Political Matters: Killing Phil Quinn


Killing Phil Quinn

The Nov. 15 fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, in north Minneapolis, triggered an upsurge in activism directed by Black Lives Matter. There was an occupation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct, which went on for more than two weeks before police dismantled the encampment on Plymouth Avenue in an early morning action.

And the Fourth Precinct occupation gained national attention when a group of white supremacists showed up one evening; as they were moved away from the encampment, one of them opened fired and shot five people with the Black Lives Matter group. Fortunately, none of the gunshot injuries was life threatening.

Another climactic event associated with the #Justice4Jamar movement took place Dec. 23, when Black Lives Matter returned to the Mall of America (where a Dec. 20, 2014, protest drew more than 2,000 supporters), then traveled via light rail to the nearby airport terminals and snarled traffic for about two hours.

An incident that has received much less press attention is the fatal police shooting of Philip Quinn, a 30-year-old member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, which occurred late September in St. Paul. According to family members, Quinn suffered from schizophrenia and was in the midst of a psychotic episode – he had been cutting himself with a knife – when police came to the house he shared with his fiancée and three children in the West Seventh neighborhood of St. Paul.

As is usually the case in this type of police shooting, accounts by police and witnesses diverge.

Darleen Tareeq, Quinn’s fiancée, told St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Mara Gottfried, “The first set of officers [who came to the house earlier in the day] gave him space and he fled. The next set of officers… came to my house with guns drawn, made a perimeter, called him and shot him…. Obviously, if I felt endangered, I would have been in my house, but I was standing right there with our daughter in my arms when they did it.”

Gottfried’s story in the Dec. 23 edition of the Pioneer Press (bit.ly/phil-quinn) reviews the troubling incident and its aftermath. Members of Quinn’s family who witnessed the shooting say that the police opened fire too quickly, rather than using a non-lethal weapon like a Taser. Dave Titus, president of the union representing St. Paul cops, told the Pioneer Press that Quinn, who had run from officers earlier in the day, “made a conscious decision to run at police with a screwdriver in his hand,” which led to the deadly outcome. St. Paul police officers Joe LaBathe and Rich McGuire reportedly fired the fatal shots.

Quinn’s friends and family members are searching for answers, “They’ve been gathering most days in December at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center, holding signs such as ‘Justice For Phil Quinn’ and ‘Stop Police Brutality,’” according to Gottfried’s story.

The relatives and friends called for an independent investigation into Quinn’s death, during a demonstration at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) the day after Thanksgiving. The BCA investigates case at the request of law enforcement; but the St. Paul police have not made such a request, Gottfried wrote. The St. Paul Police Department conducted an investigation, and the case will go to a grand jury, which is normal procedure in shootings involving cops. Police critics – including those involved in the justice for Jamar Clark effort – contend that fatal officer-involved shooting cases go to a grand jury to die.

The killing of Phil Quinn brings together the issues of controversial police killings of people of color and of those afflicted by mental illness.

Native Americans are killed by police at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, according to a July report by Al Jazeera America, which focused on the fatal police shooting of Paul Castaway, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member, in Denver. He was holding a knife to his own throat when the cops opened fire. It is a case that seems eerily similar to the shooting of Quinn.

As to the mental illness aspect, I reported on the 2000 fatal police shooting of Barbara Schneider, who was in the midst of an acute paranoid episode when police shot her to death in her Uptown apartment. That killing led to the formation of the Barbara Schneider Foundation, which has advocated for Crisis Intervention Teams in Minnesota. Apparently, there’s still a need for further police training to deal with individuals in the midst of mental health crises.

The Facebook group Justice for Phil Quinn has announced a Jan. 9 gathering. Details to be posted soon.