Eight days before a man was knocked to the ground and killed in Minneapolis, police warned of similar attacks by young robbers in the area, distributing an alert to downtown businesses.
“Warn patrons … have your door monitors be aware …” the alert read, but it never went to the larger public via the Police Department’s crime alert e-mail system.
A more public alarm may not have made a difference for Adrian Hernandez, 44, a salon worker who was trailed by three young men down Hennepin Avenue early on the morning of Aug. 22. They followed him for five blocks. He died Sunday of his injuries suffered in the attack.
With robberies up dramatically over two years in Minneapolis, the crime fit a disturbing pattern that police had seen four times in August: a lone individual, often intoxicated, gets surrounded by three to five young men who then rob and sometimes assault their victims. Wallets and iPhones, which can fetch $200 on the streets, were typically taken. The attacks took place in a strip of downtown bounded by Marquette and 1st Avenues N. Men and women were targeted.
A civilian employee of the Police Department issued an alert to downtown businesses on Aug. 14 but did not issue a more broad “crime alert” to residents and others who subscribe to the service, which would have required the approval of a police inspector or lieutenant.
“Part of that decision was made because the target audience was outside of what we felt would be reached through normal delivery channels,” said Sgt. Bill Palmer, a department spokesman.
The typical downtown crowd includes people who live outside the city and may not subscribe to the e-mail crime alerts, he said.
Palmer said it’s also a balance the police try to strike between arming the public with information and not crying wolf.
If the police e-mail too many warnings, he said, people would just “delete, delete, delete.”
Striking a balance
Dan Collison, a downtown resident and president of the East Downtown Council, said he gets it that the police are trying to strike a balance. “I feel the police pressure to not make this feel unsafe. People get nervous about coming downtown, when they really shouldn’t,” said Collison, who said his family of four has safely lived downtown for four years.
Still, Collison said, he wished he had known about a robbery pattern. “As a resident and as a civic leader, I want to know it all,” he said.
Some downtown residents have moved forward with their own crime alert system, said David Tinjum, who lives in the Mill District neighborhood.
Later this year his neighbors will launch a communication network that will give them updates on all crimes within the neighborhood boundaries. It was developed with the aid of the Police Department, which Tinjum praised.
Still, Tinjum said, he didn’t know about the downtown robberies until reading about Hernandez’s death and wished he had known.
“We go out to eat or what have you, entertainment, all over downtown,” he said.
One jailed, two at large
In Hernandez’s case, the men who followed him talked among themselves about who would rob him and described him as “intoxicated” as they walked with him for five blocks, according to a court document. When they reached 10th Street and Hennepin Avenue S., one of the men known as “Big Loc” punched Hernandez once in the face, knocking him to the ground.
Hernandez, a father of two, never recovered from multiple skull fractures and died Sunday.
The attack fit the robbery pattern almost exactly: He was alone and intoxicated in the region where the other robberies occurred; he was targeted by three young men and assaulted, with a savage punch to the head, his cellphone was stolen from his pocket as he lay on the ground.
Minneapolis police investigators found one of the men believed responsible for the attack, thanks to his use of Hernandez’s cellphone.
Vereice Dshon Washington, 20, of Brooklyn Center, faces two felony charges of assault and aggravated robbery. He told police the other two robbers were “Big Loc” and “KO,” who remain at large.
Five days before the attack on Hernandez, Richard Somaiah survived a nearly identical attack.
“I was by myself and just walking down the street,” the 22-year-old student said. He had been out that night with co-workers on a Pedal Pub. He drank too much and was visibly intoxicated, he said, eventually leaving his friends and walking toward Loring Park. He remembers three or four young black men following him.
“They were telling me, ‘Nice chain, nice watch,’ or whatever,” he said.
They surrounded him near the intersection of Willow Street and Yale Place, just west of where the other attacks occurred. Then he was blindsided.
“I got suckerpunched on my right eyebrow,” he said. He thinks he was knocked out and eventually realized he had been robbed of his iPhone, a watch, a necklace and his Lakers baseball hat.
Fearing for his safety, he started pulling on car doors and eventually found a vehicle to hide in. That’s where the police found him later, he said.
“I don’t know why I was alone,” he said. He knows that he struck his face hard on the pavement when he fell, and counts himself lucky that nothing worse happened.
Phones: Popular target
The police have reported about one robbery a day so far this year downtown, a dramatic increase from two years ago.
Robberies are up about 1 percent so far this year over last year and up 81 percent this year over two years ago.
Phone thefts, in particular, have been a problem, but that’s not unique to Minneapolis.
About a third of all robberies in major U.S. cities involve the theft of a phone, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
A rash of smartphone thefts along the Hiawatha light-rail line led transit officials two years ago to issue strongly worded warnings to all riders to pay attention.
A Star Tribune Whistleblower story from earlier this year revealed how company policy at Apple didn’t discourage theft, since the company willingly replaces phones without regard to who’s turning them in.