Hennepin County prosecutors said Monday they will not bring homicide charges against a south Minneapolis pawnshop owner who fatally shot 43-year-old Calvin Horton during the unrest that followed George Floyd’s death earlier this year, saying they don’t have enough evidence to overcome the owner’s self-defense argument.
Horton was shot outside Cadillac Pawn, 1538 E. Lake St., by the shop’s owner, John Rieple, on the second night of protests that followed Floyd’s killing during an encounter with four since-fired Minneapolis police officers.
County attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement released Monday afternoon that the destruction of potential video evidence during the riots and the lack of witness cooperation precluded prosecutors from bringing charges against the owner, John Rieple.
“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.
Rieple, who was arrested and later released, has maintained that he fired at Horton in self-defense. He has so far refused to speak to investigators, prosecutors said. While the Star Tribune generally does not identify people who have not 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 media writing about Horton’s killing.
Horton’s relatives have decried the suggestion that he was shot while looting the store, arguing that he was killed in cold-blood.
To date, neither police nor county prosecutors have publicly described Horton as a looter, though they acknowledge that it was one of the theories they are investigating.
The case has became a lighting rod for critics of a criminal justice system they say doesn’t value Black lives. Monday’s announcement brought a new raft of criticism that Freeman’s office has charged cases with less evidence.
Prosecutors said their decision was the culmination of an “exhaustive” six-month police investigation, during which investigators only managed to find one witness who was willing to talk, who described how a large group of people, including Horton, had broken into the store. The witness told police that one of the looters, not Horton, was carrying a handgun. The witness said that Horton was moving toward Rieple and that about seven feet separated the two men when Rieple 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,” the statement read. “Some people had posted video and they were tracked down and interviewed. Their video showed Horton and the pawnshop after the shooting and the witnesses could only testify to the chaos at the time, but not the actual shooting.”
When officers and paramedics responded to the call, they encountered a chaotic scene — at which officers were “physically and verbally assaulted, officials said — that forced them to move Horton to a nearby business while they awaited an ambulance. He died a short time later at HCMC.
Because of the chaos, officers decided to arrest 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.
A review of officers’ body camera footage turned up two other witnesses, one of whom was a close friend of Horton’s. The female friend, who was not identified, later hired a lawyer, who told prosecutors that she would not talk to police, nor would she identify another woman she was with.
The county attorney’s office later put out a plea urging any witnesses to come forward, but none agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
Freeman’s statement cited autopsy findings that concluded that Horton died of a shotgun blast to his left side, suggesting he was turned sideways when he was shot, but authorities argued it was “impossible” to determine with certainty how far apart the two men were when Rieple fired the gun and when exactly turned his body sideways.
The statement said that under state law, self-defense cases require a high burden — proof beyond a reasonable doubt — that prosecutors didn’t think they could meet with the evidence available.
Horton’s family is being represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who was also retained by Floyd’s relatives.
Horton’s death was the first of two associated with the civil unrest; in the other case, 30-year-old Oscar Lee Stewart Jr. died in an intentionally-set fire that burned another pawnshop. His body wasn’t discovered for several months.
Horton leaves behind seven children. Five carloads of family and friends drove up in June from Little Rock, Ark., where he was born and where his mother lives, to attend his funeral at Estes Funeral Chapel in north Minneapolis.
Horton attended North High School, his father said, but did not graduate. He would later earn his GED, and family members said he would “glow” whenever he had the chance help his kids with their homework.
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