Libor Jany, Star Tribune, December 14, 2020
Hennepin County prosecutors said Monday that they would not bring criminal charges against a south Minneapolis pawnshop owner who fatally shot a man during the unrest that followed George Floyd’s death earlier this year, saying they lacked the evidence to rebut the owner’s self-defense claim.
County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement that the destruction of potential video evidence by looters and the refusal of key witnesses to testify precluded prosecutors from charging the owner, John Rieple, in the death of 43-year-old Calvin Horton.
“Based upon the facts and available evidence, the state could not prove it was not self-defense and prosecutors are ethically prohibited from filing charges against someone knowing it would not be possible to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement read. Prosecutors said they reached their decision following an “exhaustive” six-month police investigation.
While the Star Tribune generally does not identify people who haven’t been charged with a crime, it is doing so with Rieple because his identity as the owner of the pawnshop is widely known and because he has been identified in other news accounts of Horton’s killing.
Rieple, who was arrested the same night and later released, has maintained that he fired at Horton in self-defense. He has also refused to speak to investigators, prosecutors said.
Horton’s relatives have pushed back on the suggestion that the father of seven took part in the looting that followed Floyd’s death. And, they argued that even if he had he didn’t deserve to be killed. Neither police nor prosecutors have publicly described Horton as a looter, though they’ve acknowledge that it was one of the theories they were investigating.
The case has became a lighting rod locally for critics who see it as an example of the criminal justice system’s indifference toward Black lives. Monday’s announcement brought a new raft of criticism that Freeman’s office has charged cases with less evidence.
Horton was shot at Cadillac Pawn, 1538 E. Lake St., on May 27, the second night of protests that followed Floyd’s killing during an encounter with four since-fired Minneapolis police officers. The investigation was troubled from the start.
Prosecutors said that despite the presence of numerous bystanders at the time of the shooting, only one eyewitness has so far come forward with information about the case. The witness, whose identity wasn’t released, described seeing a large group of people, including Horton, breaking into the store and noted that one of the looters — not Horton — was armed with a handgun, according to prosecutors. The witness said that Horton was moving toward Rieple and that about 7 feet separated the two men when Rieple fired.
Because of the chaos, officers arrested Rieple, but didn’t stay to process the scene. As a result, the shotgun that was used was never recovered. Looters also ransacked the pawnshop, taking everything, including its security cameras and the DVR that would have recorded the fatal shooting and the moments leading up to it, prosecutors said.
Under state law, a civilian can legally use lethal force against another only if he or she is reasonably in fear of death or great bodily harm to themselves or someone else. Even then, they must be a reluctant participant, have no reasonable means of retreat, and lesser force will not suffice.