The St. Paul man fatally shot by police Thursday had violently attacked his girlfriend in the past, and was most recently jailed for allegedly driving drunk while in possession of a gun.
St. Paul police said that Phumee Lee was attacking his girlfriend again Thursday evening when she fled into the street seeking help from a passerby.
Jeff Gedatus was driving home from his job as a barber when the woman ran in front of his car mid-street. She crouched down at the passenger window, tapped on the glass and pleaded for help through the closed window.
“This lady … said her husband wanted to kill her,” Gedatus recalled Friday. “At first I was kind of curious about opening up the car door, because you don’t know if you’re OK doing that. But she looked like she needed help.”
It didn’t take long for Gedatus to unlock the door. The woman jumped in, and he drove her to his home nearby, where she called police and her sister on his cellphone.
Gedatus said the woman reported that Lee had been using cocaine, and fired two rounds in the couple’s home while their five children were present. It’s unclear what the children witnessed.
“She was panicky,” Gedatus said. “She was worried about the kids a lot. She was hoping that they were OK.”
Police were called to the couple’s rental home in the 400 block of Earl Street in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood about 6 p.m. and eventually entered and fatally shot Lee.
The incident is being investigated by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which confirmed Friday that Lee, 28, died of multiple gunshot wounds. The BCA released no other details, including the names of the officers involved, saying that additional information will be released as it becomes available.
Police and court records show that Lee had a history of abusing the woman, also 28. The two were in a long-term relationship but were not married, according to one relative. A friend said their children ranged in age from grade school to about six months. The youngest was the couple’s only son.
Lee’s relatives declined to comment Friday, and a relative of the woman also declined to speak on the matter.
Jurors convicted Lee of felony domestic assault in 2013. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison, which was stayed for five years’ probation. Lee pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault in two separate cases in 2009.Lee’s girlfriend told police in 2012 that he had previously been arrested for assaulting her and his ex-wife. A woman who said she was longtime friends with the girlfriend stopped by the home Friday morning. She and her boyfriend, who said he was related to Lee, asked not to be identified.
The two lit incense in the backyard in a traditional Hmong ceremony designed to release a person’s spirit into the afterlife.
“What I did was burn the incense and just told him to let go of the anger and sadness,” said the woman.
A neighbor who asked not to be identified said she heard one gunshot go off in the couple’s home Thursday evening, and then saw the woman run out into the street and get into a car. The neighbor said she did not hear a second shot, but that her windows were closed.
Several police officers arrived at the front and back of the home, called out over a bullhorn for Lee to surrender and eventually entered the home after about 20 minutes, said the neighbor, who heard several shots fired in the confrontation between police and Lee.
St. Paul police said they made sure the couple’s children were safe before confronting Lee, and that a gun was found at the scene.
Early Friday, Gedatus was back to cutting hair at the Hair Shoppe on St. Paul’s West Side, reflecting on his role in the matter.
“I was just thinking that I was in the right place at the right time to help her so the outcome wasn’t worse,” Gedatus said. “[You] just don’t expect somebody to come up to your car and say they’re about to be killed.”