Here's Looking at You

From downtown to Uptown, shop clerks trade stories about the man with the scary stare. But John Fitzgerald Wyche says his only crime is being a nice guy.

By the summer of 1998, Wyche had logged four additional shoplifting and trespassing arrests, and he was beginning to be noticed by the beat cops in Uptown. Wyche pulls a document out of his envelope archive; it's a handwritten log he began keeping in mid-June 1998 of his encounters with police. A July 9 entry reads: Standing at Hennepin and Lake in front of McDonald's restaurant, I took a stick of gum out of wrapper, balled the tiny wrapper up, and tossed it overhand, baseball style. Three seconds later, out of McDonald's strut [Officers] Daniel Lysholm and James Bulleigh. One of them says, "What was that you threw in the street?"

"Gum wrapper."

"You know you're not supposed to litter." Silence. "You know we have laws for a reason."

"What do you want?"

"I'm gonna write you a ticket."

"This is bullshit."

"I'm going to write you another one for profanity."

Hennepin County records show that the incident resulted in charges against Wyche for using profanity in public and littering. He demanded a jury trial, and the case is still pending. Minneapolis Police spokeswoman Penny Parrish says officers Lysholm and Bulleigh can't comment because Wyche is involved in ongoing cases. But Cindy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Uptown Business Association, says area retailers have worked with police to cut down on behavior that violates "community standards."

Again the funhouse mirrors: If Wyche's logs show a blameless victim of police harassment, Uptown workers remember a constant, unsettling presence. A manager at the Fresco juice shop who would give his name only as "Terry" says that last summer and fall, Wyche "would sit in here for hours. He was just obsessed with females, would sit and stare at them."

A clothing-store employee says Wyche does not instantly set off red flags: "The scary part is that he's well-spoken and dresses well. There are no outward signs that he could be a threat to women." A co-worker interjects, "Yeah. He blends in really well around here. With his white shirts and black suits, he looks like those guys that work at Jon English [Salon]." Adds a coffee-shop worker: "He scared all of us. What I especially don't understand is, he knows we're all scared of him. Yet he still comes around."

Wyche says he kept coming back because "Uptown is a fine part of town. At one time I didn't think that I was doing anything that could even be perceived as deviant, so I wouldn't have thought to stay away." As for the complaints, he says, "People stare at me, too. I know that I'm a guy, and a guy of color, and that brings different baggage to it."

Some Uptown workers say Wyche desperately tried to strike up friendships with them, even after they'd made it clear they weren't interested. Wyche says he doesn't get that: "So let's say I'm at this grocery store to buy some chips, but then the clerks get frustrated about me and say, 'Why can't he just say hi and smile?' I like to talk."

On September 1 Wyche was picked up for disorderly conduct at the Pier 1 Imports store on Lake Street. The police report reads: "The defendant is a chronic problem in Uptown and he has been trespassed from numerous businesses for his disruptive behavior, theft, and inappropriate touching and stalking of employees. Within the past few days, the defendant assaulted the employee of a business when told to leave. That business had the same problems with him continually loitering. Officers have witnessed the defendant also to chase a female across a parking lot... He continually returns to the area and officers believe that he is a potential threat to the citizens and employees."

The report's allusion to Wyche's "being trespassed" refers to a procedure, developed by the Minneapolis Police Department's Community Crime Prevention/SAFE unit, that allows business owners to ban individuals from their premises by handing them a special "trespass form" and having it signed by the unwanted customer or a witness. The bans are valid for up to 90 days and can be made permanent by filing a request with the city attorney. Violators can be charged with trespassing.

Uptown retailers weren't the only ones who wanted Wyche off their premises. He was banned from City Center after the Victoria's Secret arrest; in October officials at the downtown library filed a trespassing order against him. Alex Wakal, building superintendent for the Minneapolis public library system, says that Wyche had become "abusive to our staff. The least little thing, if he's not getting prompt service, he would start getting loud and abusive."

By last fall, Wyche and his behavior (which his own public defender, Jim Krieger, characterized during a court proceeding as "bizarre and evasive") had become a major subject of the thriving Uptown grapevine. Any new anecdote would be passed around the neighborhood, often picking up extra details along the way.

 

Not surprisingly, word of the rape charge got around within hours. On October 19 of last year, Minneapolis police were dispatched to a Northeast Minneapolis address where a woman had reported a sexual assault. According to a criminal complaint prosecutors later filed against Wyche, the woman told officers that she had been waiting for the bus that night with two other women and a man, who was acting strangely. When she got off the bus, she charged, the man approached her from behind, held a gun to her head, forced her into a nearby alley, and raped her.

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