By Mel Reeves
Editor, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
While much of the country is still up and arms about the apparent racially motivated killing of Ahmaud Asbery, Twin Cities social media was abuzz with speculation about whether the killing of a Black man by a White man claiming he felt threatened was also motivated by race.
In the late evening of May 1st, Douglas Lewis was killed after he was shot four times by Watertown resident Anthony Trifiletti after a minor traffic accident. Trifiletti, who was licensed to carry a firearm, told authorities that he shot Lewis — who was unarmed — because he feared for his life.
The Ramsey County prosecutors’ office charged Trifeletti with second degree murder. Lewis, 39, was Black, Trifiletti 25 is White.
“As soon as a White man says he was afraid for his life, I always know they are racist. He killed my brother in cold blood,” said Valerie Lewis, Doug Lewis’s sister.
According to his sister Valerie, Doug came to Minnesota in 2003.” He was living a pretty rough life back home in Chicago. He was ready to change.
Ironically, his sister said, “He came to Minnesota so he could experience some peace in his life, because he was tired of all the violence in Chicago.” On the day he was shot, he had visited his sister and barbequed for both families and had left to retrieve his car. Lewis was a delivery driver for Amazon and Door Dash.
“He was so sweet, so nice, so loving. He was charming, helpful and a caring and loving Father,” longtime girlfriend Christine Hicks said of her deceased partner Lewis, who was father to four children. “He was a hard-working man. He always tried to do what he thought was best. And he was doing everything right.”
Trifiletti and Lewis were involved in an auto accident that occurred on Burns Road near Highway 61 in St Paul.
Lewis was driving a silver Ford car and Trifiletti a red pickup truck. Apparently, Lewis’ car bumped Trifilleti’s truck from behind. The two pulled over and discussed exchanging insurance info when an argument ensued, during which time Trifiletti said that he and a friend on the scene heard Lewis say, “I’m GD.”
None of the witnesses at the scene confirmed that they heard Lewis make that claim. After the exchange they both got in their cars and left.
In his statement to police, the shooter claimed that after driving away, he “unintentionally” followed Lewis. Lewis pulled over and Trifiletti pulled over behind him and when Lewis got out of his car, presumably to ask why the 25-year old was following him, the shooter claimed he saw Lewis reaching under his shirt.
At that point, according to Trifiletti ‘s statement, he shot Lewis who he said was about ten feet away. Lewis subsequently died from his wounds at Regions Hospital in St Paul later that evening.
The shooter told police that he “thought he was going to die and was afraid for his life.”
That statement is a familiar refrain as it is used by police in the U.S. as justification for shooting and sometimes killing people.
Valerie Lewis said a witness to the shooting told her that Trifiletti took a shooter’s stance, aimed, and fired his weapon, “like he was a professional.”
The killer fired his weapon four times, with each bullet striking Lewis.
Upon taking the shooter’s statement, police asked him if he thought the shooting could have been avoided. He told police he, “didn’t think that was an option.”
Why wouldn’t it have been an option?” asked Minneapolis attorney Jordan Kushner. “I don’t see a legal excuse for it. I can’t say what’s going to happen, but I don’t see a legitimate defense from what I have read about it. If the system works, he shouldn’t succeed if that’s his defense.”
Minnesota laws governing self-defense claims are fairly stringent and straightforward. In order to claim self-defense legally, a person is obligated to retreat from danger unless it is impossible. They have to be in legitimate fear of death or great bodily harm and their extreme reaction has to be justified as the only choice left to them.
Incidentally, there is no “stand your ground” law in Minnesota.
Trifiletti initially left the scene of the shooting but came back after consulting with his father over the phone, who suggested that he turn himself in to police. He was subsequently charged him with second degree murder and his bail was initially set at a million dollars.
In his first appearance before the court on last Friday morning, his bail was reduced to $500,000 with the stipulation that he wear an electronic monitor, hand over his firearms, stay away from drugs and alcohol and volunteer for a chemical health evaluation.
Many of Lewis’ family and friends, including his girlfriend, were on hand at the hearing.
Trifiletti’s attorney told the court that his client was not wealthy and could not afford bail and was not a threat to society or a risk to run. However, the killer has had contacts with police including a DWI and he was involved in a traffic accident that caused the death of another motorist about a year ago.The mother of the accident victim, Karen Malave, was in court showing support for the Lewis family.
She told the Star Tribune that her son, Ricardo Torres, was killed in a motorcycle crash with Trifiletti. She felt badly and regrets that another family is going through what hers did.
“If the weapon is the color of our skin, then we will always be looked at [as] armed,” said Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church. “We are not free to just be.”
A vigil was held for the father of four two weekends ago near the scene of the shooting on Burns Avenue in St Paul, in which over 50 people attended to honor his memory and express their condolences and grief.