When Deea Elliott stood before a judge Thursday to ask that he clear her criminal record of a brutal assault, an unlikely ally looked on.
Seated behind the 22-year-old in the courtroom at the Juvenile Justice Center in Minneapolis was Mark Andrew, former chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, mayoral candidate and past Hennepin County commissioner.
He is also the man she attacked with a steel baton at the Mall of America in 2013, resulting in serious injuries ranging from a gash on his face that took nine stitches to close to a concussion and the loss of several teeth.
More than five years later, Andrew asked Judge Juan Hoyos to grant Elliott’s request to expunge her aggravated robbery conviction so that she could obtain a job in the future. Elliott wept after Andrew explained that, although she almost killed him during her attempt to steal his iPhone, she deserved to move on with her life just as he did.
“I never felt anger toward her, I felt sad for the kids [who attacked me]; I know she had a hard life,” he told the court. “I feel no purpose is served to make it harder or impossible for her to get a job. … I see goodness in her. She is not a bad person.”
The courtroom reunion was the first time Andrew had seen Elliott since she was sentenced for the attack. As a victim, he was notified by prosecutors of her request to expunge the case and decided to attend. Elliott was overwhelmed by his presence.
“I feel moved about him showing up and saying good things about me,” she said afterward. As she recalled her actions in the mall that day, “A sadness came over me and I feel regret.”
Elliott, the mother of a toddler who lives in Minneapolis, told the judge she was interested in the health care profession or an IT job and because of the conviction, she would have an impossible time getting work. Hoyos said he would consider the case and issue his decision later.
Outside the courtroom, Andrew embraced Elliott and urged her to pursue a college degree.
“You are a smart girl,” he said. “They told me you have a good brain. You have had some bad breaks. If you need stuff, or guidance or references, call me.”
‘An understanding man’
Andrew served 17 years as a Hennepin County commissioner, including five as board chairman. He also spent two years as chair of the DFL Party. He is now owner and CEO of GreenMark Enterprises, an environmentally focused advocacy and marketing group.
A few weeks after he was runner-up for mayor of Minneapolis, losing to Betsy Hodges in a hotly contested election in 2013, he headed to the Mall of America to buy a journal.
“I was sitting in a Starbucks, licking my political wounds,” he said, when a teenage boy rushed in, grabbed the phone and ran out. Andrew ran after him.
But when he reached the door, 18-year-old Lataija Shapree Cutler-Cain blocked his path. As he wrestled with her, Elliott joined the fray, pulled a folded steel baton from her purse and began hitting Andrew over the head as Cain scratched his face. Passersby and people in the Starbucks watched and did not intervene, Andrew said. Eventually someone pulled the two women off him, and mall security arrived, taking the three young people into custody.
Elliott and Cutler-Cain were charged with felony robbery and assault, while the male juvenile was also charged. Anoka County prosecutors handled the case because of a potential conflict of interest, and Elliott pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree aggravated robbery.
At her sentencing, Andrew urged that Elliott not be sent to prison even though he had not physically recovered from the “ferocity of the attack,” which he said still affected him psychologically.
While he said he favored consequences, even prison, when a defendant “is truly a menace to society or when prison is applied as aversion therapy,” he was not a supporter of prison for most young offenders. He asked that the court instead mandate therapy for her, require her to graduate from high school on time and in good standing and that she attend at least one arts program of her choice, which he said “will show her the beautiful side of human nature.”
She received a stayed prison sentence, while Cutler-Cain received six months in the workhouse. Elliott successfully completed her probation last year.
At the hearing, Anoka Assistant County Attorney Andrew Loose told Hoyos he opposed expungement, citing Elliott’s petty misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession in January. Dawn Davis, a deputy inspector general at the state Department of Human Services, also argued against the expungement. Employers who hire people who work with vulnerable children and adults need to be able to conduct thorough background checks, thus Elliott’s record of assault should not be erased if she applies for a job, Davis wrote in a memo to the court.
Andrew was undeterred by the arguments as he remained steadfast in his support for Elliott despite lingering injuries, including months of migraines and a shoulder that hasn’t fully healed.
Elliott broke into tears after Andrew spoke.
“I feel so bad for what happened to him,” she said. “He is such an understanding man.”