It started when St. Paul police responded to a call about a man making death threats via text messages. Minutes later, in the dark of Wednesday morning, their suspect was dead in the city’s first fatal officer-involved shooting of the year.
But what played out after police arrived at the 200 block of University Avenue E. shortly after 2 a.m. was far from clear by day’s end, leading a local NAACP official to call for an independent investigation into the shooting death of Marcus Golden, a 24-year-old black man.
St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith issued a statement late Wednesday saying that “preliminary information indicates that the suspect drove his vehicle at the officers.” No officers were injured. As of Wednesday night, police had not identified Golden.
A spokesperson for the family, however, confirmed late Wednesday that it was Golden who had been killed.
Golden has a history of troubling and threatening behavior, according to court records.
Key questions remained unanswered: Did the gun police say they recovered at the shooting scene belong to Golden? And did he point the gun at the officers or fire shots before they shot him?
Tensions already high
At a time of growing mistrust of police among many African-Americans nationwide, getting answers to those questions gained an added urgency Wednesday.
“What we’re asking for is that a complete investigation be done,” St. Paul NAACP President Jeff Martin said in a news conference, nodding to recent police-involved killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.
As Martin asked for an independent probe, Smith asked the public to be patient “and allow us to thoroughly complete our process …
“There have been inaccurate statements made by those without any direct knowledge of the investigation. Not only are these statements irresponsible, they could also compromise the integrity of the investigation.”
A spokesperson for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said the mayor will have no comment on the shooting until police finish a preliminary investigation.
In a statement Wednesday night, a family spokesperson said, “We are expecting an extensive, fair and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death. We realize there are many questions surrounding the shooting and we ask the public to remain calm as, together, we await the answers.”
The 2 a.m. call
Officers were called to the Valley Hi-Rise apartments on University Avenue E. on a report of a male sending death threats via text messages to a woman, police said.
“While en route, officers were informed that the suspect was known to carry a gun,” according to a police news release a few hours after the shooting.
Officers “located the suspect” and “multiple shots were fired and the suspect was hit,” the release said. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sgt. Paul Paulos, spokesman for the St. Paul police, said that investigators were trying to determine how many shots were fired and if both officers involved shot at the man.
They also were trying to determine whether the man lived at the address, an 11-story apartment building near Regions Hospital. The high-rise building is run by the St. Paul Public Housing Agency. Police have been to the building numerous times in the past few months, mostly on routine visits to check in with residents.
In police scanner audio captured by Minnesota Police Clips, a man called authorities and said his ex-girlfriend’s former boyfriend was in a vehicle in the complex’s parking lot sending threats. While the suspect was known to carry a gun, apparently no gun had been seen that morning, according to the audio.
Later in the audio, an officer appears to say, “Shots fired, shots fired.” Police later say they need medics to treat a gunshot victim.
Police didn’t provide details Wednesday about the relationship between the suspect and the woman.
Police also did not identify the officers involved in the shooting, other than to say one was a seven-year department veteran and the other, a two-year veteran. They have been placed on a three-day administrative leave, which is department policy.
Recent history of trouble
In November, Michael Elton, who is the father of Golden’s ex-girlfriend, filed a restraining order against him in Ramsey County alleging that Golden broke windows at his apartment in St. Paul.
“Also terroristic threats of killing everyone in the residents [sic] via emails and text messages,” the order read. “Everything happened within the past 2½ months.”
The order barred Golden from contacting Elton, who said Wednesday that he was planning to move out of the apartment because of Golden’s alleged behavior.
“I consider him dangerous,” Elton said. “Throwing a brick through the window is dangerous.”
The Ramsey County attorney’s office was presented a criminal case against Golden in November, but hadn’t yet decided whether to charge him, pending more investigation.
In 2012, Golden was convicted in Ramsey County of transporting a loaded firearm during a dispute involving an ex-girlfriend. It’s unclear whether the woman is the same woman referenced in the November restraining order. Charges of possession of a pistol without a permit and disorderly conduct were dismissed in the case
Not a ‘rush to judgment’
Martin said Wednesday that he does not know all the facts in the police shooting but has lingering questions.
“This is not a rush to judgment on the NAACP’s part,” he said.
Martin called for an independent review by a source that is not affiliated with the city of St. Paul or the state of Minnesota. He said an internal review by the city’s police-civilian review board would not be truly independent because it is made up of city police officers along with residents who advise the chief.
Martin said an independent review could help “solidify” the relationship between the community and police and restore “confidence” in the review process.
“With what’s going on nationally,” he said, trust has become an issue. “If there’s no trust between the police and community, we all lose.”
He also cited the case of a St. Paul man who was arrested last winter in the city’s downtown skyway that has raised concerns about racial profiling and use of force by St. Paul police. Charges against the man, Chris V. Lollie, were dropped, and later, the city’s Police Civilian Review Commission cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing.
Lollie has since sued the city and the police department, saying his constitutional rights were violated and that police falsified reports.
Staff writers Chao Xiong and Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.