Charges: Iron Range man fired shots at neighbor's graduation party

The 24-year-old also allegedly placed a pistol under the chin of one attendee who sought to defuse the situation.


An Iron Range man is accused of firing several shots in the direction of a neighbor's graduation party before holding a gun to the head of one attendee.

Joseph Duane Johnson, 24, of Biwabik Township, was charged Wednesday with three felonies stemming from the Sunday night incident that allegedly escalated after Johnson's neighbor told him to stop riding an all-terrain vehicle on his property.

According to a criminal complaint, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene along Heritage Trail just before 10:30 p.m.

The neighbor, who was hosting a graduation party for his son, reportedly told deputies that he had a friendly relationship with Johnson, who lives across and just down the street. But he said he told Johnson to leave because the defendant kept doing "spin-outs" in a side-by-side on his property, the complaint states.


Joseph Duane Johnson.jpg
Joseph Duane Johnson

The neighbor reported that Johnson then grabbed him by the shirt, yelling and swearing at him before returning to his own residence across Heritage Trail. The complaint says that the neighbor then heard several gunshots and started ushering party attendees into his garage for cover.

The neighbor reported that he first saw Johnson pointing the gun upward and away from him. But the defendant then moved toward the road and continued shooting, with several shots going past the victim's head, according to the complaint.

A friend attending the gathering told investigators that he thought he heard fireworks and went to the front of the house before realizing it was gunfire. The complaint states that he went toward Johnson's residence, holding both hands up and trying to calm him down, but the defendant then pointed a pistol at him and placed it under his chin.

The man said he told Johnson, "You're not going to shoot me," and told him to put the gun down because police were already on the way. Johnson then ran inside his house, according to the complaint.

Deputies found Johnson along nearby Judd Road. He allegedly acknowledged placing firearms in a cabinet inside a building on his property before walking away.

Investigators said they found multiple fired 9 mm and 45 mm casings in Johnson's yard and on or near Heritage Trail.

After obtaining a search warrant, they recovered a shotgun along with 9 mm and 45 mm ammunition and magazines from inside Johnson's residence. In an outbuilding, deputies said they discovered two firearms of matching calibers: a Wolfpack Armory LE9 and a Glock 41. The Glock had no ammunition; the rifle had one round in the chamber and four bullets in a magazine.


Johnson, in a statement, allegedly admitted to grabbing "a 9 and a 45" after a confrontation with his neighbor and firing shots into the air as he walked toward the residence. He initially denied pointing the gun at the neighbor's friend, but later indicated he "maybe" did so, according to the complaint.

Johnson was arraigned Wednesday in State District Court in Virginia on charges of second-degree assault, making threats of violence and intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety.

"Defendant's criminal history appears limited and nonviolent, but it appears he has some history of potential substance abuse, which is concerning considering the allegations before the court also appear related to substance abuse," prosecutor Chris Florey told the court.

"The state also has public safety concerns because one of the alleged victims is the defendant's neighbor, and it further appears many people, along with children, were present at the graduation party at the time of the alleged offense."

Johnson was granted release with conditions. His next court appearance is set for July 12.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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