Crime concerns draw a crowd

North River Hills resident Tony Boos addressed the audience during a community meeting on crime Nov. 14 at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville. At left is Police Chief Eric Gieseke. (Photo by John Gessner)

Crime in northeast Burnsville not rampant, despite tragedies, chief says

Despite three homicides since June in northeast Burnsville, the area has about as much police activity as the rest of the city — and overall crime is trending down, law-enforcement officials said Nov. 14.

At the same time, violent crimes in Dakota County and domestic homicides and heroin-related crimes across Minnesota are on the rise, officials said.
The Police Department held a community meeting on crime concerns in northeast Burnsville and its North River Hills area. Police estimate about 325 people attended the meeting at Mary, Mother of the Church on Cliff Road.

The area has experienced “a tremendous amount of violence in a relatively short period of time,” Police Chief Eric Gieseke said.

“We do have a great community, a great place to live,” he added. “Let’s not forget that.”

The fatal Sept. 22 shooting at Nina’s Grill and the related murder of 20-year-old Anarae Schunk, a Burnsville High School graduate who grew up in North River Hills, were fresh in people’s minds.

Schunk’s ex-boyfriend, 31-year-old Anthony Lee Nelson of Rosemount, faces first- and second-degree murder charges for allegedly killing 23-year-old Palagor Obang Jobi of Savage at closing time outside Nina’s. Schunk was with Nelson at the bar, and Nelson is a still-uncharged suspect in her Sept. 22 murder in Rosemount.

John Sleizer of Rosemount, a Schunk family friend, voiced frustration that Nelson, who has a long history of violent crime and incarceration, was allowed to post bail and walk free on Sept. 19 after he was charged in June with first-degree burglary. Schunk sought to meet with Nelson on Sept. 22 to recover money he owed her from when they dated last year.

“I don’t think the average citizen understands just how poorly our justice system works. … It’s our court system and our judges I have questions for,” Sleizer said.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, a meeting panelist, said Minnesota’s constitution doesn’t allow judges to deny bail, although prosecutors can push for higher amounts, such as the $2 million his office secured against Nelson in the Nina’s case.

A state constitutional amendment would be needed to allow judges to deny bail, Backstrom said.

“I think that’s a good thing to pursue,” he told the audience. “I would support that.”

Federal courts allow judges in designated violent crime to not set bail, Backstrom said in a later interview.

Nelson “had multiple armed robberies on his record and he had bail set in Hennepin County which was not substantial, and he was released,” Backstrom said.

Ken La Boone of Lakeville, who attended Schunk’s public memorial service Oct. 6 in Burnsville, said he was “appalled” to hear at the service a public call for Nina’s to close. That came from Schunk’s brother Tyson, who said he had heard many comments from neighbors about trouble and illegal activity at the 12-year-old business.

La Boone, a Minnesota Valley Transit Authority bus driver, said he got to know Anarae over two semesters when she was commuting to classes at the University of Minnesota. La Boone also said he and his family have dined at Nina’s, which he praised as one of few spots for authentically prepared Russian cuisine.

“(Owner) Nina Sorkin is not the problem. Nina’s Grill is not the problem,” said La Boone, who said she can’t be held responsible for the “dirtbags outside her establishment.”

Another speaker said she doesn’t blame Nina’s but does worry about the neighborhood and the safety of her 3-year-old daughter. A new hookah shop that uses security guards has opened in the same strip mall, the woman noted.

“We live right behind Nina’s. I actually heard the shots that night,” she said.

“We don’t target specific businesses,” said Gieseke, who said he’s heard concerns from neighbors about the two hookah shops in northeast Burnsville. “We don’t want to put anybody out of business.”
Other homicides

Charges have yet to be filed in the other northeast Burnsville homicides.

A 4-year-old boy was killed June 11 at his home at 31 Horizon Heights Road. Keyontay Miller-Peterson died of complications from blunt force abdominal injuries, the Hennepin County medical examiner said.

Police say the suspect is 24-year-old William Alphonso Warr, who had a protection order barring him from the residence. Warr was charged with violating the protection order, criminal property damage, fleeing a police officer, giving false information to police and driving after revocation.

Warr, the boy’s mother’s boyfriend, pleaded guilty to all five counts and was sentenced July 17 to two years and two months in prison, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

An Aug. 13 shooting on the 2100 block of East 117th Street killed 23-year-old Abdifatah Ahmed Mahumod. He and another man were shot and driven from the scene by a woman who then stopped at the SuperAmerica station at 2250 Cliff Road in Eagan. Police found Mahumod dead in the vehicle.

Crime trends

The number of police calls in Burnsville’s northeast quadrant, one of the city’s four patrol quadrants, is about equal to those in the other quadrants, Gieseke said.

Burnsville as a whole falls “smack dab in the middle” among Minnesota cities “for the overall crime rate for 2012,” said panelist Drew Evans, assistant superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The city is on pace to have a lower crime rate in 2013, he said.

The number of adult felony charges in Dakota County was 1,602 in 2012, compared with 1,927 in 2000, according to statistics supplied by Backstrom. Felonies bottomed out at 1,464 in 2010, rose to 1,714 in 2011 and dropped to 1,602 last year.

But violent crimes in Dakota County — ranging from murder to dangerous-weapons cases — have risen from 646 in 2008 to 721 in 2012. Violent crimes jumped from 637 in 2011. They’ve increased annually since 2009, when there were 539.

Domestic homicides are up across Minnesota, with 37 so far this year, Evans said.  There were 18 all of last year, according to the Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women.

Heroin-related crimes are on the rise in Minnesota, Evans said. In Dakota County, 35 to 42 percent of all crime is related to illegal drug use, Backstrom said.

“The heroin problem in Burnsville is an epidemic,” said resident Nancy Banyard, who said her information comes from her 20- and 23-year-old sons. A neighbor overdosed two years ago, Banyard said.

She also expressed concerns over three group homes in her neighborhood and said she doesn’t know the residents or why they’re there.

Burnsville has changed much in the 20 years she’s lived here, said Banyard, who called on police to do more to alert residents of neighborhood crime trends.

“The amount of subsidized housing in Burnsville seems like it has increased tenfold,” said the former District 191 School Board member.

Lifelong North River Hills resident Tony Boos asked whether growth of low-income housing over “15, 20 years” has contributed to crime.

Gieseke said he doesn’t have statistics to correlate subsidized housing and crime incidence.

“Everybody deserves a place to live,” the chief said.