Dozens pack Minneapolis community center to share transit safety concerns

Dozens of community members raised concerns about safety on Metro Transit buses and trains at a public listening session on Tuesday.

Ward 9 City Council Member Jason Chavez organized the meeting, which focused on three locations: Interstate 35W and Lake Street Station, Chicago-Lake Transit Center and Lake Street Midtown Station.

“My office has received multiple concerns of livability, safety and support for unhoused neighbors that need a lot of help right now in terms of finding stability,” Chavez said. “We’re here to listen, to learn.”

He joined Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura, Minneapolis School Board Member Collin Beachy, Trans Equity Council Representative Naomi Badboy, Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III and several Metro Transit representatives at the Corcoran Park Recreation Center to hear from the public.

“I know that they have concerns, and they should, rightfully so,” Morales said.

About two dozen people spoke. Several described a growing drug problem on light rail trains and stations.

“That unidentified smell — those are opioids that’s being smoked, that’s fentanyl,” said Muhammad Abdul-Ahad, the executive director of T.O.U.C.H Outreach, a violence interruption group. “The last past four months, my team has responded to over 30 overdoses. Seven of them didn’t have a pulse. We brought all seven back due to the Narcan training that we all had.”

Other public safety concerns were raised as well. Last month, a transgender woman suffered a serious head injury when she was assaulted at the Lake Street Midtown Station.

“That’s where we have been focusing most of our activity in the last couple of days,” Morales said.

Community members gather at a meeting to discuss safety issues at Metro Transit stations Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at Corcoran Park Recreation Center in Minneapolis. (KSTP)

The Metropolitan Council approved a two-year, $6 million contract with a private security team to provide unarmed personnel at six stations, including the Lake Street Midtown Station.

Chief Morales views the measure as a stopgap to address an immediate need while his department faces an officer shortage.

“We think right now we have to address the public’s concerns. We have to get control of the situation,” said Morales. “We are underfunded and resourced in terms of manpower. What we want to do is supplement that with security because they’re available right now.”

Metro Transit Police have 108 full-time officers, plus another five that started training this week. There are 171 budgeted positions, which means they’re more than 60 officers short.

“We need law enforcement on every level to do their job,” Morales said, shifting focus to the court system. “When we make arrests — while I don’t want to criminalize addiction, what I would hope is that we can get them in a place where they can get long-term help and resolve this issue.”

Some community members called for more services for those struggling with substance use disorder, along with housing for those who use public transit as shelter.

“There’s housing that we need to do,” Chavez said. “Housing is one of the reasons there’s problems right now. There’s ways to create overdose prevention sites. Right now people are doing it on the trains, the stations because there’s nowhere to do it. Why don’t we create overdose [prevention] sites in Minneapolis so people can do it safely?”

The Ward 9 council member hopes stakeholders can meet again in about two weeks to develop a plan based on the community’s feedback.

Former equity director blames Minneapolis leaders for ‘failed’ Black business expo, alleges ‘toxic’ work culture

In a newly obtained letter penned days before her departure, the former city department head who planned the Minneapolis Black business expo blamed other city leadership for low turnout at the February event and threatened to sue City Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw “for defamation of character.”

Tyeastia Green, in her 14-page memo addressed to the city’s operations director and mayor, claimed her fellow city leaders stacked the odds against her success. Green alleged City Hall to be a “toxic work environment” that promotes anti-Black racism, a claim the city disputed in response to questions Tuesday.

Meanwhile, some Minneapolis small business owners — whom the “I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams” expo was meant to uplift — want an apology and their money back.

In the first paragraph of the memo dated March 6, Green stated plans to sue Vetaw “and any of her accomplices on and off the council,” claiming pages later that Vetaw “made it her mission to defame [Green’s] character” by supposedly “spreading rumors” about the “lack of work coming from [the] Race & Equity [Department],” which Green was the Director of until March 13.

“I was shocked,” Vetaw said in an interview Tuesday about her reaction to the threat of a lawsuit against her. “I had done everything within my power in that last week to make the event a success, even going myself.”

Asked if there is any truth to the claims, the council member said, “None of it, absolutely none of it.”

As of Tuesday, two weeks after the date stamped on Green’s memo, Vetaw said she hasn’t been served with a lawsuit.

Vetaw was a part of a unanimous vote by the council to double funding to nearly $1 million for the inaugural expo following a request from Green a week before it was scheduled.

“Did I think the expo should be postponed? Absolutely, when I found out some of the things that were going on behind the scenes,” Vetaw added.

In the end, it kept its place on the calendar, and local Black businesses set up, expecting upwards of 20,000 people to flow through the Minneapolis Convention Center. In reality, the estimated attendance by vendors and sources inside City Hall is closer to a couple hundred.

“I saw more vendors there than I saw, you know, participants coming in,” Vetaw remembered.

“I showed up at this event for it to be a complete fail,” added vendor and north Minneapolis small business owner Markella Smith.

In her letter, Green turned the blame on city communications for the lack of marketing and city operations for “purposefully misguiding her” in the vendor contracting process.

In a statement, a city communications representative said the department did its part, including promoting the expo in a news release, two live TV interviews — including on 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS — city newsletters, and social media.

A spokesperson from Mayor Jacob Frey’s office said the city “disagrees with [Green’s] characterization of the events” throughout the memo.

“Councilwoman Vetaw, she literally has apologized over and over and over again,” Smith said Tuesday.

City officials, including Vetaw, met with vendors Monday evening at Smith’s business, The Dream Shop.

“But what I want is a public apology,” Smith said.

She’s also requested monetary reparations for herself and on behalf of all local vendors who lost money.

Asked if she’s asking for the $2,000 she said she lost from participating in the expo, Smith said, “At the very bare minimum.”

“I say that because yes, that was money that I put in, and that’s time, and that’s covering staff and all of the things,” she said. “But also, what about the money that we could have made that we didn’t, right? So it’s bigger than $2,000.”

“We, at the end of the day, deserve that. Like, this was a complete disaster,” Smith concluded.

Green didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday and last week.

Mayor Frey’s office responded to her claims of racism at the city and other questions from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS REPORTERS in the statement below:

REPORTER: How does the mayor’s office respond to Green’s claim that Minneapolis “doesn’t even make the list to be considered doing the work of anti-racism”?

The City disagrees with the characterization of the events outlined in the memo. There were many City staff working tirelessly to make this Expo event a success, and it’s disappointing to see them publicly criticized for the hard work they do on behalf of the city and its residents. 

The City is deeply aware of the toll structural racism takes on our residents, businesses and workforce. The mayor and city council took a step to advance racial equity during the 2022 budget cycle by elevating the former division into the Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (REIB) department. In doing so, the City enhanced the influence and stature of this work in the City enterprise. The City backed up its creation of the department by investing nearly $800,000 more for the 2023 budget than the year prior and increasing staffing capacity.  

Over the last several years, City leadership has also worked to build a more inclusive workplace and embed equity in policy and practice. Just this year, the mayor allocated significant funding to develop anti-racist training curricula and the City has already partnered with third-party experts to deliver anti-racist training sessions to City leadership. In the last year, the City has also reformed its procurement processes to prioritize local vendors within the Target Market Program. We have taken – and will continue taking – concrete steps to support the Black community, especially when planning large-scale community events.   

We are committed to the success of the REIB department. We will publicly post for a new director soon and will support the REIB staff through this transition phase.   

REPORTER: Where did the additional $435K approved by council a week before the event go? 

After learning that additional funds were needed to ensure the Expo took place, the City Council took action on February 17 to allocate $435,000 to support the event. The total amount budgeted for the Expo, outside the action taken on Feb. 17, is still being accessed by the City. The City is still calculating and paying invoices.

REPORTER: The mayor’s chief of staff is pictured at a meeting with expo vendors yesterday. Did the office apologize? And for what specifically? 

City leaders met yesterday with local Black business owners on the Northside who expressed frustration surrounding the City’s approach to contracts and vendors for the recent Expo. City staff apologized that the City did not better engage with Black community members and business leaders ahead of this event.  

The City’s Target Market Program prioritizes historically underutilized small businesses in procurement and contracting policies with the City. We are collectively committed to strengthening partnerships with local, minority-owned small businesses for all events in the future.  

REPORTER: Does the mayor’s office/the city have any intention to repay the vendors who lost money from participating in the event in any way?

The City is exploring legal options.

REPORTER: Does the city plan to try the event again next year?  

Every February the City sponsors and produces a number of events celebrating Black History Month and Minneapolis’ Black community. City leadership has already begun discussing plans for 2024 and has met with representatives from the Minneapolis Black Employee Network (MBEN) to collect feedback on this February’s event.  

The City is looking forward to reviewing the results of the audit, and has not yet made a determination on hosting such an event next year. 

Read Green’s full memo below:

Brooklyn Center Walmart permanently closing April 21

Residents of Brooklyn Center will soon have one fewer place to shop.

Store officials confirmed to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the Walmart on Shingle Creek Crossing will close its doors for good next month, affecting 387 workers.

According to a spokesperson, the location will close by April 21, with the pharmacy scheduled to close right on April 21.

The company says the decision was made after a “thorough review process” because the store hasn’t reached financial expectations.

But for frequent shoppers, the closure comes as a surprise.

“I don’t understand why they’re doing it. Anybody know why?” asked Shirley Anderson, who says she’s been shopping at the store since it opened in 2012. “As much as people shop here? It’s really crowded shopping here. I don’t understand that.”

Shoppers who spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS say they’re worried about where to buy food now.

Quneshia Brewer, a Brooklyn Center resident, said the Walmart is her primary place for grocery shopping.

“I guess I’ve got to find another Walmart to go to,” she said.

A nearby Target store closed its doors for good in 2019 and is still sitting empty. With the Walmart coming next, the phrase “food desert” comes to mind for some.

“Like if you live across the street, half the places are closing,” Brewer says. “Like we aren’t really having food restaurants, so I can agree with that.”

Brooklyn Center city officials say they learned about the closure Tuesday morning.

“This is devastating and a major economic loss to our region because Walmart has served the Brooklyn Center community since 2012,” said Dr. Reginald Edwards, Brooklyn Center’s city manager. “Our residents have relied on the convenience of the location. … We are committed to rebounding and building a stronger local economy.”

The city calls the Walmart an “anchor store” for about 30 smaller shops and restaurants and serves more than 34,000 shoppers in the area.

Brooklyn Center Mayor April Graves says she’s concerned about the impact a large, empty retail space will have on the community.

“While losing Walmart is an undeniable setback for our city, we continue to be committed to our work of bringing in new development,” she said in a statement.

Anyone who uses the Brooklyn Center store’s pharmacy will be able to transfer their prescriptions to another location.

As for employees, the retailer says it will pay all associates through the end of June unless they transfer to another location. After that date, those who don’t transfer will receive severance.

A Walmart spokesperson noted there are five other stores within 13 miles of the one in Brooklyn Center. Overall, the company operates 80 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the state.

Scott County OKs Renaissance Festival permit with focus on traffic planning

After months of back and forth, Scott County commissioners will allow the Minnesota Renaissance Festival to continue.

Officials were considering revoking the festival’s permit after nearby residents and businesses complained of traffic backups. But on Tuesday, officials unanimously approved a permit to allow the event to operate as long as it meets certain conditions.

“No one wants to shut down the Renaissance Festival,” Scott County Commissioner Jon Ulrich said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We all wanted to work together to solve the problems that are existing, and I’m thankful that we’re willing to wait. And we’ll see how it goes, but it’s always been our desire to make this work.”

Renfest operators must submit a traffic and parking plan by June 1, and it must gain the county’s approval.

Parking on the grounds will require vouchers and may be capped at as many as 7,000 vehicles, depending on how many of the county’s conditions are met. That means everyone else has to be bussed or shuttled in.

County officials say the festival can reach 30,000 visitors on peak capacity days.

Minnesota marinas prepare for spring flooding

With spring flooding set to begin in Minnesota, Stillwater officials are predicting high water levels on the St. Croix River. The city will start sandbagging and building dikes on Wednesday.

And it’s not just the St. Croix – flooding is predicted on the Mississippi River as well. Near-record levels of rain and snow this winter not only ended the drought, but significantly increased the risk of flooding.

Marinas and yacht clubs on the rivers are racing to get ahead of the high water.

Afton Marina and Yacht Club General Manager Dave Houliston said he’s learned to be prepared for flooding.

“Never not prepare for a flood. There’s just not enough time to get everything done if you’re not well ahead of the curve,” he said.

Meanwhile on the Mississippi, the St. Paul Yacht Club is preparing to launch boats.

“Our seasonable boaters are actually getting their boats ready to go in the water,” said Kristina Cummings, general manager. “Kind of opposite of what you would think. Boats are safer in the water during a flood.”

Marina managers across the state met Tuesday to discuss their flood plans. If you’re curious how your marina will handle the flooding, you should reach out to them directly.

Community fundraises for new rescue equipment for farm emergencies

The Gibbon Fire Department has a new piece of equipment inside their station that’s only for rescues from grain bins and silos.

The Rural Rescue Response trailer, or R3 for short, was recently designed by the fire department to provide tools that the Sibley County department lacked.

“To bring this concept that can help us better serve our farmers in our area for rural rescues, to get that concept to come to life is fantastic,” Gibbon firefighter Nate Firle said.

The 16-foot trailer is equipped with a special high-power vacuum to quickly move grain in the bin away from the victim.

“It would make it more strategic as far as where we can move the grain around the victim, to at least get the pressure off of them,” said Assistant Fire Chief Jason Rettig.

Fundraising began in the community for the new equipment after a rescue of a farmer a few years ago.

The R3 also has other tools to help rescue crews protect the victim as they work to move the grain away in hopes of freeing the person who is trapped.

Before having the R3, Rettig told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that they’d use shovels and pails to help move the grain.

Minnesota historically is in the top three states with the most grain entrapment cases, behind Indiana and Iowa, according to a 2021 report from Purdue University.

Nationwide, there were 23 fatal and 36 non-fatal cases involving agricultural confined spaces, based on the Purdue report.

Gibbon firefighters hope their new rescue equipment protects their friends in the community and others in the area when an emergency strikes.

“It’s the first of its kind. I don’t like to say one of a kind. Our ultimate goal: This paves the way for other rural departments,” Firle said.

Jury chosen in Lazzaro sex trafficking trial 

A jury has been selected for the trial of a former GOP donor and strategist from Minnesota who was charged with sex trafficking and obstruction. 

Prosecutors say Anton “Tony” Lazzaro recruited teenage girls to have sex with him in exchange for cash and other valuable items. The grand jury indictment also accuses him of attempting to interfere with the testimony of one of the minor victims.  

The 32-year-old pleaded not guilty to the charges after his indictment in the summer of 2021. 

The court confirmed opening statements and testimony will begin Wednesday morning. 

Chief Judge Patrick Schiltz questioned dozens of prospective jurors Tuesday and dismissed 15 individuals for cause. Late in the afternoon, prosecutors and Lazzaro’s defense attorneys then whittled down the remaining list to a group of 16 jurors. Four individuals will be chosen at the conclusion of the trial as alternates.

The panel is made up of nine women and seven men, with ages ranging from early 20s to late 60s. A spokesperson for the court said the pool was larger than usual because of the high-profile nature of the case.

Because the trial is in federal court, jurors are pulled from all over the state. While the majority are located in and around the Twin Cities metro, there are jurors on the panel from small southern Minnesota towns and one from as far away as Granite Falls.

According to a recent filing by prosecutors, jurors will likely hear from five alleged victims who were 15 and 16-years-old at the time. Lazzaro’s co-conspirator, Gisela Castro Medina, is also expected to testify. In December, Castro Medina pled guilty to sex trafficking and obstruction.

Lazzaro’s arrest made headlines because of his political ties. Campaign finance records show he’s donated thousands of dollars to GOP candidates in Minnesota and contributed money to the state Republican party.

Retired doctor writes book to shine light on end-of-life planning

For many, death is an uncomfortable conversation.

A retired doctor from St. Louis Park has written a new book about end-of-life planning.

Dr. A. Stuart Hanson’s book is called “A Senior’s Guide for Living Well and Dying Well: Conversations that Matter.”

“We’re all going to die sometime,” Hanson said. “We want to live more intentionally and be more prepared for our dying.”

The book covers end-of-life health decisions, wills and trusts, along with planning for memorials and funerals.

“It’s a guidebook,” Hanson said. “Are you going to bury your body or are you going to burn your body and cremate? Do you want to have a headstone or not? All that’s going to have to be done by somebody.”

The doctor says his book can help people through difficult decisions. 

Here’s how to keep reactions to a minimum as allergy season picks up in Minnesota

Allergy season is springing into action early, and health experts say it’s getting longer.

Spring allergens often sneak up on people. For some Minnesotans, allergy medication is the only option for relief.

The demand at the Allergy and Asthma Center of Minnesota is growing as the pollen count picks up.

Dr. Doug McMahon, allergy and asthma specialist, recommends patients take an allergy test to see what’s triggering a reaction.

“It’s always a good idea to actually find out if you really do have allergies because some people kind of start to say, ‘Is this a cold or just the particles in the air?'” McMahon said. “As the snow melts, we see the mold that people are allergic to, and also, the trees are starting to bud already even though it’s cold.”

If you’re battling allergy season, McMahon says getting ahead of it will get you through it.

“Once the allergies are really in high levels and your symptoms are really bad, it’s harder to catch up,” he said. “It’s easier to kind of get ahead of the game by starting to take some of your medications that you’ve maybe tried before that have worked.”

McMahon also recommends a one-time steroid shot that can help with allergies. He added allergy drops under the tongue can help build immunity.

Campaign hopes to bring business back to Lexington Ave. after long construction project

A new campaign hopes to help bring business back to Lexington Avenue, in the midst of an unexpectedly long road project.

Construction started in April 2022 along Lexington Avenue, spanning about a mile from County Road E to I-694 in the cities of Arden Hills and Shoreview.

The road work was supposed to be done by the end of last summer but is now expected to stretch through this summer.

The project supervisor with Ramsey County told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they hit delays due to private utility conflicts that had to be addressed before construction could continue.

Businesses along the corridor said the lane closures and congestion have kept customers away.

“It’s been tough. It’s been a challenge,” said Andrew Linn, co-owner of In Motion Fitness in Arden Hills. “We lost half our membership because they just couldn’t get to the gym or if they got to the gym, they couldn’t leave because of traffic.”

Linn said construction over the last year hurt his business just as much as COVID-19 restrictions did back in 2020.

“The impact here was real. We lost a lot of money and made a lot of cuts to what we were doing. We wanted to expand and have another gym by now,” Linn said. “Yes, people will eventually come back, but we’re missing a large chunk of money we’ll never get back.”

The Twin Cities North Chamber of Commerce said they started hearing concerns from businesses as soon as the road construction began.

“There’s about 75 businesses along this corridor that were directly impacted by this,” said Chamber President John Connelly.

He noted, the road work this spring and summer is not expected to be as much of a headache for drivers but there are fears customers still may not come back.

“Sometimes they get out of that behavior and say, ‘I’m not going to go down this road because I know it’s under construction.’ Well, it’s a lot more open now,” Connelly said. “Our goal is to invite people back to the corridor so these businesses can prosper and thrive.”

They recently launched a ‘Back to Lexington’ campaign, which will feature digital billboards, signs outside businesses, social media posts and a new website to promote weekly reasons for people to return to Lexington Avenue.

“We’re asking them to come back to the corridor,” Connelly said. “Last week, we pushed St. Patrick’s Day programming. Now, we’re posting ideas for spring break and Easter, such as visiting Lexington Floral for their Easter decor and flowers or going to Easter brunch at a nearby restaurant. We need to keep the messaging out there.”

Businesses hope people will return to doing business in the area sooner than later.

“If you’re waiting for the roads to be perfect for you to go get your ice cream or go get your shoes fixed or go get your flowers or go get your workout in, if you wait too long, those businesses just won’t be around anymore for you to visit,” Linn said.

The reconstruction of Lexington Avenue is expected to make the roadway safer and more efficient, by adding a center median, turn lanes and better sidewalks.

Project coordinators told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS single lane traffic will be necessary for six to eight weeks in May and June, with short term closures at the rail crossing just north of County Road E,  I-694 and Red Fox Road. 

They anticipate construction lasting from mid-April through August 1st at the latest.

Hennepin County prosecutors charge 6 with trying to sell over 34 pounds of fentanyl

Six people are now facing criminal charges after law enforcement recently found more than 34 pounds of fentanyl along with guns and other drugs in Hennepin County.

While the cases aren’t connected, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office says the charges come after efforts by several local law enforcement agencies and teams, including members of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Violent Offender Task Force, the Anoka-Hennepin Violent Crime Task Force, officers within the Minneapolis, Fridley and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) police departments, the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

“These cases are the result of incredible work by our law enforcement partners to seize these narcotics and arrest those trying to spread them throughout our communities,” Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said in a statement. “We have a public health crisis in our neighborhoods because of the fentanyl flooding the streets. We will not rest in our efforts to bring to justice those who seek to destroy our communities with these deadly drugs.”

Authorities say between two and three milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose, meaning the fentanyl seized could’ve killed nearly 8 million people.

The attorney’s office also notes that all drug overdoses — fatal and nonfatal — have continued to increase in Hennepin County for several years, with overdoses more than doubling in the county since 2018. More than 82% of fatal overdoses in the county involved opioids, officials say.

Those charged in the cases are:

  • Matthew Kenneth Rewald, 28, from Minneapolis.
  • Pierre Lamont Flowers, 35, from Eden Prairie.
  • Dejuan White, 27, from Chicago.
  • Gregory Jerome Collins, 44, from Minneapolis.
  • Kortney Ann Roe, 43, from Moline, Illinois.
  • Kevon Paul Fenner, 22, from St. Paul.

Court documents state that Rewald was found at the Radisson Red hotel in downtown Minneapolis on March 8 with suitcases that contained around four pounds of fentanyl, a gun and a drug press. Another gun and a money counter were found at his Minneapolis home. He’s charged with first-degree drug sale, which carries up to 40 years in prison if convicted, and illegal gun possession, which carries up to 15 years in prison.

Authorities found nearly eight pounds of meth, over a pound of cocaine, nearly three pounds of fentanyl as well as a short-barrel assault-style rifle and an industrial money counter at Flowers’ Eden Prairie home on March 15, court documents state. He faces four counts of first-degree aggravated controlled substance crime, each of which carries up to 40 years in prison if convicted, and two counts of illegal gun possession, which each carry up to 15 years in prison.

White was the target of a warrant that was seized at an apartment in the 1700 block of Nicollet Avenue on March 15. Court documents state authorities found more than eight pounds of fentanyl at the apartment, along with cocaine, heroin, a large amount of cash and a gun. He’s charged with first-degree aggravated controlled substance crime, which carries up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Court documents state that Collins was found on March 15 with more than 13 pounds of fentanyl, three guns and a large amount of cash. He’s facing first-degree aggravated controlled substance crime, which carries up to 40 years in prison if convicted, and three counts of illegal gun possession, which each carry up to 15 years in prison.

Roe and Fenner were stopped at MSP when drug dogs alerted their handlers. Court documents state that officers found around 20,000 fentanyl pills, weighing nearly five pounds, packaged in her luggage after she was stopped at Terminal 1 on March 14. Fenner was stopped at Terminal 2 three days later and found with around 8,000 packaged fentanyl pills, weighing nearly two pounds. Roe and Fenner each face first-degree drug sale, which carries up to 40 years in prison if convicted, and Fenner is also charged with first-degree drug possession, which carries up to 30 years in prison.

The complaint also notes that Fenner told police he was flying in to pick up a bag and take it to a home in Maplewood. While he claimed he didn’t know what he was transporting, he admitted he suspected it was drugs and was set to be paid $500 when he made the delivery.

All six have already made their first court appearances and have omnibus hearings set for April or May. The attorney’s office notes it is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to figure out the best venue for prosecuting the cases.

St. Paul public employees reach tentative agreement with city; union members to vote Thursday

The Tri-Council of IOUE Local 49, Teamsters Local 120 and Laborers Local 363 representing St. Paul city employees reached a tentative agreement Monday night that will prevent a strike, according to a union representative.

Union members will vote on whether or not to finalize the agreement on Thursday.

This agreement would impact more than 100 unionized St. Paul city workers.

The unions represent city employees responsible for plowing snow, filling potholes and many other duties around the city.

RELATED: Plow drivers among St. Paul city workers who could strike in near future

Negotiations have continued between the city and the workers’ three unions since their contract expired at the end of 2022.

The workers represented by the Tri-Council approved the strike authorization by a unanimous vote on March 8.

“We will continue to negotiate with urgency and good faith in our ability to reach a positive resolution together,” said Mayor Melvin Carter in a statement.

Employees are asking for more competitive wages to attract more staff.

Walz, legislative leaders agree on budget framework

Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders have agreed on a budget framework with two months left in the session.

It comes the week after the governor announced his revised budget plan.

RELATED: Walz, Flanagan announce revised state budget proposal, increases public safety funding

Walz, Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate President Bobby Joe Champion discussed the budget target agreement during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The trio of DFL leaders says the framework includes $2.2 billion for K-12 education and pre-kindergarten, more than $1.1 billion for children and families, $2.3 billion for infrastructure projects, $1 billion for housing and $3 billion in tax cuts for, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars for public safety, broadband expansion and energy and climate work.

The agreement allows committee chairs in the legislature to finalize the components of each budget area and get the legislation to the floor of each chamber.

“Whether it’s ensuring every kid can eat breakfast and lunch at school or passing $100 million in tax cuts, this has been the most productive legislative session in a generation – and we’re not letting our foot off the gas,” Walz said. “This agreement moves us closer to ending child poverty and putting the state surplus directly back into Minnesotans’ pockets. I’m grateful for the long hours and close collaboration of our legislative partners to put together this budget.”

House Republican Minority Leader Lisa Demuth released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“Today’s budget targets are a reflection of how Democrats have become all too comfortable with their one-party rule. Instead of listening to Minnesotans and proposing a responsible budget with meaningful tax relief, Democrats are going on a spending spree. Brace yourself for the tax hikes—they will be necessary to pay for this partisan wish list.

“Contrary to what Governor Walz might have you believe, this budget is clearly focused growing government, not giving money back to Minnesotans. This isn’t what Minnesotans have been asking for. Our historic surplus should have been the impetus for tax cuts, not massively expanding government and charging the taxpayer for it.”

House Republican Minority Leader Lisa Demuth

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson also issued a statement, saying:

“Today’s targets remind me of a runaway train putting Minnesotan’s livelihoods at risk. Democrats’ massive spending increases are on new bureaucracies, includes tax increases on every worker and business, and robs dedicated funds to help pay for an enormous expansion of state government.

“What we don’t see is how a full elimination of the Social Security tax cut is possible, meaning Democrats who campaigned on eliminating the tax are breaking their promises to Minnesotans. With more than $17 billion in surplus, the paltry amount of tax relief being offered leaves Minnesotans who are already struggling with rising costs behind.”

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson

7 hurt after crash between car, 2 Metro Transit trains in downtown Minneapolis

Emergency responders were at the scene of a crash between a car and two light rail trains Monday night at an intersection near U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS one occupant of the car was badly injured, while the other is expected to be OK. Five passengers aboard the light rail trains also suffered minor injuries.

Kerr said around 9 p.m., a car headed west on Portland Avenue entered the intersection at South Fifth Street and was struck by southbound and northbound LRTs.

As a result, the car was lodged between the trains.

Responders extracted two people from the car and took them to the hospital.

“Next thing it’s like you hear brakes — screech, and then a big old bang,” one LRT passenger told KSTP-TV. “And then they let us off… make sure we were okay and stuff.”

A passenger said she believed the people inside the car were pulled through the vehicle’s windshield by first responders.

The scene was clear by 10:30 p.m., Kerr said, and an investigation is now underway, and will include looking at the rail and traffic signals at that intersection were displaying at the time of the crash. The investigation may take several weeks to complete.

According to Kerr, the drivers of the trains involved have been placed on administrative leave, which he adds is a standard procedure.

Metro Transit officials say there have been more than 415 collisions involving trains since 2004, and the train operator’s actions are said to be the primary cause of nine of those crashes.

A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS photographer arrived at the scene at the same time as a tow truck crew that was there to move the trains and car. Images of the aftermath can be seen below.

Duo charged with killing pregnant woman sentenced to prison, nearly $6K in restitution

Two people who have been convicted of charges stemming from the murder of a Minneapolis woman who was seven months pregnant have learned their future.

The sentencing hearings for 28-year-old Jade Monet Rissell and 43-year-old Shannon Michael Benson were held Monday morning.

A judge sentenced Rissell to serve just over 16 years in the Shakopee prison, the amount stated in the guilty plea petition. In addition, Rissell will receive 492 days of credit for time previously served. Rissell had taken a deal earlier this month after pleading guilty to one count of second-degree unintentional murder and one count of second-degree murder of an unborn child. In exchange, the guilty plea petition stated one count of first-degree arson and one count of aiding an offender would be dismissed. Her prison sentences run concurrently.

Meanwhile, Benson will serve nearly 29 years in prison, a concurrent sentence for both murders. He and Rissell were also ordered to pay a restitution of around $6,000.

As previously reported, Rissell was charged with Benson after the body of 28-year-old Annysa Marie Zierhut was found in a burned RV in Minneapolis in Nov. 2021. Her unborn child was identified as Grace Marie Zierhut.

RELATED: Unborn child identified after mother’s body was found in a burned RV, authorities say

A criminal complaint states a fire inspector found signs of combustible gas on a mattress and the victim’s body. A witness told police a woman was seen driving a black Tahoe with the RV attached. The woman asked the witness for a cigarette and, a short time later, the RV was on fire.

Investigators learned the RV had been sold to Benson and Rissell on Sept. 11.

The complaint states those who were close to the victim told police the victim had been reported missing in Anoka between Oct. 29 and Oct. 31. The victim’s boyfriend tried to track the victim using the app, Tile, which can track lost keys.

On Oct. 31, the app led the boyfriend to the area of Fourth Avenue South and East 25th Street in Minneapolis, where he found the RV and black Tahoe.

Investigators went back to that location and arrested Benson and Rissell.

The complaint states Rissell admitted to lighting the trailer on fire to cover up the victim’s body. She added that she’d lured the victim to the RV a week earlier and assaulted her. After leaving the victim in the RV for a few days, she said she took it to 35th and Hennepin to burn it.

Governor Walz ceremonially signs anti-catalytic converter theft bill

Governor Walz ceremonially signed a bill cracking down on catalytic converter theft this afternoon.

The bill was already signed into law last week, but the governor was joined by members of law enforcement during the signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

“There [are] things we can do to both make it harder to do some of these things and then sending a very strong message of accountability. If you’re a person either stealing these or buying these catalytic converters, there needs to be a harsh penalty for it,” said Walz.

The bill requires anyone buying a catalytic converter to keep detailed records of who they bought it from, and people without proper documentation could face criminal penalties.

RELATED: Minnesota anticipated current wave of auto thefts. Then lawmakers scrapped a tool to fight it.

This concludes a legislative push that lawmakers have debated since 2015.

RELATED: Metro school buses’ catalytic converters stolen, following national trend

Cause of overnight fire in Brooklyn Center under investigation

Crews from the Brooklyn Center Fire Department are working to learn the cause of an overnight garage fire in Brooklyn Center.

Fire crews were called to a garage fire by a home close to the intersection of 60th and Zenith Avenue North shortly before 1 a.m. on Tuesday. Fire crews say the garage was fully engulfed by flames upon arrival.

Video also shows the garage was completely destroyed during the fire.

Six people in the house all escaped without injury. The garage was not attached to the home, which sustained interior smoke damage and exterior fire damage.

The fire is under investigation by Brooklyn Center Fire Department. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.

Police: 23 arrested in sex trafficking operation in Hennepin County

Around two dozen people were arrested last week in a sex trafficking operation in Hennepin County, local law enforcement leaders announced Monday.

Monday afternoon, Bloomington Police Chief Booker Hodges said a total of 23 men were arrested on March 15 and 16 and a 24th man is under investigation.

According to Hodges, the men all responded to an advertisement that showed pictures of an undercover officer seeking prostitution services from a sex worker.

All the men arrested were booked at the Bloomington Police Department and were released pending charges.

Hodges was joined by members of the Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, and Richfield police departments, along with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office at the press conference and said the departments frequently work together in similar operations along the Interstate 494 corridor.

The chief noted the highways and number of hotels in the area make it a potential hotspot for human trafficking and the agencies will continue working together to stop trafficking and hold anyone who engages in the act responsible.

Watch the full news conference in the video player below:

Experts: Alleged victim testimony key in Lazzaro sex trafficking trial

A former Republican donor and strategist from Minnesota is expected to stand trial this week on child sex trafficking and obstruction charges.

Anton “Tony” Lazzaro was indicted by a federal grand jury in the summer of 2021. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors say over the course of eight months in 2020, Lazzaro recruited teenage girls to have sex with him in exchange for cash and other valuable items. Recently filed court documents reveal some of the alleged victims were as young as 15 years old at the time.

Lazzaro has argued he’s being targeted by the federal government because of his political beliefs. On Monday, Chief Judge Patrick J. Schiltz ruled Lazzaro is not allowed to refer to that argument during the trial. 

The trial is expected to take two weeks. The court will begin selecting a jury Tuesday morning. Opening statements could begin as early as Wednesday.

In the year and a half since his arrest, Lazzaro has tried multiple times to get the case thrown out. Last summer, he accused investigators of violating his constitutional rights by listening to his attorney-client calls, which an FBI agent denied.

RELATED:  Tony Lazzaro’s year in jail: Hundreds of phone calls, 13 attorneys and a Tesla

Prosecutors are expected to rely on the testimony from five alleged victims, according to a trial briefing document filed earlier this month. They say Lazzaro invited girls to his luxury penthouse apartment in downtown Minneapolis, gave them alcohol, and offered up stacks of cash in exchange for sex.

Erica MacDonald served as United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota from 2018 to 2021. As an assistant U.S. attorney in the early 2000s, MacDonald prosecuted human trafficking and sex trafficking cases.

She said having a jury hear from the alleged victims is crucial for the government’s case.

“You’re really looking at what corroboration is there,” MacDonald said in a recent interview. “Looking at the victims as they testify, listening to what they say about what happened, but also the little details. Describing the room. Describing the penthouse. Describing words that were used.”

MacDonald said the testimony of Lazzaro’s indicted co-conspirator is also important for prosecutors. Gisela Castro Medina, 20, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and obstruction in December and is now cooperating with prosecutors.

“That’s key testimony,” MacDonald said.

Lazzaro’s arrest sent shockwaves through Minnesota’s political establishment. Campaign finance records show the 32-year-old donated thousands of dollars to GOP candidates, as well as to the Minnesota Republican Party. 

In the weeks following the indictment, politicians vowed to donate the campaign cash that came from Lazzaro. His ties to then-party chair Jennifer Carnahan contributed to calls for her resignation and ultimately led to her stepping down from the post.

“When the story first broke, lots of Republican candidates in the party wanted to try to figure out ways of being able to sort of disassociate themselves,” said David Schultz, professor of Political Science at Hamline University.