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Duluth man charged with shooting gas station employee

Charging documents say that an attempt to purchase $40 worth of gas led to a physical altercation and gunfire inside the East Hillside convenience store.

Two police officers stand outside a store.
Two Duluth police officers stand outside the Speedway convenience store at Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue East following a shooting Sept. 11.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Impatient with a new worker who was having difficulty processing a transaction, a Duluth man allegedly assaulted and fired several shots at an East Hillside gas station employee earlier this month.

Joseph Francis Butler, 30, was arraigned Tuesday in State District Court on three felony charges stemming from a Sept. 11 incident that started when he attempted to purchase $40 worth of gas from the Speedway convenience store, 602 E. Fourth St., according to a criminal complaint.

Joseph Francis Butler.jpg
Joseph Francis Butler

The charges state that Butler came into the store around 5:30 p.m. and attempted to prepay for gas, handing the clerk a $100 bill. But the employee, still new to the job and "flustered," was having trouble ringing up the transaction.

Butler then attempted to add some cigars to the purchase, and a women joined him at the counter with some merchandise, indicating she wanted to pay with a card, causing the clerk to become "even more flustered," according to the complaint.

"The defendant began to get upset and impatient," the complaint states. "The confusion escalated when the victim gave the defendant the $100 back but the defendant still wanted the $40 of gas. The defendant was holding the $100 bill so the victim grabbed it out of the defendant's hand and began to make the transaction."

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Butler then told the employee "you just snatched that out of my damn hand" and came around the counter to confront him, according to the charges. The clerk told Butler he couldn't be behind the counter, prompting Butler to punch him in the face.

A physical scuffle ensued and the employee was able to get his arms around Butler, dragging him toward the exit. The complaint states that a gun then fell out of Butler's waistband and he picked it up, firing off four or five rounds. The victim later told police he "could feel the barrel of the gun on him and felt the shots going off."

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A Chevrolet Impala, allegedly driven by shooting suspect Joseph Francis Butler, is seen outside the Speedway convenience store at Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street on Sept. 11.
Contributed / Duluth Police Department

Butler allegedly got in a silver Chevrolet Impala and drove away. The victim suffered one apparent graze wound to his arm, a gunpowder blast injury near his ribs and a bloody lip from when the defendant punched him in the face, according to the complaint.

"From a public safety perspective, it's just luck that none of these bullets ended up in any innocent body," St. Louis County prosecutor Tony Rubin told the court.

Butler was found in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Sept. 15 with a woman, Tyrika Bowser, who had been arrested for shoplifting at a Walmart. Bowser reportedly had heroin and a .45-caliber handgun in her purse, while Butler fled the scene.

In a statement, Bowser allegedly admitted that it was Butler who had shot the gas station employee, using the gun that was found in her purse. She said she was standing outside the Speedway when she heard four shots. Bowser eventually convinced Butler to turn himself in to the Bloomington Police Department, the complaint states.

At the time of his arrest, Butler was allegedly wearing the same shoes and belt as seen during the shooting. He declined to speak with investigators.

Butler is charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, second-degree assault and reckless discharge of a firearm within a municipality. Judge Eric Hylden set his bail at $125,000.

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Court records show Butler has prior felony convictions in Illinois for robbery, battery and illegally possessing a firearm.

His next court appearance was set for Oct. 18.

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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 tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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