The dispute between the two men began when one accused the other of not owning up to putting a dent in his vehicle.

It ended months later with the accuser shot in the head at the Minnetonka ministorage facility where the rift began — and with police backing up the killer's claim that his actions were self-defense.

Following the strong recommendation of investigators, the Hennepin County attorney's office said this week that 65-year-old James LaCount, of Minnetonka, will not be prosecuted for fatally shooting Thomas Luetzow on June 23 at the Public Mini Storage in the 2800 block of Hedberg Drive.

LaCount "described elements consistent with heroic actions of self-defense" when he shot the 58-year-old Luetzow with a facility employee close by, police Sgt. Troy Denneson wrote in a summary of his department's 20-page report submitted to prosecutors. "Physical evidence and eyewitness recollections appear to confirm LaCount's explanation of events."

In an interview Thursday, LaCount said, "I don't consider myself a hero. I just did what had to be done. He attacked a woman and he attacked me."

The retired refrigeration technician also credited his being able to legally carry a gun in public with sparing him more serious injury, or worse.

"If I hadn't had [the gun], I'd probably be dead now," he said. "It's that simple."

Minnesota put its permit-to-carry law on the books in 2003, but not until after substantial public debate about whether the streets would become more dangerous.

Police Chief Scott Boerboom also credited an exhausted and bloodied LaCount with properly interacting with officers as soon as they arrived on the chaotic scene in order to help them properly assess the situation.

"From the onset, when we approached Mr. LaCount, he immediately said it was self-defense and he had a permit to carry," Boerboom said. "He wanted to make sure, and it helped us initially get an idea about what was going on here."

The case file also disclosed that LaCount, weakened from abdominal surgery, was sitting down and leaning against a vehicle when police arrived. He also made sure to not have his handgun on him, leaving it on the ground for officers to recover.

LaCount said the training he was required to have before receiving his permit to carry dictated his behavior immediately after he shot Luetzow.

"I didn't want to get shot" once police arrived, he said. "The training taught me what I can do and can't do, and what needs to be done in the situation."

The county attorney's spokesman, Chuck Laszewski, said a county staffer acting as a victim advocate notified Luetzow's family of the no-charging decision. Relatives of Luetzow could not be located for their response.

The dispute between the men dates to September, when Luetzow said his Model T roadster stored at the facility had been bumped by a recreational vehicle that LaCount kept in a neighboring stall.

Luetzow wanted LaCount to pay for the damage. A police report from that incident says that Luetzow "was extremely upset and ... [said he] would beat up whoever" did it and would even "rip their eyes out," bragging that he had done that before.

How it happened

Based on the physical evidence and witness interviews, police investigators pulled together a detailed account of how the men came to blows:

Late in the morning, both men happened to show up at the storage facility. Luetzow started swearing at LaCount in a revival of their rift.

The facility employee stepped between the two men, and Luetzow grabbed her and "shoved her aside ... and continued to yell and swear at LaCount." Punches were thrown by both, and the men fell to the ground scuffling.

Luetzow was on top of a bloodied LaCount. The employee told police that she saw an "expression on LaCount's face ... of fear" as Luetzow came at him. LaCount then shot Luetzow, and the woman called 911.

Officers handcuffed LaCount, took him to a hospital for an abdominal examination, and had him booked at the jail and released as the investigation continued.

LaCount told police that Luetzow threatened that morning to kill him if he ever hit the Model T again. LaCount has denied ever hitting Luetzow's vehicle.

When Luetzow attacked the employee, LaCount drew his handgun and yelled at him to stop. Luetzow then pounced on LaCount, and the two men went to the ground. LaCount said his gun was pinned between their chests. At one point, Luetzow "was trying to gouge [LaCount's] right eye out," the case file read.

LaCount "instinctively pulled the trigger. … He slid the gun away on the ground away from him. He assumed that police would be coming any minute, so he sat down near a vehicle and waited."

While LaCount broke no laws and his department praises the gunman's actions, Boerboom said, "I don't want people to be justified in shooting just because you're being assaulted." The chief went on to note LaCount's age and physical limitations from major surgery.

"In this situation, I hope people will look into the specifics as more than two people having a fist fight," Boerboom said. "He was losing consciousness because of the assault."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482