A 27-year-old Richfield man who told a judge he wanted to commit “suicide by cop” when he led police on a high-speed chase after stealing a taxicab at gunpoint last year was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison this week.

According to court papers, police knew that Mario Luis Jones had a gun when he crashed the cab into swampy waters near a freeway late one evening in November 2017. But rather than engage in a potentially dangerous pursuit, police tried a different tactic.

Jones lost his pistol at the scene of the crash, so authorities opted to arrest him about a week later, avoiding a confrontation that could have ended in violence or worse.

Jones admitted to holding a pistol to his driver’s head and demanding that he stop the car and open the trunk. He told the driver, “you will die tonight, I will shoot you,” according to prosecutors. But the driver told law enforcement that he ran off soon after the two got out of the car and that Jones fired the pistol before driving off in the cab. Police later found Jones driving southbound on Interstate 35 in the Lakeville area and he soon sped off, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph before crashing the car.

Jones pleaded guilty in May to robbery and gun charges in the case. U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen added a supervised release term of five years to his sentence. Jones was on probation for a criminal sexual conduct conviction when he was arrested in this case, according to prosecutors.

“The defendant put many lives in danger,” U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said in a statement Tuesday. “He has a lengthy criminal record, and chose to commit this offense while on probation for a previous sexual conduct offense. I am grateful that the Court recognized his violent conduct and sentenced him accordingly.”

Acting Special Agent in Charge Kirk Howard of the ATF St. Paul Field Division added that the sentence was “fitting for Jones’ inexcusable acts” and called the “prevalence of firearm-related crime” an “ongoing issue.”

Shannon Elkins, an assistant public defender who represented Jones, told Ericksen at sentencing that Jones was experiencing delusions and hearing voices related to undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenia at the time of the robbery. Jones had nothing to gain from stealing the cab, Elkins said, and he instead acted after weeks of “belittling voices” growing louder in his head while his other thoughts grew increasingly disorganized. Jones used drugs and alcohol to cope and while he was unaware of what was happening to him, Elkins argued, he was sure that he wanted to die.

Lakeville Deputy Police Chief John Kornmann said in an interview that Jones fled into a marsh with “cattails tall enough where you can’t see him.” Police used a drone to try to find Jones and identified him based on evidence found inside the cab. Minneapolis police later made the arrest, Kornmann said.

“We’re not going to go running out into the marsh unless it’s absolutely critical to someone else’s safety,” Kornmann said. “There’s a time to slow down a little bit and use all the tools that we have.”


Twitter: @smontemayor