A bizarre, tragic shooting last August 8 at Champions Bar resulted in a 15-year sentence for Ron Powell, who smuggled a gun into the now-closed bar via his prosthetic leg.
Powell, a 43-year-old Minneapolis resident, was hanging out at the former Lake Street dive when another man started punching him. He fired at his assailant, injuring him, but one of his shots hit innocent bystander Mark Stephenson, 51, who later died from his injuries.
Yesterday, Powell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. In exchange, two lesser charges -- second-degree assault and felon in possession of a firearm -- were dropped.
Under questioning by prosecutors, Powell, who was arrested in a October in the parking lot of a Fargo Walmart after he allegedly stole a hair clipper from the store, acknowledged that opening fire wasn't a "reasonable response" to being attacked.
In court, Stephenson's family expressed dismay about a sentence they believe is too light. That prompted Hennepin County District Court Judge Martha Holton Dimick to extend "her condolences to the family... and [acknowledged] there was no way she could explain to the family's satisfaction that 'there are certain rules the system has to follow,'" according to information provided by county authorities.
Shortly after Powell's arrest, Ed Matthews, an attorney representing Champions, told us there was little the bar could do to prevent the shooting.
"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."
"Champions has good security. When stuff like this happens, you catch it on video tape and you catch the guy," Matthews continued. "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."
Matthews's last remark alludes to an allegation at the core of a federal lawsuit Champions filed against the city of Minneapolis in late 2012. The bar alleged MPD officials, motivated by a desire to drive "establishments which cater to the African American community" out of business, had been unlawfully harassing the bar and its ownership for years.
Matthews didn't immediately return an email seeking an update on that case.