Duluth NAACP shows support for felon who turned over found gun
Steven Cooper was arrested and charged after he stumbled upon a pistol and handed it over to his parole officer.
DULUTH — When Steven Cooper showed up for a pretrial hearing at the St. Louis County Courthouse Friday afternoon, he was greeted by dozens of supporters.
More than 650 people have signed a petition calling on the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office to drop charges against Cooper, who if convicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm could be sentenced to another five to 15 years in prison.
When asked what the show of support meant to him, Cooper responded: “It means everything, because it’s easy to feel small and alone, especially when you’re up against something so big.”
Cooper’s case has drawn widespread attention after his July 14, 2022 arrest for turning in a found handgun to his parole officer. Cooper said he discovered a loaded Glock 9 mm pistol when going through the vehicle of his recently deceased brother.
He wrapped the gun in a sweatshirt and placed it on the floor just inside the secured door of his apartment building.
“I called the most trusted person in my life at the time,” Cooper said. “It was my parole officer — a law enforcement officer.”
The parole officer arrived at the scene and called local police, who took him into custody.
A criminal complaint said Duluth Police Officer Adam Huot found one round of ammunition chambered in the gun and also seized another nine rounds of unloaded ammunition.
Cooper, now 31, served 13½ years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder for shooting two employees in their backs during a robbery of the Interstate Spur at 2700 W. Michigan St. on Nov. 6, 2006. Both survived. Cooper had just turned 15 years old a week before the crime.
Felons convicted for a violent crime are prohibited by law from handling firearms.
In an earlier statement, St. Louis County Attorney Kim Maki said: “The statute at issue in this case is a strict liability statute, meaning that the possessor’s intent isn’t an element of the crime. Rather, if a prohibited person is in possession of a firearm or ammunition, whether they intend to or not, they have violated the statute.”
But Classie Dudley, president of the Duluth Branch of the NAACP, questioned the county attorney’s decision to pursue charges, saying, “It’s ridiculous. It’s a waste of time and money. Quite frankly, it’s an embarrassment.”
“It’s erasing years of work. Instead of helping to build trust, it builds distrust. And at a time when we’re working hard to get guns off the street, it sends the wrong message. Here’s a person who tried to do the right thing, and he gets charged for it,” Dudley said.
Maki warned against a rush to judgment, saying, “The law enforcement investigation in the Steven Cooper case hasn’t yet been completed. We are still waiting for forensic and other testing results from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) crime lab. We reached out to BCA leadership and asked them to expedite the remaining testing in this case. We also just received new information from the Duluth Police Department yesterday, so the case is under active investigation at this time.”
“Despite my conversation with a representative of the Duluth Branch NAACP regarding the need for a complete investigation, they and other supporters of Mr. Cooper continue to press our office to drop charges before we have all the facts,” Maki said.
“Given Mr. Cooper’s history of violent firearm use, and given the urgent need to reduce firearm violence in our country and communities, it is crucial that we verify Mr. Cooper’s narrative. Consider the following hypothetical situations: (1) Mr. Cooper had possession of the firearm for longer than he has admitted, (2) Mr. Cooper used the firearm to threaten another person, and (3) Mr. Cooper discharged the firearm. If any of these were proven true, we suspect many of Mr. Cooper’s supporters would have a different feeling about this case. These hypotheticals illustrate the critical importance of a full investigation,” she said.
Maki went on to say: “Because the investigation is incomplete, dropping the charges would be premature and irresponsible at this time. We remain open to whatever options are warranted when the investigation is complete.”
To allow both sides to prepare, Judge David Johnson has scheduled the case for a Sept. 12 jury trial.
Cooper has posted a $50,000 bond and remains free, now residing in St. Louis Park.
If not for the attention that his case has generated and the support it has drawn, Cooper said he’d probably be back in prison right now.
Henry Banks, a Black community activist, thanked fellow supporters for showing up at Cooper’s hearing Friday.
“We need to support him because he did the right thing, and we need to say to our legal community that when we do the right thing, we do not want to be punished for doing the right thing,” Banks said. “So, the fact that you all are here today says a lot about our citizens in Duluth and this region. We need to support this gentleman and others like him, because we cannot continue to take the racial trauma that our people continue to experience in this country, in this state and in this city.”