Shooter claims self-defense
While much of the country is still up in arms about the apparent racially motivated killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Twin Cities social media was abuzz with speculation about whether the local killing of a Black man by a White man claiming he’d felt threatened was also motivated by race.
In the late evening of May 1st, Douglas Lewis was shot four times and killed by Watertown resident Anthony Trifiletti after a minor traffic accident. Trifiletti was licensed to carry a firearm. He told authorities that he shot Lewis—who was unarmed—because he feared for his life.
Douglas, 39, is Black; Trifiletti, 25, is White. The Ramsey County prosecutors’ office charged the shooter with second degree murder.
“As soon as a White man says he was afraid for his life, I always know they are racist. He killed my brother in cold blood,” said Valerie Lewis, Doug Lewis’s sister. According to his sister, Doug came to Minnesota in 2003. “He was living a pretty rough life back home in Chicago. He was ready to change.
“He came to Minnesota so he could experience some peace in his life, because he was tired of all the violence in Chicago,” Valerie Lewis said of her brother. On the day he was shot he had visited his sister and barbequed for both families and had left to retrieve his car. Lewis was a delivery driver for Amazon and DoorDash.
“He was so sweet, so nice, so loving. He was charming, helpful, and a caring and loving father,” said girlfriend Christine Hicks of Lewis, who was father to her four children. “He was a hard-working man. He always tried to do what he thought was best. And he was doing everything right.”
Trifiletti and Lewis were involved in an auto accident that occurred on Burns Road near Highway 61 in St. Paul. Lewis was driving a silver Ford auto and Trifiletti a red pickup truck. Apparently Lewis’ car bumped Trifiletti’s truck from behind.
The two pulled over to exchange insurance info when an argument ensued, during which time Trifiletti said that he and a friend on the scene heard Lewis say, “I’m GD,” an apparent gang reference. None of the witnesses at the scene confirmed hearing Lewis make that claim. After the exchange, both men got in their cars and left.
“I don’t see a legal excuse for it. If the system works, he shouldn’t succeed if that’s his defense.
In his statement to police, the shooter claimed that after driving away he “unintentionally” followed Lewis. Lewis pulled over and Trifiletti pulled over behind him. When Lewis got out of his car, presumably to ask why Trifiletti was following him, the shooter claimed he saw Lewis reaching under his shirt.
At that point, according to Trifiletti’s statement, he shot Lewis, who he said was about 10 feet away. Lewis subsequently died from his wounds at Regions Hospital later that evening. The shooter told police that he “thought he was going to die and was afraid for his life.”
That statement is a familiar refrain, as it is frequently used by police in the U.S. to justify shooting and sometimes killing people.
Upon taking the shooter’s statement, police asked him if he thought the killing could have been avoided. He told police he “didn’t think that was an option.”
“Why wouldn’t it have been an option?” asked Minneapolis attorney Jordan Kushner. “I don’t see a legal excuse for it. I can’t say what’s going to happen, but I don’t see a legitimate defense from what I have read about it. If the system works, he shouldn’t succeed if that’s his defense.”
Minnesota laws governing self-defense claims are fairly stringent and straightforward. In order to claim self-defense legally, a person is obligated to retreat from danger unless it is impossible to do so. They have to be in legitimate fear of death or great bodily harm, and their extreme reaction has to be justified as the only choice left to them.
There is no “stand your ground” law in Minnesota.
Trifiletti initially left the scene of the shooting but came back after consulting with his father over the phone, who suggested that he turn himself in to police. He was subsequently charged with second degree murder, his bail initially set at a million dollars.
In Trifiletti’s first appearance before the court May 8, his bail was reduced to $500,000 with the stipulation that he wear an electronic monitor, hand over his firearms, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and volunteer for a chemical health evaluation. Many of Lewis’ family and friends, including his girlfriend, were present at the hearing.
Trifiletti’s attorney told the court that his client was not wealthy, could not afford bail, and was not a threat to society or a risk to run. However, the shooter has had previous offenses, including a DWI, and he was involved in a traffic accident that caused the death of another motorist.
Karen Malave, whose son Ricardo Torres was killed in a motorcycle crash with Trifiletti about a year ago, was in court showing support for the Lewis family. She told the Star Tribune that she felt bad that another family is going through what hers did.
“If the weapon is the color of our skin, then we will always be looked at as armed,” said Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church. “We are not free to just be.”
A vigil was held for the father of four two weekends ago near the scene of the shooting. Over 50 people attended to honor his memory and express their condolences and grief.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.