Reacting to a string of shootings that left three men dead in less than 12 hours, St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell is calling for a “full department mobilization,” including beefing up patrols citywide by bringing in officers who would normally be off.
The nine-hour stretch of violence between Monday afternoon and early Tuesday unfolded across three different neighborhoods and in one case took the life of a man attempting to act as a good Samaritan. Axtell, at a news conference with Mayor Melvin Carter and community leaders Tuesday, called the events unprecedented in his 30 years with the department.
“I simply can’t remember a time where our city and our police officers have faced three separate homicides in such a short period of time,” Axtell said. “It was shocking, it was outrageous and it was an anomaly.”
While unusual in their rapidity, the shootings are part of a rising trend in the city, and activists and community members renewed calls for a strong community response.
“We cannot afford to lose another life,” said Dora Jones-Robinson, executive director of Mentoring Young Adults and founder of the Guns Down St. Paul movement. “We cannot afford to bury another baby.”
Police identified the men killed Monday and Tuesday as Raumez Ross, 18, who was walking in the North End neighborhood; Nickey Taylor, 27, who was in a car in the Frogtown neighborhood; and Javier Sanmiguel, 31, who left his Payne-Phalen home to help after a multivehicle crash.
The three deaths raised St. Paul’s homicide total for 2019 to 19. Of those victims, 17 were shot, according to police.
In addition to adding extra patrols, the police department is establishing a task force to help with homicide and gang investigations and plans to employ new technology to better analyze surveillance video related to gun crimes, Axtell said. The Department of Justice is awarding the department a $750,000 grant to expand the use of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ St. Paul Field Division, he said.
“This is going to help us tremendously and make sure all our agencies throughout the metro and our federal partners are coordinating our efforts and tracking the guns back to people who are possessing them illegally,” he said.
Hours after the news conference, a 23-year-old man was shot in the leg on the 2100 block of Glenridge Avenue near Battle Creek Regional Park. The department followed through with its “heightened response,” deploying more officers to the scene to investigate, Sgt. Mike Ernster said.
At the scene of the Payne-Phalen shooting, police arrested Lionel Keejuan Eaton, 27. He faces murder charges.
The killing occurred after the crash about 10 p.m. at the intersection of Case Avenue and Edgerton Street. Witnesses told police that a man driving south on Edgerton Street rear-ended a vehicle driven by a woman. The impact propelled her car into an unoccupied parked car.
Maya Thompson was at home when she heard the crash. She said she went outside and asked her husband to come and help. A young woman got out of one of the cars and said a man had just hit her with his car, but the neighbors couldn’t see anyone in the car that caused the crash, Thompson said. Another witness told police she saw the driver in the trunk, curled up in a fetal position and covering his face, according to a charging document.
A couple of men, including Sanmiguel, approached the car and one started to open the trunk, Thompson said, and the man inside started shooting, hitting Sanmiguel in the head. The gunman continued shooting, Thompson said, preventing her husband from helping Sanmiguel as he lay in the street.
Police found a black Smith & Wesson handgun and a magazine inside Eaton’s car, according to the charging document. He told police that he does not own a gun, and that someone gave him the handgun earlier that night. He said while driving that night, he was “rammed” by another car, hit his head and then thought he heard gunshots.
Eaton told police he was “panicked and scared for his life, and so he shot from inside the vehicle out” without aiming at anything, according to the charging document.
Eaton’s mother, identified in the document only as NLM, arrived at the scene after the shooting and told officers she was concerned that her son was having a mental health crisis and had been trying to find him in order to have him evaluated at a hospital. She said she believed Eaton had a firearm and a permit to carry.
Thompson said Sanmiguel was married with four children under age 7, and that he had recently gotten his dream job as an interpreter. In an online fundraiser, people remembered him as a loving family man. He and his wife had just celebrated their youngest daughter’s first birthday.
This is the second fatal shooting in the neighborhood since Thompson and her husband moved into their house four years ago, she said.
“Something has got to turn around. And the mayor cannot cut the police force right now in St. Paul,” Thompson said. “We need more police, not less, with crimes like this committed. It’s not going to stop.”
After adding nine new police officer positions in the 2019 budget, Carter’s 2020 budget proposes cutting five sworn positions. The mayor noted Tuesday that he’s also proposing a $4.5 million budget increase for the department in 2020 — more than for other city departments — and that even with the proposed reduction, the force will be bigger than ever.
Carter said he plans to continue to invest in the police department along with strategies intended to prevent crime.
The mayor also said that city officials “stand more resolved than ever to continue the discussion at the State Capitol about why it seems so easy for the wrong people to get their hands on a gun.”
Police charged two 15-year-old males Tuesday in connection with Ross’ killing on the North End; one faces a murder charge, the other a charge for aiding and abetting the murder, officials said.
Police have not announced any charges in the third shooting, which happened shortly after midnight near University Avenue and Marion Street. Police said the occupants of one vehicle shot at another vehicle and then took off. The men inside the vehicle that was shot multiple times made their way to Regions Hospital where one of the men, Taylor, died, police said.
Steve Zeece, who owns Roseville-based L-Z Truck Equipment Inc. where Taylor had worked for three years, described him as “wonderful to be around.” He said Taylor’s father came into the shop Tuesday morning and said Taylor had been at a birthday party before the shooting.
“Everybody just loved him; he was just the greatest kid,” Zeece said. “We’re just devastated that he’s gone.”
Staff writers Kelly Smith, Shannon Prather and Tim Harlow contributed to this report.