Jerome Ruffin's Last Run

At 22, Jerome Maurice Ruffin had four children and no job, and the police were after him — again. Then a cop shot and killed him in an alley. Witnesses, family and friends want to know why. The cops aren't talking.

 "The primary responsibility of this Department and each of its members is to protect the lives of the citizens we are sworn to serve. It is also the duty of each member of the Department to honor the established principles of democracy upon which this country was founded. Among these is the most profound reverence for human life, the value of which far exceeds that of any property..... In recognition, therefore, of the commitment of this Department to the preservation of human life, and because of the public trust which empowers sworn police officers to lawfully exercise force, even deadly force when required, in carrying out that commitment, it is hereby declared to be the policy of this Department that; (1) the use of deadly force shall never be condoned as a routine response, and (2) police officers shall exercise the highest degree of care in the application of such force."
- St. Louis Police Department Manual

April 2 wasn't a good day for Jerome Maurice Ruffin.

He woke up that Good Friday and found that his car was gone. His apartment had been burglarized a few days before. He hadn't worked since July, when he was late for work one time too many and fired from his janitorial job at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. His unemployment had run out in December. His girlfriend, Nicole Phelps, was supporting Ruffin and their four children with a daycare job.

Of Jerome Ruffin, above, friend Marvis Joy says, "Anybody out here, he could beat their ass, but he chose not to.... He was a big dude, but he moved like he was little. He was a big, playful motherfucker."
Of Jerome Ruffin, above, friend Marvis Joy says, "Anybody out here, he could beat their ass, but he chose not to.... He was a big dude, but he moved like he was little. He was a big, playful motherfucker."

Phelps reported the car stolen. Then she went to the bank, returned home and gave Ruffin some money. Ruffin told her he'd found out who had broken into their home. While she walked with the couple's four kids to her mom's house on Flad Avenue, a few blocks away, he dressed and headed for the door.

"He said he would be on Shenandoah if I needed him," Phelps says.

Ruffin spent about four hours hanging out with friends on Shenandoah Avenue. It was warm, with temperatures rising into the 80s. Ruffin was a block from home with several friends, in front of 4059 Shenandoah, when a police car driven by Officer Brian Min approached about 4:30 p.m.

What happened next is the subject of two pending investigations — one by the police internal-affairs division and one by the FBI.

In a police report signed by Min and his partner, Angela Leong, both officers say they pulled over and got out of their car. The report doesn't indicate why, only that Min considered the house "a known drug house and trouble spot in his area."

The people on the porch started walking away. The officers spotted Ruffin with a 12-ounce bottle of Budweiser and told him he was under arrest for drinking in public. They ordered him to put the beer down and to put his hands behind his back.

Instead, Ruffin ran off between houses. While Min ran after Ruffin, Leong went back to the squad car to pursue on the streets.

Ruffin wasn't moving fast, according to a property manager who happened to be driving on Shenandoah when the chase began. The property manager, who asked that his name not be published, describes Ruffin's pace as a "half-jog."

"He looked at me and I kind of looked at him," the property manager says. "He was not running. He did not know he was being chased, or if he did, he thought it was a half-assed effort."

By the time Ruffin passed John Bader and his tenant Angelisa Howard about a block later, he was acting like a man who knew he was being chased. Bader was on a second-story balcony on Cleveland Avenue. He says Ruffin was really cooking as he climbed a gate and ran through a backyard. He says Ruffin didn't pause when Min yelled, "Stop!" Bader heard Ruffin yell, "Goddamn motherfuckers," and other obscenities as he passed below, then disappeared into an alley.

Through alleys, yards and gangways between houses, Min pursued Ruffin for two blocks. Curious onlookers, including the property manager, followed as best they could on streets and sidewalks. When the chase reached a 4-foot-wide gangway next to a house at 4030 Flad Ave., there was a shot. Seconds later, Ruffin came out of the gangway.

"I'll never forget," says the property manager, who was about four buildings away. "He looked one way, then he looked up the street the other way, then he took a real deep breath, and then he just collapsed."

The slug from Min's 9mm Beretta had gone through Ruffin's left forearm and into his abdomen, slightly to the left of center. The bullet traveled upward through the large intestine, liver and diaphragm before lodging in the right side of Ruffin's chest.

Phelps, who heard the gunshot from her mother's house on Flad, was there before the yellow tape went up. So were her children.

"I ran to him and I said, "What happened? What's wrong?'" Phelps says. "He said, "He shot me for no reason.' I said, "Who shot you?' He kind of rolled and pointed his hand toward Min and said, "He did.' I said to Min, "You mean you shot him in front of his kids?' 'cause at the time the kids were on my mother's front (porch)."

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