Gun scare in Falcon Heights ends peacefully


screenshot • Ramsey County Sheriff’s deputy Sam Loe responded to apartments at 1550 Larpenteur Ave. in Falcon Heights Feb. 23 on a weapons call, and eventually arrested a 14-year-old boy who’d been playing with a replica sniper rifle. The incident prompted community discussion about policing.

courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office • The replica Remington 700 308 sniper rifle confiscated from a 14-year-old boy who was arrested Feb. 23 in Falcon Heights and charged with making terroristic threats, above the real thing.

Continues community discussion of policing.

 

A dark parking lot, a toy rifle that looked all too real and fears of random gun violence all came together to create a dangerous situation at a Falcon Heights apartment complex late last month. 

Although another tragedy was averted — Falcon Heights still grapples with the police killing of Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop on Larpenteur Avenue — the near miss highlights the city’s evolving relationship with law enforcement.

Described as the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office’s first big interaction with the Falcon Heights community by Chief Deputy Steve Frazer — the sheriff’s office has been patrolling the city only since the first of the year — the gun scare resulted in the arrest of a 14-year-old boy and a lengthy city council discussion, but no injuries.

According to Frazer, a scared family called police around 6:40 p.m. Feb. 23 to report seeing someone with a long gun while in the parking lot of the Falcon Heights Town Square apartments at the intersection of Larpenteur and Snelling avenues.

The family, a pregnant mother, father and toddler, were getting into their vehicle when someone said “Heil Hitler” from the apartment building, Frazer said. The family saw two boys, one with what looked like a sniper rifle, on the second or third floor of the building.

The family drove away and called 911, Frazer said, with the sheriff’s deputy assigned to patrolling Falcon Heights arriving at the building at 1550 Larpenteur Ave. shortly thereafter.

 

‘I’m not gonna hurt you’

Squad car dash camera footage released by the sheriff’s office shows deputy Sam Loe get out of her car carrying a rifle, surveying the dimly lit courtyard parking lot.

Movement in a building stairwell sends Loe towards the building. As she approaches, sirens from other police vehicles are heard.

As she gets closer to the boy, onlookers — described as “good Samaritans” by Frazer — yell to Loe that the gun’s a toy, telling the boy to drop the replica rifle.

“Stop, drop it now!” Loe yells as other deputies arrive, a K9 officer barking. “Get on your knees!”

Out of view of the squad car video camera, Loe, apparently very close to the boy, changes her tone.

“You’re fine,” she says, “come towards me ... I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“It’s just an airsoft gun!” the boy says, his voice scared and small.

The boy was arrested and according to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, he was charged Feb. 26 with one felony count of terroristic threats and will next appear in court March 22. State data privacy laws prohibit the release of more information about the boy.

Deputies confiscated the 14-year-old’s replica, air-powered Remington 700 308 sniper rifle.

“That rifle, if real, would not be stopped by our body armor at all,” said Frazer, stressing the potential danger of the situation, which, overall he said, had a very good outcome.

Frazer said the boy, “by all accounts a good kid,” will now go through the judicial process, which will eventually get to the “right outcome.” He said it was too early to say what that might be, from the charges being dropped to a jail sentence.

 

Explaining the situation

Frazer said he knows the relationship between police and Falcon Heights residents has a certain “fragility.” The sheriff’s office has only policed the city for two months, taking over patrols after Falcon Heights’ two-decades long relationship with the St. Anthony Police Department came to an end Dec. 31.

That relationship was splintered by the killing of Castile, who was shot by former St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez. St. Anthony sought to alter the terms of the cities’ police contract due to the fallout of the shooting, leading to the St. Anthony City Council unanimously voting last summer to end it. 

Frazer said he met with the boy’s family and concerned neighbors the day after the incident to explain why the boy was arrested. The boy comes from an immigrant family, and after talking, Frazer said, family members began to understand the severity of the situation and why the boy was jailed.

Frazer spoke again about the incident at the Feb. 28 Falcon Heights City Council meeting, discussing the sheriff’s office response and the outreach that followed.

Omar Jamal, who said he was involved with the incident, thanked Frazer for the response while noting the killing of Castile. “Having this city go through a tragic incident before, this was a very close call and fortunately didn’t end bad.”

Noting heightened fears of gun violence because of the people killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Jamal said that he understands how the situation was handled. However, he said others in the immigrant community at the apartment building don’t understand how the criminal justice system works, and that the city and sheriff’s office could do more to bolster understanding. Yet-to-be scheduled meetings between the sheriff’s office and residents at the apartment building are planned for this month.

 

Teachable moment

In terms of safer play, both Frazer and Mayor Peter Lindstrom said the incident could be a teachable moment.

“I would ask that parents have some pretty strong parameters around how [replica] guns are manipulated or played with, and I really think that has to be a supervised exercise and not out in open spaces,” Frazer said, adding that such toys are hard to differentiate from the real thing, both for the public and police.

Another resident spoke to commend the sheriff’s office for its response and for Frazer appearing at the meeting, contrasting it with the St. Anthony Police Department’s defensive stance following the killing of Castile.

Castile’s death prompted the formation of a city task force that worked to identify the city’s values when it comes to policing. Council member Randy Gustafson, whose day job is working as the sheriff department’s public communications coordinator, co-chaired the task force.

“[The response] exemplifies what we were looking for as a community in our policing,” he said.


 

– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

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