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.

Sep 15, 1999 at 4:00 am
"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.

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)."

Phelps recognized Leong, who regularly patrolled the neighborhood.

"I looked and saw Leong, and I said, "You're the same bitch that's been messing with him for the longest.' And she didn't even say anything. She just had a funny look on her face. To me, it was like she couldn't believe Min had just shot him or whatever."

Looking at his girlfriend, Ruffin said, "I love you, Nicole."

He died seven hours later. He was 22 years old.

Jerome Ruffin was always on the large side. He weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces when he was born in St. Louis on Oct. 29, 1976.

Ruffin's parents never married. Jerome was Monyuette Oats' only son. She raised him on welfare. Looking back, she sees herself as overly strict, the kind of mom who didn't hesitate to spank for a messy room or a wet bed. She called him "Man Man.'

"He was my only boy," Oats says. "I would hold his hand at the age of 14 going across the street. He would say, "Mom, don't do that.'"

He never was one for having his picture taken — his mother has only four photographs. He was shy. The Rev. Alfred Brown, a family friend, remembers him as something of a loner. His father, an Air Force man who moved to St. Louis permanently when his son was in high school, says he once worried that his son was introverted.

"He was the kind of person who liked to stay to himself," Jerome Ruffin Sr. says. "He had a quiet way about him."

His mother says she tried to get her son to talk about things that troubled him. She usually wasn't successful. "He would hold stuff in instead of bringing it out," Oats says. "Always, I would talk to him — "Stop holding it in, bring it out.' He was very independent."

For the most part, Jerome's father wasn't around while his son grew up. When he was about 7, Jerome spent a summer with his father in Joliet, Ill. "I came once a year to visit him, and he came up every spring break to visit me," the elder Ruffin says.

Friends and relatives say Ruffin wasn't a rebel. "He was a very obedient son," says Charmaine Frazier, a friend of Ruffin's mother. "When you saw him, he was sweet. He was,' Yes ma'am, no ma'am.' I've never heard him talk back to anyone. I've never heard him raise his voice to anyone."

His mother says her son was a good boy. "I'm not saying that because he's mine," Oats said. "Anybody that know him, he had respect for elders. He wouldn't let his friends curse in front of me. He never cursed in front of me at all, period. He was very respectful. He would say, "My mom is no joke.'"

Jerome's education began at the Head Start program at Marshall Elementary School when he was about 4 years old. He lived on the South Side with his mother until fifth grade, when she moved out of the city to St. Ann. Better schools. Less chance for trouble, she thought.

"I didn't want him to be around that neighborhood," she says. "I wanted him to go out to the county."

But Jerome was already knotted to a poor part of the South Side, where Iretha Pampkin, his paternal grandmother, lived in a house on Flad, just a few blocks east of Grand and two blocks from where he was shot. He spent weekends and summer vacations there, playing basketball, riding bicycles and occasionally taking a trip to the Art Museum with his grandmother and her five other grandchildren.

"He practically spent his life here," Pampkin says.

Pampkin didn't run an overly strict house. Jerome and her other five grandchildren were assigned chores — emptying the garbage, washing dishes, tending the yard. Jerome was pretty good about doing his, she recalls. Curfew came at 10:30 p.m. "I didn't let them run the streets," Pampkin says. "Sometimes he was in on time; sometimes I had to go out looking for him."

He wasn't a perfect child. One of his first run-ins with the law came when he was about 9. The police caught him and a younger cousin stealing hood ornaments from cars outside a church. No charges were pressed, but Pampkin wanted consequences. So she spoke with the pastor and arranged for Jerome and his cousin to mow the church lawn and clean the building for the remainder of the summer.

"They didn't like it, of course, but they did it," Pampkin says.

Any early enthusiasm for school had dulled by the time Ruffin reached Ritenour High School. His grades dropped. Ruffin's relatives hint at problems but say they can't recall specifics. Oats declined to make her son's school records available.

"He was OK in school," she recalls. "Everybody gets suspended every now and then."

Ruffin dropped out in the 11th grade. "He did well in school in the earlier years, and the later years he didn't do well," Pampkin says. "It wasn't that he didn't have the ability. He didn't discipline himself."

By the time Ruffin dropped out, his father, done with the Air Force, had returned to St. Louis and moved into his mother's house on Flad. Ruffin, who had been living with his mother in St. Ann, wanted to live closer to his friends and asked whether he could live with his father and grandmother. His mother didn't like the idea.

"First I told him no," Oats says. "But then I said, "I've raised you. You're 17 now. OK, you can go ahead.'"

Ruffin had plenty of friends in those blocks around his grandmother's house in the Shaw neighborhood, especially on Shenandoah. He also had plenty of trouble.

That may have been inevitable.

"If you're hanging out on Shenandoah, sooner or later you're going to get in trouble," says Larry Mays, a former resident of the neighborhood who knew Ruffin.

Shenandoah Avenue changes by the block. A stone's throw from neatly trimmed lawns and flowerbeds are glass-strewn sidewalks, littered yards and boarded-up windows. Ruffin chose the scruffy side.

Police are a frequent presence and are preparing to move into a new substation at Shenandoah and Thurman, less than a block from where Ruffin's friends still hang out. Ruffin's friends have no shortage of stories about being stopped, searched and sometimes beaten by cops. "For no reason" is almost a mantra.

Lola Turner, who lives on Shenandoah, also has problems with the police. "I don't really agree with the way police handle things around here," Turner says. "I think they're too quick to pull out a gun. That confrontation thing don't work."

Turner learned firsthand last year. She says she came out of her house and found her husband and another man face-down on the ground. An officer stood over the men, gun drawn and pointed. Her husband, a volunteer for a prison-ministry program, had been in front of a vacant house next door talking to the other man about religion when the police drove up, she says.

"He was on the sidewalk, sharing some Scripture and a book," Turner says. "I was thinking, if they shoot my husband, what am I going to do without my husband? I'm thinking, my husband's life is very valuable. It was crazy."

Turner says she was arrested after she strongly insisted that the police back off. Her court summons shows she was booked on suspicion of interfering with an arrest and trespassing — the cops said she set foot on the vacant property and the empty house had a "No Trespassing" sign on it. Her husband was also taken to jail on suspicion of trespassing.

"When we got to jail, they were so surprised we didn't have a record," Turner says.

The police left the husband's religious books on his porch. The couple's bawling children, who watched the officers arrest their parents, were taken to the police station because there was no one available to care for them.

The couple pleaded guilty. Turner says she planned on fighting the charges but decided against it when the judge made it clear the offenses wouldn't be taken seriously. There was no fine. The judge levied the minimum standard fees: $24 in court costs, $10 for the crime victims' fund, $2 for the city's domestic-violence fund and $2 for the police-training fund. All told, the bill came to $38.

"That was for both of us," Turner says.

The couple's children, now 4 and 8, are still scared of the police. Turner has little faith in the officers who patrol her neighborhood. She says the community needs to do a better job of teaching moral values to kids who hang out on Shenandoah but that the police need to change.

"I think first they need to get rid of their stereotypes and not be so arrogant," Turner says. "I respect the police. I know they have a hard job. I feel upset that we cannot work with our police here. As far as working with them, I can't work with people who can't admit when they're wrong. It seems like most African-Americans fit their criminal profiles. If they could get out of their police cars every now and then and talk to us and get to know the neighborhood and get to know who the troublemakers are, I think that would help a lot. It would be good for us, too. We would gain confidence in the police again."

Turner is well known in the neighborhood. She's the one who planted flowers in front of her house and the vacant one next door. She organized a cleanup program with neighborhood children, who pick up litter from the sidewalks and the planting strips once a week or so.

She has a drawing board in her yard, facing the sidewalk. The message changes every few days. Usually it's something from the Bible. A few weeks ago, she thought people were swearing too much on the street:


1. Respect God

2. Respect your neighbors

3. Respect the children

NEVER use profanity in the hearing of a child. Do the right things before them. They see what you do.

Underneath was a smiley face. Next door was the vacant house, covered with graffiti — some in gang code, some honoring Ruffin.

The house had no particular significance for Ruffin, say his friends on Shenandoah. It was the most convenient space they could find to memorialize him, they say.

Ruffin was a large kid who became a large man. As an adult, he stood 6 feet tall and weighed well over 200 pounds. He was strong but graceful, relying on finesse rather than brawn on the hoops court. His friends called him "Big Man Man.'

Folks who hang out on Shenandoah say Ruffin wasn't a fighter. He preferred to talk things out.

"Anybody out here, he could beat their ass, but he chose not to," says Marvis Joy, who considered himself Jerome's best friend. "He was a big dude, but he moved like he was little. He was a big, playful motherfucker."

Joy and Ruffin started hanging out together about five years ago, about the time Ruffin moved in with his grandmother and father. The two young men had known each other for years, but Ruffin was four years older than Joy, who had previously visited the house on Flad to visit Ruffin's younger cousins. The difference in their ages dissolved and they became friends after Ruffin's father began dating Joy's mother.

"We would be together every day," Joy recalls. "He was like my big brother. He was cool. We talked alike. We walked alike. We ate alike. When he stopped smoking, I'd stop smoking. When he switched to Black-and-Milds, I did, too."

The two would tease each other about the romance between their parents. Ruffin could get away with saying things about Joy's mom that would provoke a fight with anyone else. Ruffin loved to sing R&B-style songs, though everyone who knew him agrees he had a terrible voice. Joy never let him forget it.

"I was always jawing, "You can't sing a lick,'" Joy says. "He'd say, "So what? I ain't getting paid.' I'd say, "No way anyone would pay you.'"

Out of school with no diploma, Ruffin didn't know what he should do when he moved into his grandmother's house. His father says he made it clear that his son needed to work. "When he dropped out, I told him he was too old to do nothing," the senior Ruffin says. "I explained that the service would be a good place to start, get some direction and make some money at the same time. He didn't like the idea of the service. So I sold him and my nephew, who's about the same age, on going to Job Corps."

But Ruffin and his cousin left the program after a few months.

"They were saying there was too much gang activity," Pampkin says. "But I really think they didn't like the time they had to get up in the morning."

Ruffin would know a gang when he saw one. He was a gang member himself. Relatives aren't sure when he joined, and his friends won't say. But by the time he moved into the neighborhood full-time, he was wearing colors. He also had a Gangster Disciples tattoo on his right biceps. His street name was Dookie, a common Blood moniker that his friends say came from his two front teeth inlaid with gold — "dookie" was just another way of saying "two."

Ruffin's friends say a gang in their neighborhood is no big deal.

"It ain't nothing organized," Joy says. "You would see a tattoo or something. That's about it."

Ruffin's father also downplays the gang connection: "I find that 90 percent of the people now are gang-affiliated, one way or another. As long as he wasn't out robbing and stealing and shooting at people, I didn't care."

But his grandmother was concerned. When she asked about his tattoo, he wouldn't give a straight answer. "There were a lot of guys I'd rather he didn't associate with," Pampkin says. "You just know if you're around them, he's probably doing the same thing they are. I talked to him and I warned him, but I couldn't forbid him from seeing them."

Ruffin's mother worried to the point where she made unexpected visits to the neighborhood after her son moved out. If her son wasn't home when she thought he should be, she would page him and tell him to go to his grandma's house.

"I kept telling him, "I don't like you over there. I don't want you over there,'" Oats says. "There was a lot of little guys he used to hang out with, you know what I'm saying? I didn't like it. I couldn't stop that. I would ride over there and check up on him. I would come in a different car so they don't know I'm coming. I'd hop out of the car real fast and say, "What are you doing?' To be honest, I would check his pockets.

"He'd say, "Mom, I ain't doing nothing but standing out. I'm just sitting around.'"

But brushes with the law began soon after Ruffin moved out of his mother's house.

In 1994, Ruffin was arrested for cocaine possession at a house on Shenandoah known by the cops as a gathering point for drug users and dealers. He pleaded guilty and got two years' probation. Less than four months later, he was again charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana. The next year, he was arrested for marijuana possession.

Now he was facing serious punishment. When Ruffin pleaded guilty to new drug-possession charges in February 1996, his probation officer recommended that probation for the previous offense be revoked and that Ruffin be sent to boot camp. Ruffin was worried enough that he didn't show up for a probation hearing. The judge issued a warrant and set bond at $2,500. Ruffin was subsequently arrested in June 1996.

John Lambert, an uncle, bailed Ruffin out of jail. Lambert says he was sure he'd get his money back. And he didn't want his nephew to lose his job. Ruffin had just started working as a forklift operator for Borden Pasta. He had big hopes. After stints at Hardee's and two manufacturing plants, it seemed like a good job. He lost it after two months when he tested positive for marijuana.

"That's when he stopped smoking serious," recalls Joy.

With boot camp hanging over him, Ruffin went from driving a forklift to washing dishes, another two-month job that lasted until the judge extended his probation.

Ruffin stayed unemployed for three months, but he was under pressure to work. Gainful employment was a probation condition.

He also had a family to support.

Shortly after moving in with his father and grandmother, Ruffin fell in love with Phelps, a young woman two years older than himself who had grown up in the neighborhood. She liked his sense of humor. She also thought he would be good with kids. "One of our friends had a daughter, and he helped her out with her daughter, making sure she had Pampers and food, and it wasn't even his daughter," Phelps says.

On Feb. 27, 1996, Phelps gave birth to Jeronika. Ruffin was in the delivery room when his daughter was born. He was 19 and a father for the first time. "He cut the umbilical cord," Phelps says. "He wanted to keep it. I told him he could leave that at the hospital."

Ten months later, shortly after Ruffin's probation was extended, Phelps gave birth to identical twin boys. The next month, Ruffin started working at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, where he waxed floors and prepared rooms for new patients.

Ruffin didn't have a car, so his father gave him a ride to work each day, then picked him up at the hospital after finishing his own shift as a warehouseman for a pharmaceutical company. Eventually the senior Ruffin agreed to co-sign a loan so his son could get a 1989 Delta 88.

Ruffin's family says he was changing. Instead of hanging out on Shenandoah in gangster colors, Ruffin wore his work uniform when he spent time with his friends on front porches.

Once Ruffin got his car, he picked up his children at daycare each day after work. After alternating stays at their mothers' homes, he and Phelps moved into their own flat on Shenandoah in September 1997. They paid $500 a month for rent and utilities. They were on their own for the first time.

"It was fun," Phelps recalls with a smile.

Charmaine Frazier, who works at the daycare center where Ruffin's children went, says she was proud of him. "He was a very responsible young man," Frazier says. "Every time I saw him, he was with his children and his girlfriend. I never saw him with any other guys or hanging out on the corner or doing none of that. He was raising his kids, and he was doing the right thing."

Ruffin was a doting father. When he wasn't working, he took care of his kids while Nicole worked at a daycare center. He cut the children's hair himself and took them to Chuck E. Cheese's for birthdays.

But there was another side.

When Phelps got pregnant for a third time, Ruffin wasn't happy. He wasn't even 22, and already he was the father of three.

"He started having children too young," Pampkin says. "He felt trapped. He wanted out. When they got pregnant with the last one, he just about cracked up. He didn't say anything about the other three. The last pregnancy, he was really upset then. He wanted her to have an abortion. I'm terribly against abortion. I thought that was a really immature action. I told him to get a vasectomy."

When his fourth child, Tyrone, was born on Dec. 27 last year, Ruffin was out of a job. The hospital had fired him the previous summer for being late.

Once he was a father, Ruffin realized he'd made some mistakes in life. He told Joy he regretted leaving school. Joy says Ruffin had left the classroom thinking he could make a living on the street.

"He was mad he dropped out," Joy says. "He was making money — he was probably selling weed. He said, "Money messed me up. I could have stayed in school and got me a good job.'"

Ruffin's friends on Shenandoah say Ruffin saw beyond the neighborhood.

He dreamed about owning a four-family flat, one where his family could live and he could make money by renting out the other three apartments. He talked about learning how to operate heavy equipment and getting a job in the construction industry. Maybe he could open his own car wash some day.

Instead, he got in more trouble.

After the judge decided against boot camp in September 1997, Ruffin avoided serious legal scrapes until his extended probation ended in February 1998. He stayed out of trouble for nearly a year after that. It didn't last.

In January, the police served a search warrant at his flat on Shenandoah.

An informant had told a detective that Ruffin had stolen goods — including a television, a telephone and a stereo — in the house. The informant also said Ruffin had traded drugs for guns. In an affidavit used to obtain the search warrant, Detective Darrell Holmes says he conducted surveillance at the flat and saw frequent visitors, which led him to conclude that Ruffin was selling drugs.

Police seized stereo equipment, a video-game system, two televisions, $275, marijuana, a scale and guns, including a 12-gauge shotgun and a .357 magnum handgun.

Police arrested Ruffin, who had told his girlfriend that he bought the electronic gear on the street. Felony criminal proceedings against Ruffin filed since January have been sealed. The case was a grand-jury matter and prosecutors had made a criminal complaint, but no indictment was filed. The case was pending when Ruffin died.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Dee Joyce-Hayes says her office was preparing a drug case against Ruffin in connection with the raid.

Ruffin's girlfriend and grandmother say police tried to get Ruffin to talk about a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood. Ruffin's grandmother says she told him to keep quiet.

"The police said they knew he didn't take anything but he knew who did," Pampkin says. "If he told, all charges would be dropped. I told him it was not his job to give them information. It's their job to find it. I didn't think he should stick his neck out."

It's unclear whether Ruffin followed his grandma's advice. Regardless, Joy was charged last spring with second-degree burglary in connection with a Dec. 22 break-in in the neighborhood.

Police arrested Ruffin again in March after he ran when officers tried to arrest him for marijuana possession. He was charged with resisting arrest and possession, both misdemeanors.

Those close to Ruffin weren't surprised when he ran. He'd done it before.

Ruffin took off through a gangway in 1995 when police tried to stop him after interrupting a dice game on Shenandoah. The officer who arrested him didn't say how he stopped Ruffin but didn't note any problems in a police report. Ruffin was charged with marijuana possession — police said he had a joint tucked behind his ear.

"He told me, he told everyone: "If they try to arrest me, I'll run,'" Joy says. "He said, "If they try to beat my ass, I'll defend myself.'"

Police impounded Ruffin's car last March after he ran. His grandmother gave him a ride to the police station to get it back. On the way, they had a long talk, serious enough that they lingered in her car and finished after arriving at the Third District station.

"He was very depressed," Pampkin recalls. "He was saying he would be better off dead. I told him, no, he wasn't really for that. I was really praying he wouldn't commit suicide. He was having trouble with his car. He was having a lot of problems, and he was giving up on life. He said, "Most of us' — and I didn't ask him who "us' was — "think this is hell right here.' I said, "If you die without the Lord and go to hell, it will get much worse.'"

Pampkin, a religious woman, had always had trouble with Ruffin when it came to church. "He just had that atheist mentality," she recalls. "He told me once, "I don't believe anything I can't see.'"

On the way to the police station, Ruffin was different.

"This day, we had a talk about the Lord, and he accepted some of the things I was saying," Pampkin says. "It made me feel good after we talked."

Then they went inside, where police arrested Ruffin.

"One of the policemen said he belonged to a gang," Pampkin says. "He (Ruffin) said, "They're talking about when I was a teenager. I'm too old for that.'"

Ruffin didn't stay in jail for long. He was released on personal recognizance on March 9, three days after a judge issued an arrest warrant. Once Ruffin got out, he said he wouldn't go back. He thought the police had it in for him.

"He said, "Mom, I'm tired of them harassing me,'" Oats says. ""Before I go to jail, Mom, I would rather die. I'm tired of them messing with me.' I said, "Son, you have to move from over there, OK? You have to leave.' He said he wasn't going to let them run him off."

Pampkin sensed a change in her grandson after his last stint in jail.

"There was a quietness in his spirit that had not been there," she says. "I commented on it. He smiled. I thought that what we had talked about was beginning to sink in."

Ruffin promised to accompany his grandmother to church on Easter. He never made the trip.

No one except Officer Min knows what happened in that gangway two days before Easter. But there are plenty of opinions.

Ald. Stephen Conway (D-8th), who represents the area, says the shooting was a tragedy, but he's satisfied with the police explanations he's heard so far. He's withholding final judgment until the investigation is complete.

"I'm very comfortable with the police department," says Conway, who grew up in the neighborhood and lives three blocks north of Shenandoah. "As long as (Min) was within his procedures and felt it was necessary for his own safety and the safety of others, it was bona fide. I will await the final report before I come to any conclusion that the police did everything properly."

Others say they doubt Ruffin deserved to die.

"When I speak to white people about it, they say this was a really bad guy and he needed to get shot," Turner says. "But black people think another one of our young people has been shot needlessly. I think that."

So does the property manager, a white man who lives in Frontenac, one of the most affluent areas in the metropolitan area.

"There's no doubt in my mind — I'd bet my house on it — that if that cop had been black, that guy wouldn't have been shot," the manager says. "Or, if that guy hadn't been black, he wouldn't have been shot. There's just no way. For the crime of drinking in the street, you don't shoot people."

The property manager has given a sworn affidavit to Ron Rothman, a lawyer who represents Ruffin's children. Rothman provided a copy to The Riverfront Times.

Rothman says the property manager's account raises serious questions about Min's explanation of the shooting.

Min told detectives he never drew his gun. Rather, he says, Ruffin turned on him in the gangway and tried to grab his holstered pistol. A struggle began and the gun fell to the ground, Min says. With both men trying for the gun, Min says, he kicked Ruffin away while grabbing the weapon. When Ruffin lunged at him, Min says he fired. Then Ruffin turned around, made his way out of the gangway and collapsed.

Min's most serious injuries were cuts on the knuckles of both hands.

The property manager, who saw the first part of the chase, swears Min had his gun out long before he reached the gangway. "When I looked past him (Ruffin) back to the street and saw the cop running faster with a gun in his hand, that's when I took note of the whole situation," the property manager says. "When he had the gun in his hand, that's what made me take note."

Four other civilian witnesses also told police investigators that Min had his gun drawn as he chased Ruffin. Bader and Howard, who watched the chase go by from a second-story balcony, are the only witnesses who told homicide detectives that the gun was in a holster.

Time estimates by the property manager also are at odds with the officer's account. After the gunshot, the manager says neither Ruffin nor Min immediately came out of the gangway. "There was a few seconds, meaning 10 or 20 or 30 seconds, between the shot and the time Mr. Ruffin came out," the property manager says. "And then again, there was that same lapse in time before the officer came out."

The property manager, who had a chance to watch Min for several minutes after the shooting, says the officer didn't look like he'd been in a fight. He said Min's clothes weren't rumpled, and his shirt was tucked in. "He was visibly shaken," the property manager said. "If you've ever seen a little kid who's been in a car wreck, that's what this guy looked like. I don't believe he knew all of a sudden what he was in."

Given the condition of Min's clothing and the length of time it took him to emerge from the gangway after the shot, Charles Staples, Oats' attorney, says he thinks the officer fired from the gangway after Ruffin had already left it. He plans a civil lawsuit. Blood droplets found in the gangway seem to place Ruffin between houses when he was shot, but Staples dismisses the blood evidence.

"The presence of blood drops only proves that blood was deposited by some mechanism at that location," Staples says.

Rothman, who also is planning a lawsuit on behalf of Ruffin's four children, disagrees and says Ruffin was in the gangway. He believes Min hadn't yet entered the gangway when he fired. He thinks Min's hands were injured when he fell down during the chase.

"He got up, got pissed, yelled at him and shot him," Rothman says. "That's my hypothesis. The physical evidence will have to speak for itself."

So far, Rothman hasn't found any eyewitnesses to prove him right. Detectives never found a shell casing, which might have helped pinpoint Min's position when his gun discharged. They also didn't find the beer bottle. Police said they did find two chunks of what they suspected to be crack under Ruffin's body.

Then there is the lack of stippling.

Stippling occurs when gunpowder from a close-range shot embeds itself in the skin. Forensics experts expect stippling when a gun barrel is 18-24 inches from the target. Ruffin had none, even though Min says he shot Ruffin while Ruffin was lunging at him during a struggle for the gun.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, more than five months after the shooting, Min remains on administrative assignment.

Rothman likes his chances in civil court.

"I've got a 22-year-old father who's dead for drinking a beer," he says. "I've got a white businessman who says the police officer is lying about 50 percent of what occurred.

"Why should we believe the officer for the back half?"