Mai Yer Cha and four close friends had just celebrated her 31st birthday on July 15 at a downtown Minneapolis nightclub when they walked back to their car at Ramp B, one of three near Target Field.
They had no idea they were walking into a ramp complex that’s seen a significant spike in security incidents when they were confronted by a violent fugitive. Police say that man, 44-year-old Benjamin Love, was in the midst of a crime spree when he stabbed Cha in the heart. She died 11 days later.
“My sister’s death could have been avoided,” said her sister, May Seng Cha. “This never should have happened.”
Bounty hunters and law enforcement spent months looking for Love before the stabbing.
In August 2016, Love and an accomplice were arrested and charged with first-degree robbery after they were accused of jumping a woman and holding a knife to her at the Cedar-Riverside light-rail station.
A judge set Love’s bail at $25,000 in that case. Love agreed to pay Midwest Bonding $2,500, and it put up the rest of the money to pay his bail. After being released in early October, he skipped a court hearing the next month. A judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
That’s not unusual. About seven times a day, Hennepin County judges issue warrants to find accused felons who failed to show up at court hearings, according to data provided to the Star Tribune. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is primarily charged with finding those fugitives. The Sheriff’s Office serves about 30,000 court-issued warrants a year, the agency said, coordinating with other police agencies to find the fugitives.
“The Sheriff’s Office actively and continuously pursued the warrants for Benjamin Love issued by the court in November of 2016, until the time of his arrest,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
With Midwest Bonding on the hook for $25,000, the company hired a private fugitive recovery agency to find Love, according to court records.
An agent found that Love was a transient who had been seen at homeless shelters in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The agency offered money to a friend of Love’s to find him. The agency also gave information about Love to Hennepin County’s Violent Offender Task Force. But as of May, no one could find him.
Two months later, Love would be accused of a violent crime spree. According to criminal charges, on July 3, Love robbed a couple outside a University of Minnesota hall and forced them strip at knife point. On July 15, charges say, he stabbed and killed Cha. Four days later, Love was back on the University of Minnesota campus, where he held a knife to a man’s throat and took his wedding ring, phone, wallet, cash and car keys, court charges allege.
The next day, the Minneapolis Police Department’s Violent Criminal Apprehension team arrested Love at a northeast Minneapolis apartment.
“How were they able to so quickly find him?” asked Cha’s sister, May Seng. “Why couldn’t they find him earlier?”
Spike in ramp crimes
Cha wasn’t the first to be attacked in one of the three skyway-connected parking ramps in the heart of the entertainment district, known as the ABC Ramps, which are owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and managed by the city of Minneapolis. The city contracts with ABM Parking Services for operation of its ramps, which subcontracts with Securitas for security.
The ABC Ramps contain more than 6,000 parking stalls and are among the largest of the 17 ramps the city oversees. They accounted for about 60 percent of the security incidents across the parking ramp system in recent years, according to city data.
The city implemented new security measures this April at Ramp A, the largest of the ABC Ramps, after a spike in incidents there amid a rise across the system, said Jon Wertjes, the city’s traffic and parking services director. Incidents through June of this year at the ABC Ramps quadrupled 2016 figures in the same period, according to city data.
All but one of the Ramp A pedestrian entrance points were closed late at night and off-duty police or security staff began escorting people to their cars. Those measures will be extended to Ramp B later this month, Wertjes said.
“If it was successful and appropriate, we were going to expand it,” Wertjes said. “And right between ... trying it out in the A Ramp and making the decision of what to do next, this incident happened unfortunately.”
Police responded to a rape report at Ramp B three days before Cha was stabbed. Three weeks before that, a man reported being knocked unconscious and robbed there.
In February, Haley Arseneau reported being assaulted by an acquaintance after he followed her into Ramp B, according to police records. Arseneau said had someone else been there, it could have been prevented.
“I think that they need to have more people in the ramp, especially after [bar close] hours,” Arseneau said. “I park there every weekend and I don’t see one security guard.”
Wertjes said at least one guard is always present in each ramp.
Cathy Burriss, a consultant, was mugged at gunpoint in Ramp B several years ago after returning to her car in the afternoon after work. She ran away from the man, who attempted to steal her car but could not operate its button ignition system.
“I just started to run,” Burriss said. “I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if this is going to hurt,’ That’s all that I can remember thinking, because I thought that he was going to shoot me in the back.”
She later learned that cameras were not recording the incident, because they are mostly in the stairwells and other places.
“I totally had a false sense of security,” Burriss said. “I completely thought that this would be captured on film.”
Two women were raped by a stranger in Ramp C in October 2014.
The city’s internal auditor is currently reviewing the contract with ABM, one of the city’s largest contracts, with the final results expected this fall. Auditor Will Tetsell said the examination will look into whether security measures at the ramps are sufficient, among other aspects of the contract.
Cameras in the city’s ramps are also being upgraded with motion detection, color imagery and technology allowing police to monitor. ABM representatives did not return calls seeking comment, but have said previously there are 450 cameras in the ABC complex.
The security measures are not enough, Cha’s sister said.
“There should have been better security,” she said. “Why aren’t there more guards walking around? ... Why isn’t the city doing more to keep people safe?”
Her last words
Cha was the youngest of nine siblings growing up in Minneapolis, and her family realized early in her life she had a gift for spiritual healing. At around age 22, Cha became a shaman and has healed relatives from across the country who have come to her, her sister said.
Cha “was the kind of person who would be there whenever you needed help,” her sister said.
A single mother, Cha rarely spent money on herself, instead saving what she could for her 6-year-old son, her sister said. Cha last saw her sister on her birthday, July 14, when the 6-year-old was making his mother a birthday card.
“He was talking about how much he loved his mom,” she said. The boy now lives with his father.
She added: “We don’t know if he understands. He says his mom is going up to the angels.”
At about 12:50 a.m. on July 15, Cha and her friends rode the elevator up to the 4th floor of Ramp B. Love was in the elevator with them, but no one suspected he was dangerous, said one of Cha’s friends, who was present and asked not to be named. They walked out into a concourse to get into a car when Love grabbed one of them by the back of the hair, put a knife to her throat and demanded money.
Another of Cha’s friends pleaded with Love not to hurt them. He struck his knife out twice, she said. Cha instinctively threw her arms up and was stabbed in the chest, her friend said. Love took a purse, pulled a lanyard off a woman and ran back to the elevators.
The women got in the back seat of the car where they fled toward the exit and called police.
“Mai Yer mentioned that she was stabbed,” her friend said. The wound was small. There was little blood. Her friends didn’t know that she was dying.
Cha might have known. A few minutes later, her friend said, “she said to tell her son that she loved him.”
She fell unconscious and never spoke again. A GoFundMe page has been established for Cha’s funeral expenses.