Hastings graduate dies in St. Paul shooting above W.A. Frost restaurant
A Hastings High School graduate, Chase Passauer, died in a shooting in St. Paul Thursday afternoon.
The shooting was reported just after 4 p.m. in the Dacotah Building, 370 Selby Ave. Officers found a man with gunshot wounds in a second-floor office and paramedics from the St. Paul Fire Department pronounced him dead. No one else was injured, according to Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman.
Ryan David Petersen, 37, was booked into the Ramsey County jail on suspicion of murder at 12:35 a.m. Friday.
Passauer was a 23-year-old clerk in the North Star Criminal Defense law firm housed in the Dacotah Building. Passauer lived in Minneapolis.
An attorney with the firm, Daniel Adkins, had just begun representing Petersen in a Washington County case in which Petersen was accused of punching a Woodbury police officer who was arresting him for DWI in November.
Passauer graduated from Hastings High School and got his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota in political science and philosophy.
He was planning to be a lawyer and wanted to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, according to Passauer’s father, Christopher.
“Just a good kid, a great kid,” Christopher Passauer said.
According to Chase Passauer’s Linkedin page, his work with North Star Criminal Defense involved researching legal issues and drafting correspondence, memoranda, motions and other trial documents.
“I am in charge of scheduling for all attorneys and maintaining positive relationships with our clientele,” Passauer wrote in his Linkedin page.
Court documents show that Adkins took over Petersen’s case on March 30, replacing attorney Anthony Bussa.
Adkins could not be reached for comment Friday.
But the North Star Criminal Defense firm issued a statement Friday saying, “It is impossible to fathom or understand what happened yesterday at our office. We are working through this difficult time as best as we can. But we are grieving the loss of an incredible young man with such a bright and promising future. He wasn’t just our employee. He was our friend. Our brother. He will be missed, but never forgotten.”
Bussa, a Minneapolis lawyer who previously represented Petersen, said the shooting has shocked Twin Cities criminal defense attorneys.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Bussa said. “I never saw this coming in a million years.”
Bussa said he had an amicable relationship with Petersen.
“He never was aggressive with me,” he said. “He was very respectful with me. He was never threatening.”
But he said Petersen “kind of just changed in his tone and his attitude,” and decided to switch attorneys.
Bussa said based on his criminal history, Petersen was facing a potential prison sentence for the police officer assault charge. Bussa said Petersen had started a business in St. Paul’s East Side, and was concerned how a conviction might affect him.
“He was just a client that really wanted answers readily,” Bussa said.
Petersen was arrested early Friday morning after leading police on a chase from Chisago County to Washington County.
St. Paul police said their investigation is ongoing. A spokesman for the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office said charges may be filed later Friday against Petersen.
The sheriff’s office said they received information Thursday that the suspect, identified as Petersen, was possibly in the Chisago County area. A deputy found Petersen’s vehicle traveling near Shafer, Minn., at 9:10 p.m.
As additional deputies responded, they tried to stop the vehicle on Minnesota 95 near 220th Street North in Washington County, the sheriff’s office said.
The driver, later identified as Petersen, didn’t stop.
Chisago County deputies pursued the vehicle south on State Highway 95 for about 11 miles until the Washington County sheriff’s office, Stillwater police and Minnesota State Patrol took over the pursuit, according to the Chisago County sheriff’s office.
The vehicle was eventually stopped near Stillwater and Petersen taken into custody without incident.
Petersen has spent time in prison and currently is on probation for a 2010 conviction of aiding and abetting third-degree drugs sale, according to state records.
He was convicted in 1999 of drive-by shooting and second-degree assault in Washington County, court records show.
Petersen’s criminal history also includes a 2009 conviction for fleeing police in a motor vehicle, first-degree criminal damage to property with a foreseeable risk of bodily harm in 2005, and carrying a pistol without a permit in 1997.
Petersen is also facing charges in another Washington County DWI case in which he was being represented by Adkins.
The ground floor of the building houses W.A. Frost, a fixture in the St. Paul restaurant scene, and the Paper Patisserie stationery store. Above that are two floors of offices including an insurance agency, law offices and others.
Maria Fisher said she was attending an open house in a second-floor office at the time of the incident.
Fisher said she wasn’t aware anything happened until police arrived and locked down the room. She and about 15 other people at the event were told to remain in the room until police escorted them out of the building five or 10 minutes later. On the way out she saw broken glass at what she believed was a law office.
Police interviewed occupants of the building before escorting them outside the cordon line. Police canine teams and officers armed with long guns were seen entering the building shortly after 5 p.m.
Police are asking anyone with information about the case to call 651-266-5650.
“We’re looking for anybody that might have been in the area and saw something that seemed out of place,” Ernster said. “We need those people to call us and let us know what they saw. Even though it might be small, it could be the missing link that we’re looking for.”
Passauer grew up in Hastings and was a baseball player, according to his father. He was also a senior umpire with Northstar Umpires, where he was in charge of the association’s financial records and mentoring other umpires.
At the University of Minnesota, he spent 11 months volunteering with FairVote MN, talking to classrooms and making cold calls on behalf of ranked-choice voting efforts throughout the the state.
Mike Griffin, Passauer’s former supervisor at FairVote MN, learned about his death Friday while switching planes in Denver and broke into tears in the airport.
“It’s one of the saddest days of my life. I can’t believe this has happened,” said Griffin, who recalled helping to choose Passauer to be his undergraduate intern. Passauer’s truck frequently broke down, and Griffin became his willing chauffeur.
“He was a very bright, very energetic, intelligent young man. … It grew into a friendship,” Griffin said. “I drove him around a lot to the different DFL conventions, and the phone bank. We were just spreading the word about ranked choice voting.”
The two got together with other FairVote interns for beers two or three times a week and stayed in touch after Passauer graduated.
“I knew he wanted to be a lawyer,” Griffin said. “I can’t see why anyone would want to murder him. … I feel for him and his family. I can only imagine how his parents and family are feeling. It’s so sad.”
Attorney Chuck Ramsay said he did not know Passauer well, though he spoke with him on occasion when he called the law firm. Ramsay sits on the board of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, which operates a crisis hotline for attorneys suffering from depression or addiction-related issues.
“We are trying to get the word out to other lawyers, criminal defense attorneys, who are feeling the pressure, the anger, the fear related to this,” Ramsay said. “We all know this could happen to anyone of us (as a result of) a disgruntled client, maybe a victim of a case who is upset we got a client off. This affects the whole criminal defense community.”
North Star Criminal Defense describes itself as a “boutique law firm” with focus areas in criminal defense, family law and business litigation.
In its statement, the firm said, “We would like to thank those in the criminal bar and the bench. The outreach and want to help by our colleagues from both sides of the aisle is immense. We are incredibly appreciative of this and it has helped us forge on. Despite this grieving process, our clients should be assured that we remain focused on advancing their cases.”
Mara H. Gottfried and Frederick Melo contributed to this report. The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.