A Minneapolis cop was executed 25 years ago

It was 25 years ago yesterday that an attempt to quell gang warfare in Minneapolis ended when a gang murdered a cop while he ate pizza during a break in his shift.

North of Lake Street was controlled by Hispanic gangs — the Sereno 13s and Vatos Locos.

African American gangs patrolled south of Lake — the Rolling 30’s Bloods, the Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords.

Jerry Haaf was shot in the back at the Pizza Shack by members of the Vice Lords, retaliation for an incident a day before in which police picked up a blind man who evaded bus fare. Gang members said police beat him.

The Vice Lords wanted to kill a cop. Any cop.

The killing destroyed an attempt by Minneapolis politicians and police to work with gang members in the wake of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. The coalition of gang members, United for Peace, organized under the auspices of The City Inc., and its leader, Spike Moss, died with Haaf and opened up a chasm within the city’s police department that remains to this day.

It also ended the career in Minneapolis of Dave Dobrotka, the city’s deputy police chief who advocated working with the gang group over the objection of many rank-and-file cops.

On its Facebook page today, the Minneapolis Police Department remembered Haaf:

Officer Jerome Haaf was shot and killed 25 years ago as he was sitting in the Pizza Shack on Lake Street at 17th Avenue eating lunch around 1:45 a.m. Two investigators had just left, and some uniformed officers were on their way to have lunch there, when two men walked in and shot Officer Haaf from behind several times. The suspects, Anwati McKenzie and Shannon Bowles, then fled. Haaf was able to radio for help as he lay on the restaurant floor. Gerald Lubarski, who was sitting with Haaf, was also wounded. Officer Haaf, who was not wearing a vest, died at 3:40 a.m. His shift was to have ended at 3:00 a.m.

It was later revealed that Officer Haaf was killed solely because he was a police officer. The suspects knew police frequented the Pizza Shack and went there with the intention to kill an officer any officer. The shooting was a result of growing tension between police and the street gang, the Vice Lords.
Both suspects were convicted and sentenced to life for Haaf’s murder. McKenzie is currently surviving his sentence at Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility and is eligible for parole in 2093. A.C. Ford and Monterey Willis were also sentenced to life for their part in planning the murder, driving the getaway cars and supplying the guns.

Officer Haaf was 53 years old. He had been an officer since April 23, 1962. He was the sixth officer to die in 20 years. He was survived by his wife, Marilyn, and three children. His funeral was held on Tuesday, September 29th, at St. Helena’s Catholic Church. Over 1,200 officers from around the state attended the funeral. Burial was in Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Shannon Bowles, the man who pulled the trigger, Mwati (Pepi) McKenzie, A.C.Ford Jr., who later changed his name to Adl El-Shabazz, and Montery Willis went to prison.

Their original target was a bus driver, according to testimony from Willis’ nephew.

“You all ready to do this? This is what we are going to do. We are going to walk up on the number five bus line and shoot the bus driver,” Willis quoted A.C. Ford Jr., as saying during the planning of the killing.

“No man, you must be crazy,” Monterey Willis replied.

“All right, then let’s do the Pizza Shack,” Ford replied.

Because of concerns for safety, a judge ordered an anonymous jury impaneled.

Another gang member, Sharif Willis, who was the high-profile centerpiece of The City, Inc.’s program, was never charged in the case although police thought he was in on its planning.

He was later convicted on drug and weapons charges and was given a 25-year-prison sentence.

He’s 66 now and has returned to Minneapolis.