No charges in Horton shooting due to lack of evidence
No charges will be filed against a pawn shop owner in the May fatal shooting of Calvin Horton Jr. because looters destroyed all the video, only one witness cooperated, numerous other witnesses refused to come forward, and a second identified witness to the shooting refused to be interviewed, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Monday.
After an exhaustive six-month investigation by the Minneapolis Police Department, with guidance from county prosecutors, there was insufficient evidence to overcome a self-defense argument in court by the shooter, John Rieple.
Around dusk on May 27, Minneapolis Police officers responded to an incident at 1538 East Lake Street and found the 43-year-old Horton, a Minneapolis resident, lying on the sidewalk outside of Cadillac Pawn & Jewelry. Horton had been shot and officers began administering first aid. However, the officers were physically and verbally assaulted, so they had to move Horton into a nearby business while they tried to keep him alive. When an ambulance arrived, the scene was so chaotic that they could not reach Horton and police had to deliver the victim to the ambulance.
Horton died at 9:39 p.m. in the emergency room of Hennepin Healthcare.
Back at the scene, a large group of people continued to attack and threatened to kill the officers, so they arrested Rieple but determined it was unsafe to stay and process the crime scene. As a result, the firearm was not recovered that night and later attempts to find it were unsuccessful.
Due to the widespread violence in the area, police crime lab personnel and detectives were unable to return to the crime scene until the following morning. By then, the pawn shop had been ransacked and looted. Everything in the shop was gone, including the security cameras and the DVR which would have recorded the fatal shooting and the moments just before and after. None of that equipment was ever found.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s autopsy determined that Horton was killed by a shotgun blast with four pellets entering his left side and three towards the back of his left side. That indicates Horton was turned sideways when the gun was fired, but without the video or other witnesses, it is impossible to determine how far apart the two men were and when Horton turned sideways.
Police were able to find and interview one witness that night. According to the witness, a large group of people, including Horton, had broken into the store and at least one of them, although not Horton, was carrying a handgun. Further, the witness said Horton had moved toward Rieple and was within seven feet when the shot was fired.
When the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office deferred the case on June 2, prosecutors asked police to canvass the neighborhood for additional witnesses to the shooting and any other surveillance cameras which might have captured the shooting. No other cameras were found. Some people had posted video and they were tracked down and interviewed. Their video showed Horton and the pawn shop after the shooting and the witnesses could only testify to the chaos at the time, but not the actual shooting.
However, a review of police officers’ body-worn cameras did turn up two other witnesses. One was a close friend of Horton’s and the woman who was with her that night. However, Horton’s friend hired a lawyer and he informed the county attorney’s office that she would not talk to police, nor would she identify the woman who was with her.
Likewise, Rieple invoked his constitutional rights and declined to speak with investigators. Later in the summer, The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office put out a plea for any witnesses to come forward. Although numerous witnesses were present and witnessed the shooting, none of them came forward and cooperated with the investigation, even after that public plea.
Under Minnesota law, if a defendant claims he acted in self-defense to prevent great bodily harm or death of himself or another, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense and his actions were unreasonable.
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.
If additional evidence becomes available, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office could reconsider the decision not to bring a charge.