First family gun crime

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell speaks at a press conference with Mayor Melvin Carter III following three fatal shootings. His father, Melvin Carter, Jr., is pictured in the background in a white hat. (Andy Kosier/MPR News)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Even as St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III and his father were decrying the gun violence that left three men dead in nine hours in the capital city this week, police still had not located a handgun stolen from the elder Carter’s car late last month, police and court records show.

Melvin Carter, Jr., 70, reported his .380 Glock handgun stolen from his locked car, which was parked in the YWCA parking lot in the 300 block of Selby Avenue on Aug. 27. His wallet, containing $350 in cash and two credit cards, was also taken from the console of the car, according to court documents.

In an interview Thursday night, Carter said the situation has been “torture” for him.

“I’d like to publicly apologize to my son and my wife (Ramsey County commissioner Toni Carter), and the community at large for putting them in this situation,” he said. “I wish there was something I could do more than just feel bad about this.”

Carter’s admission came just two days after he and his son stood shoulder-to-shoulder with community members passionately vowing to stem gun violence after the spate of fatal shootings.

Carter declined to say if he had obtained another firearm to replace the missing gun. But he added he has “always been conscientious with firearms,” and that he believed it was in the public interest that he carry a gun.

“I believe the public at large is safer by my being armed. I was a cop for 30 years. I’m still protecting the people,” Carter said.

Carter also said last month’s theft of his firearm was not the first time a gun had been stolen from his vehicle. He said another gun was taken from his car in downtown St. Paul previously, but didn’t recall exactly when.

In the latest case, authorities charged Hamze Mohamed Daod, 18, of St. Paul, with two counts of felony theft, including the firearm, and fraudulent use of a credit card. As of Thursday afternoon, the stolen handgun remained missing, according to St. Paul police.

Gun violence, which has been a concern for Police Chief Todd Axtell, came into focus again Monday when three shootings in nine hours left dead a teenager, a good Samaritan who was a father of four young children and another father. Police have made arrests in two of the three homicides.

Axtell called the bloody nine hours “shocking, outrageous and an anomaly” and one of “the most violent nights I have witnessed in my career.” Axtell outlined a plan to move quickly and solve the homicides and restore public trust.

The elder Carter and his son the mayor, who shares his name, also addressed the crimes on Tuesday.

“We have to come together to establish the line in the sand ... to resolve this problem,’’ the elder Carter said outside the Golden Thyme coffee shop on Selby Avenue. “We need to come out in a way we haven’t before.”

The mayor himself denounced the prevalence of firearms hours later as he vowed at police headquarters to address Monday’s violence:

“It seems so easy for the wrong people to get their hands on a gun,” the younger Carter said at that press conference.

The elder Carter said he was aware of the contradiction as he stood behind his son and beside community leaders, including former St. Paul NAACP chairman Nick Khaliq, as they expressed alarm at the availability of guns in the community.

“I was agonizing about it,” Carter said, adding that as a former police officer, he thinks it likely he has faced the threat of a stolen gun in a criminal’s hand. He vowed to use more care with his firearms in the future. “I’m already doing a better job,” he said.

Mayoral spokesperson Peter Leggett said the mayor would not have any comment on the theft of his father’s firearm.

Car keys taken from duffel bag at YWCA

The elder Carter told police he left his gun and wallet in his car’s center console about 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 27 when he went into the YWCA to exercise. He said in an interview that it wasn’t visible from outside the car, but was loaded when it was stolen.

He put his car keys and his cell phone in a duffel bag in “an open shelf near the front of the YWCA,” court documents say. An hour later, after he was done exercising, he discovered his duffel bag on the floor and his keys and phone missing, according to the criminal complaint charging Daod.

He went out to his car and saw his car keys sitting on the seat of the car. His wallet and gun were missing.

While it wasn’t in the police report or criminal complaint, Carter told MPR News that the thief also took the St. Paul police badge given to him for his retirement in 2003. Also missing were the only photos he had of the funeral of his brother and father.

They were “some of the most important things to me,” Carter said. “Some of those things are irreplaceable.”

Authorities identified a suspect after they detected Carter’s credit cards were used to buy 10 $200 gift cards from the University Avenue Target store and identified him through surveillance video from the store. Police arrested Daod at his mother’s house in the 500 block of Van Buren Street. He was charged and released from jail and is awaiting an Oct. 16 Ramsey County court hearing.

Daod’s court-appointed lawyer, Katharine Marie Conners, could not be reached Thursday for comment.

But in court documents, Daod denied the theft:

“He repeatedly denied having anything to do with the theft of items from the YWCA ... or thefts from other gyms, which occurred over the last 6 or so months,’’ according to the criminal complaint. “He claimed he had not even set foot in any gyms.”

The elder Carter said his car had been locked and in a gated lot, and his personal items were in the YWCA, in an area he believed inaccessible to the public. He said he believed his personal effects and his handgun were secured when he went to work out.

There’s no indication that any of Carter’s stolen weapons were involved in any recent crimes, but stolen firearms are a grave concern for public safety officials everywhere in the nation — and particularly in the Twin Cities.

A Minneapolis police officer slain on duty in 1981 was killed with a .357 caliber service firearm previously stolen from another Minneapolis officer. Eighteen-year police veteran Richard Miller was 59 years old when he stopped Isaac Brown to investigate a stolen car and was shot repeatedly in the chest with the stolen handgun. Brown was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Bob Kroll, head of the Minneapolis Police Federation, said officers remember the incident as they carry their service weapons.

“If I leave my gun irresponsibly, what might happen to it?” Kroll said in an interview with MPR News Thursday. “Who could it be used on?”

It’s an answer that he said still haunts his department. “It’s something that officer will have to live with forever.”

Another theft, another missing gun

This is not the first time theft of guns has hit the Carter family.

In 2017, while he was running for mayor, Carter’s home was burglarized. Among the items stolen were two of his father’s handguns that the elder Carter passed down to his son after he retired from the police force.

Mayor Carter said he kept those weapons in a locked box, according to a letter to the editor he wrote in the Pioneer Press.

“My father was one of the first black officers to serve in St. Paul, and he drilled my sisters and me on gun safety from an early age. I was raised in a family that treated firearms with fear and respect, and I have always understood the profound responsibility that comes with legally owning and securing firearms. That is why I have always stored them in a secured lockbox hidden in my home, which only I know the code to,’’ the younger Carter wrote.

St. Paul police spokesperson Steve Linders said he could not immediately determine if the guns taken from Mayor Carter’s home have been recovered.

The elder Carter said he remains embarrassed by the theft:

“I’m just paralyzed by the whole thing,” he said. “And trying to scrape and claw my way back and have credibility with my family and my community. And myself. I want to assure them it will never happen again.”

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard in Steele County on 103.9 FM or online at MPRnews.org.

Jeffrey Jackson is the managing editor of the Owatonna People's Press. He can be reached at 507-444-2371 or via email at jjackson@owatonna.com

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