In the nine years of a simmering feud between New Brighton neighbors that erupted in a fatal shooting, police had been called to their homes 44 times for an array of complaints, according to police records released this week.
Over the past year, however, the number of calls intensified and the feud culminated in the shotgun slaying May 5 of Todd G. Stevens, 46, and the wounding of his girlfriend, Jennifer Cleven, who lived with him.
Just hours before the shooting, one of their accused assailants, Neal C. Zumberge, told New Brighton police he’d been threatened by Stevens. Police tried to contact Stevens, but were unable to reach him.
“Unfortunately, it shows how smaller things can become larger issues with larger consequences that can build into violence — no matter how much you mediate and counsel and try to respond,” said Bob Jacobson, New Brighton’s director of public safety.
Zumberge, 57, has been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in connection with the killing. According to a complaint filed in Ramsey County Court, he stepped around a corner at his home in the 2500 block of Knollwood Drive and opened fire on Stevens and Cleven. The couple lived across the street from Zumberge, who was upset that Stevens and Cleven had been continually feeding deer. Zumberge had blamed the deer for his contracting Lyme disease.
Zumberge’s wife, Paula, 50, faces the same charges. A criminal complaint said she confronted Cleven about 8:30 that night over the earlier arrest of her son, Jacob Zumberge, 23. That arrest had stemmed from an incident between Cleven, Stevens and Jacob Zumberge at a bar in Spring Lake Park the week before.
When Neal Zumberge opened fire on the couple, the complaint said, Paula Zumberge encouraged him to “shoot, shoot, shoot, keep shooting.”
New Brighton police records show that just before noon on the day of the shooting, Neal Zumberge called police “regarding alleged threatening conduct” by Stevens. The nature of the conduct is not described, and since the officer could not locate Stevens, nothing came of it in the 8½ hours between the call and the shooting.
In a feud going back years, such calls to the two homes were routine. Police have said the feud dated back 15 years, but the department’s stored electronic records only go back to 2005.
Many of the calls involved reports about loose dogs or other minor complaints, and often only required an officer to help defuse tensions by essentially telling the parties to calm down and leave each other alone. Some led to citations or arrests.
Other calls had nothing to do with the feud. In some cases, the records showed, they involved domestic situations involving Stevens and Cleven or members of the Zumberge family. Drugs and alcohol were sometimes an issue.
On Dec. 20, 2008, police were called when Stevens became so intoxicated and belligerent that officers had to use a Taser to bring him under control, according to the records. He was cited and jailed. And on June 27, 2009, officers were called to quell an argument involving members of the Zumberge family, during which several bags of the drug ecstasy were discovered, the records showed. Jaclyn K. Petry, then 19, was arrested for possessing a controlled substance, and Nicholas Zumberge, one of the Zumberge’s sons, was arrested for violating an order for protection.
The growing tensions between the neighbors first showed up in the records on Oct. 23, 2012, when Cleven reported receiving a letter from Neal Zumberge regarding the feeding of deer. In the letter, Stevens is derisively referred to as “Mr. Corn.” A month later, Cleven reported that she had found two dead deer on her lawn.
Last August, Neal Zumberge was cited for violating a restraining order Cleven had obtained. In November, Cleven reported that Neal Zumberge was using an air horn, apparently to scare away animals, which she contended also violated the order. Three similar reports followed in December, but the city prosecutor declined to file charges.
Less than a week before the shooting, on April 29, Cleven complained again about Neal Zumberge allegedly pointing a camera at her house, but it was determined that the restraining order had not been violated.