West St. Paul Police

West St. Paul Shooting Demonstrates Dangerous New Strategy

Thanks to FoodSmith Bistro Pub and Dakota County for their support.

Last week’s shooting at the Marathon gas station is West St. Paul’s fourth shooting in three weeks. Recent shootings occurred at the Holiday gas station on Dodd Road, the Menard’s parking lot, and a shootout between cars near Emerson and Calumet where a bystander was struck. It’s a troubling trend of violence—generally West St. Paul sees half a dozen shootings per year. But the shooting at Marathon included a swarming crowd disrupting first responders, an example of a dangerous new strategy that’s cropped up in the metro area in the past few months.

Marathon Shooting

The shooting at the Marathon gas station on Mendota Road and Oakdale happened on Sunday, December 5 around 9 p.m. A woman was shot in the lower leg and a man was shot four times. The male victim is still in the hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries.

That’s when the incident took a different turn.

“The crowd showed up within a minute of first responders appearing on the scene,” said West St. Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon. He described a couple dozen people ignoring orders to stay out of the crime scene.

According to police, a bystander jumped on the back of a South Metro Fire medic while they were attending to a victim. In another case, a bystander tried to drive the victim’s vehicle away as a police officer attended to an injured victim in the backseat. Several others tried to get into the vehicle. Other people walked into the crime scene, through blood splatters and past shell casings.

It appears to be an intentional effort to overwhelm police and disrupt investigations. The crowds contaminate evidence or outright remove it, muddying the scene of a crime and making investigation and prosecution more difficult.

West St. Paul Police had to call for back up, with officers from nine different agencies responding. At one point there were 40 police officers on the scene.

“We’ve had incidents where after a shooting there was a crowd and tensions were high and we had to call in more officers,” Sturgeon said. “But that was a case of heightened emotions, not intentionally disrupting a scene.”

Two people were arrested that night for obstruction with charges and more arrests coming.

Other Examples of Swarming Crowds

While this is the first example of this behavior in West St. Paul, another similar incident happened recently in South St. Paul. Officers had arrested a suspected drunk driver when several cars showed up on the scene and a crowd tried to take the driver’s vehicle. The two police officers were overwhelmed and couldn’t safely maintain control, so they left the scene, allowing the crowd to take the car.

It’s also happened several times in St. Paul in recent months, according to Sturgeon.

Rather than crowds appearing to observe and/or film police in a watchdog capacity, something that might be expected and understandable after George Floyd, these incidents seem to be intentionally designed to disrupt crime scenes. They’re similar tactics to the recent mass robberies at retailers in the Twin Cities and nationwide.

What’s Next?

West St. Paul will be bringing in additional resources in response to the recent shootings. But the crowd behavior is a larger issue.

“It’s going to take more than law enforcement,” said Sturgeon. “You need the community to participate in public safety. Police can’t do it alone. We’ll hold people accountable, and we do that, but as a society we have to come together and find ways to address these issues.”

Sturgeon is hopeful for a metro-wide response to bring stakeholders and different groups to the table and come up with solutions.

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