Champions Bar shooter used prosthetic leg to smuggle gun into establishment

Champions is located near Lake and Nicollet in Minneapolis's Lyndale neighborhood.
Champions is located near Lake and Nicollet in Minneapolis's Lyndale neighborhood.

The city of Minneapolis is currently trying to revoke Champions Sports Bar's liquor license. During a hearing last month, city representatives cited an August shooting in the bar that left an innocent bystander dead and another person injured as evidence the bar is dangerous and should be shut down.

But Ed Matthews, an attorney representing Champions, has a very different interpretation of August's tragedy and its aftermath. During a conversation with City Pages, Matthews pointed out that Ron Powell, the alleged shooter, was wanded with a metal detector at the door but smuggled a gun into the bar in his prosthetic leg. He also argued that Champions' high-quality security camera footage played an instrumental role in Powell's arrest. (Powell was apprehended in a Walmart parking lot in Fargo last month.)

The city "is saying our security sucks and all this and that -- well, here's an example of our camera [catching] this guy, and we gave [the footage] to the police and they used it to catch the suspect. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?" Matthews said.

Matthews also explained how Powell was able to sneak a gun through Champions' tight security.

"He went through a metal detector like everybody else does when he comes in, and he has a prosthetic leg and he had the gun hidden in his prosthetic leg, so there's nothing more we could've done to prevent this," Matthews said. "He was wanded at the door, the detector went off, he showed people his prosthetic leg, and they let him in. What more are you gonna do? You can't deny someone access because they're disabled."

Matthews argued Champions can't necessarily be held responsible for the behavior of patrons in cases like Powell's. All management can do is have the best security possible and do whatever it can to help authorities apprehend suspects when criminal activity occurs in the bar.

"Anybody can get around good security. I mean, look at the thing you saw at LAX last weekend. One of the most heavily armed airports in the world and this guy gets off some shots. But the key thing is you catch them afterward," Matthews said. "Champions has good security. When stuff like this happens, you catch it on video tape and you catch the guy. It's just like if someone robs a bank and the bank robber is caught on tape and apprehended, it's not the bank's fault that it got robbed, but it's the bank's responsibility to catch the person on videotape. It's the same principle. Just because the city doesn't like this bar because it's a black bar doesn't mean it doesn't have good security."

Attorneys representing the city and Champions have already filed briefs in the liquor license dispute, and a judge is expected to rule one way or the other in January.

In a separate case, late last year Champions sued the city in federal court, alleging that police officials, motivated by a desire to drive "establishments which cater to the African American community" out of business, has been unlawfully harassing the bar and its ownership for years. Matthews said that lawsuit will remain "on hold" until the liquor license dispute is resolved.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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