20-year-old surrenders in shooting death of cabdriver in Minneapolis

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH and MAYA RAO , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: March 21, 2012 - 11:57 PM

Robbinsdale suspect has a previous robbery conviction and was on probation.

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Cabdrivers gathered Wednesday afternoon in north Minneapolis at the site of the recent killing of colleague William Harper, voicing concerns and showing support for the Harper family. From left were Yemane Mebrahtu, Hanad Fodey, Iid Ali and Mohamed Egal.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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A 20-year-old Robbinsdale man suspected in the shooting death of a taxi driver last week has surrendered to police, authorities said Wednesday.

The man, who has yet to be charged, turned himself in about 9 p.m. Tuesday after learning that he was being sought in the March 14 killing of Yellow Cab driver William Harper, 56, of Roseville, in north Minneapolis, police said.

Harper was shot in the back in his stopped taxi near 400 23rd Av. N., part of the Hawthorne neighborhood that is one of the city's worst areas for gunfire. His slaying, at least the 11th of a Twin Cities cabdriver since 1990, prompted a vigil by cabdrivers Wednesday and a promise by a City Council member to beef up security requirements for taxis in Minneapolis.

The suspect in Harper's death is being held without bail in Hennepin County jail on suspicion of murder. His criminal history includes a charge, filed a week before his 18th birthday, of first-degree aggravated robbery in Hennepin County, court records indicate. He was sentenced in adult court to probation and a stayed term of nearly seven years in prison.

Late last month, the records show, he admitted in a hearing to violating one or more terms of his probation.

The man's teenage brother was critically wounded in a north Minneapolis shooting last year, a half-mile from the site where Harper was killed.

Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney's office, said authorities have until noon Thursday to decide whether to charge the suspect.

As prosecutors weighed the evidence, a half-dozen cabdrivers gathered for a vigil Wednesday afternoon at the scene of the shooting.

Driver Robert Flemal, who held a sign that read, "Cab drivers are our friends so we should respect them," said he was torn between his reluctance to strand neighborhood residents who need the service and his desire to avoid north Minneapolis for his own safety.

"I don't want to die," he said. "Not for a little bit of measly money."

Mohamed Egal, who used to drive a taxi, said the drivers who gathered Wednesday didn't know Harper but were deeply saddened. "I cannot figure out what the motive would be," Egal said.

Driving a cab is one of the country's most dangerous jobs, and Harper's cab did not have a security camera. Yemane Mebrahtu, president of the Minneapolis Taxicab Drivers and Owners Association, questioned whether someone would risk robbing or assaulting a driver if all taxis had cameras. "Highly unlikely," Mebrahtu said at Wednesday's gathering.

Minneapolis requires all cabs to have either a security shield between the driver and passengers, a GPS device or a camera. Council Member Gary Schiff agrees with the taxi drivers that the current requirements don't go far enough.

He said he plans to introduce a proposal next month to require cameras in all cabs or mandate that taxis have either cameras or shields. Schiff said the installation of a GPS device in a cab allows police to locate it after a robbery or murder but doesn't prevent those crimes.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482 Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

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