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.

Ruffin weighed 300 pounds, according to the pathologist who conducted the autopsy. Those who knew Ruffin say they were surprised he weighed that much — estimates by friends and relatives range from 240-275 pounds. Still, they doubt Min could have kicked away such a large man.

"If he kicked Man Man, it would have been like kicking a pole," Joy says. "He wouldn't have gone nowhere. There ain't no way in the world."

More than 500 people came to Ruffin's April 10 funeral, held in a chapel with room for only 300. Joy went outside after the service started. He couldn't stand the crowd. And the man lying in the casket looked nothing like his friend — his head was swollen, and there was a cut on his forehead. Rothman believes Ruffin suffered the wounds when he fell after being shot.

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."

Joy still wonders what happened in that gangway.

"That's the only thing that kills me, not knowing exactly what happened," Joy says.

The Rev. Brown, who presided over the funeral, thinks something is amiss, partly because of the head wounds, partly because the case remains under investigation. "I think there was some foul play involved," Brown says. "I feel the investigation wouldn't take this long had there not been some foul play involved. It seems, more often than not, that young black males are an endangered species. He wasn't involved with anything per se to precipitate this incident. It was like drive-by harassment from police."

Unlike other recent cases in which St. Louis police officers have shot or beaten black suspects, Ruffin's death has not garnered much media attention. Garland Carter, who died after being shot in the back in 1996, was in the headlines for several months. So was Gregory Bell, a developmentally disabled man beaten by officers in 1997 after they mistook him for a burglar in his own home. Julius Thurman, a suspected burglar who died as a result of a blow to the head after police caught him on the roof of a pawnshop three weeks after Ruffin died, remains a high-profile case. Officer Robert Dodson has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Thurman, whose family is represented by Rothman.

Joy and others who knew Ruffin say he wouldn't have fought a police officer. And if he had, Min's injuries would have been a lot more serious, they say.

Above all, no one can understand why something so small turned into something so big.

"They shot him for drinking a beer," Phelps says.

Staples, the lawyer representing Ruffin's mother, says that nothing about the circumstances justified Min's drawing his pistol to make an illegal-drinking bust. That Ruffin would have started the fight doesn't make sense, either, he says.

"If you look at Ruffin's history, he has no history of violence whatsoever against anybody — citizen, police officer, whatever," Staples says. "So why now? What would be the motivation to cause him to either fear for his life and try to take the weapon or decide to become a murderer and kill a police officer?"

Ruffin's belief that he was a target of police harassment may have swayed his thinking against Min, Staples allows, but that doesn't matter. "It might bear into his state of mind, but I'm going to follow what eyewitnesses have told me," Staples says.

Police still haven't reached an official conclusion.

Homicide detectives completed their investigation on May 3 and forwarded their reports to the internal-affairs division, standard procedure with any officer-involved shooting. Standard procedure in such cases also mandates not talking to the press at all until a conclusion has been reached. Min did not return telephone messages left for him with the police department.

It's difficult to check claims that Ruffin was harassed by the police in the months preceding his death. The police department declined to release police reports about any of Ruffin's latest encounters with the law, saying the documents are part of the internal affairs investigation. Police officials gave Rothman a copy of a summary homicide report in June but have since said they released the report in error, given that the matter remains under investigation by internal affairs.

Rothman, who provided a copy of the homicide report to The Riverfront Times, scoffs. He says he believes the investigation was essentially over until a few weeks ago, when he called the FBI. Now that the feds have opened a file, the heat is on the cops to make their investigation look good, he says.

The FBI won't release details of its investigation. John Gulley, FBI spokes-man, says the agency typically monitors local investigations. If needed, the FBI generally makes additional inquiries at the conclusion of the local investigation, he says. In all cases, the agency forwards a report to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., to determine whether any federal laws, such as civil-rights protections, have been broken.

Joyce-Hayes says her office hasn't considered criminal charges against Min because police haven't forwarded any information.

The case will go from internal affairs to the Board of Police Commissioners and ultimately to Chief Ron Henderson, who is responsible for administering any discipline. At any point, the police say they could call in prosecutors.

« Previous Page
Next Page »