Truck Park Shootout is latest in string of incidents to shake West End 

What is believed to be the most serious mass shooting in Saint Paul’s history has resulted in calls to address the rising incidents of violent crime in the city. The shooting at the Seventh Street Truck Park food hall and bar at 214 W. Seventh St. left one person dead and 15 injured. The tragedy occurred just after midnight on October 10 as a result of a dispute between two men.

Terry Lorenzo Brown, 33, of Saint Paul was charged with killing Marquisha “Kiki” Wiley, 27, of South Saint Paul. Wiley was out with friends and was an innocent bystander. She grew up on Saint Paul’s West Side and played basketball for Henry Sibley High School (now Two Rivers). She worked as a veterinary technician.

 

Terrence Brown
Terry Lorenzo Brown
Deondre Phillips
Devondre Trevon Phillips

Brown and Devondre Trevon Phillips, 29, of Las Vegas exchanged gunfire at the Truck Park after a verbal dispute. Both men have made initial appearances in Ramsey County District Court and are being held with bonds set at $10 million.

Phillips was charged with 12 counts of attempted murder in the second degree. Brown was charged with one count of intentional murder in the second degree, and 11 counts of attempted murder in the second degree.

Both men were ineligible to have firearms. Phillips had a prior adjudication for first-degree aggravated robbery. Brown had a handful of prior felony convictions, including first-degree aggravated robbery, first-degree controlled substance possession, simple robbery, and two violations of no-contact orders due to domestic abuse.

“No one should have to live in fear of those around them settling their differences with a hail of gunfire,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.

 

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An additional charge tied to the shootings was announced on October 20, as one of the guns used came from a so-called “straw purchase,” when someone buys a firearm for a person who cannot legally do so. A federal criminal complaint stated that Jerome Fletcher Horton Jr., 25, of Minneapolis bought nearly three dozen handguns from Twin Cities stores over the past three months. One of those guns, a 9 mm semiautomatic, was recovered shortly after the October 10 shootout.

Saint Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said justice will be served for the victims and the shooters will be held accountable. He spoke of the multiple 911 calls and “hellish situation” good Samaritans and first responders came across after the shootout.

Increase in recovered firearms

The Saint Paul Police Department is dealing with an uptick in guns recovered from people who are not authorized to have them. So far this year, police have recovered 552 guns, which is up from 546 at this time in 2020. For all of last year, 660 guns were recovered.

“The number of guns out on the streets is unbelievable,” said Jeremy Ellison, senior commander of the Police Department’s Central District. Police used to find illegal guns every few weeks, usually during traffic stops, according to him. Now several are found each day.

The Police Department and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department have extended patrols in the Seven Corners area of Saint Paul to 2 a.m. The Truck Park reopened on October 19 on the night of the Minnesota Wild home opener and a heavy law enforcement presence could be seen in the neighborhood.

Disagreements over police resources

There continue to be disagreements about police resources and prosecutions. At a virtual meeting on October 14 hosted by the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation to discuss crime, some of the more than 80 people in attendance called for prosecutors to explain why so many criminals are not in jail. Others wanted more police on the streets.

Axtell and Mayor Melvin Carter have butted heads over the proposed 2022 police budget for months. The chief said he is unable to fill officer vacancies due to cuts in police training, and has cited shortages in the department’s investigative ranks. Carter has called for alternative strategies to address the root causes of crime, including his Community First public safety initiative and the city’s new Office of Neighborhood Safety.

Carter said he was “devastated” by the shootings. “Our work to build more proactive and comprehensive public safety strategies is more urgent than ever,” he said.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said his staff will work to bring justice for Wiley, those who were at the Truck Park and the entire city. “No one should have to live in fear of those around them settling their differences with a hail of gunfire,” he said.

According to Choi, a comprehensive solution is needed to prevent gun violence, including universal background checks on gun purchases and holding those accountable who engage in shootings.

Neighborhood concerns

“There’s a lot of concern over what happened so close to our neighborhood,” said Historic Irvine Park Association leader Elyse Jensen, who has family members living in the Oxbo apartments above the Truck Park.

“These incidents do not define who we are as a neighborhood and as a community,” said Ward 2 City Council member Rebecca Noecker, who urged residents and business owners to continue to work together and is supporting another police training academy next year to help bring the Police Department to full strength.

The October 10 shootout is not the only high-profile crime that has rattled the West End this fall. On September 12, four people were shot and killed after a night out on West Seventh. Their bodies were discovered in a Wisconsin cornfield. A 38-year-old Arizona man has been charged with four counts of second-degree murder, and his father has been charged with aiding an offender.

Gunshots were also heard on September 26 at the Saint Paul Tap, 825 Jefferson Ave., after a suspect drove an SUV onto the restaurant’s patio and struck a woman. The 24-year-old driver was later charged with felony second-degree assault after he showed up at Regions Hospital with gunshot wounds.

Business owners response

Some West End business owners declined to speak about the mass shootings and other crimes. They have already been at odds with the city over the Freedom House homeless facility that opened on West Seventh earlier this year. Police have said there is no connection between the most serious recent crimes and the facility. Zoning changes to allow similar facilities to open elsewhere in Saint Paul will be voted on by the City Council in November.

One business owner who is speaking out is Brian Ingram, who founded the West Seventh Truck Park in 2017. He now operates Hope Breakfast Bar and Woodfired Cantina off West Seventh Street, and the Gnome restaurant on Selby Avenue. However, he has paused plans to open a new supper club and tiki bar in a building under construction across from Xcel Energy Center until he sees what is done about crime.

“The boldness of criminals is crazy…what can we do? What are you going to do to protect us?” Ingram asked.

Ingram said that while petty crimes might be down in the city, his restaurants have been burglarized four times. The Gnome lost its safe in one incident. According to him, his staff and customers have been carjacked and he has been held up at gunpoint.

The Truck Park killing was the 32nd homicide of the year in Saint Paul, which is on pace to break its record of 34 homicides last year. Shots fired are at 1,769 so far this year, up from 1,719 at this time in 2020. And 202 people have been hit by gunfire thus far, up from 168 at this time in 2020.

The CEOs of Ecolab and Securian Financial have asked elected officials for bold action in the wake of violent crimes. They say the city’s economic development hangs in the balance.

“The future of our city as a safe and appealing place to live, play, work and invest is at stake,” wrote Christopher Hilger, president and CEO of Securian. “Our ability to encourage our employees to return to our corporate offices after working from home for 18 months heavily depends on how they feel about the safety and vitality of downtown Saint Paul.”

—Jane McClure

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