said he didn't want to speak any more, ending the interview.
Nong was cited for theft in a September incident for allegedly stealing a $28.99 bottle of liquor from 1st Grand Avenue Liquors in St. Paul.