Switching gangs may have cost man his life
Cass Lake authorities say the four gang members arrested and charged this week removed the victim's gang tattoos with a razor during the fatal beating in November.
Richard Meryhew, Star Tribune
Last update: February 03, 2006 – 10:14 PM
Days before he was beaten, cut and kicked and left to die on the streets of Cass Lake, Minn., Michael J. Littlewolf apparently changed street gangs.
His decision to join a rival gang probably cost the 20-year-old his life, according to a document filed Friday in Cass County District Court.
Late Nov. 5 and early the next morning, at least four members of a street gang called the Third Avenue Killers beat Littlewolf and removed his gang tattoos with a razor, the court document said.
One suspect told investigators that they did it because Littlewolf "did not deserve to wear" the tattoos because he had left the gang.
Sometime during the morning of Nov. 6, Littlewolf staggered from the beating site and collapsed. He was found on a city street and died of head injuries the next day in a Bemidji hospital.
Gang has Twin Cities ties
Three men and a 17-year-old were arrested Thursday and charged Friday in connection with Littlewolf's death.
The suspects are Michael T. Fineday, 35, the Cass Lake area leader of the Third Avenue Killers or 3AK, which has Twin Cities ties; Mitchell A. Lohnes, 23; Angelo R. Blackfeather, 19, and Kendall E. W. Ogema, 17. All are from Cass Lake.
The four were charged with two counts of second-degree murder, kidnapping and committing a crime for the benefit of a gang.
Ogema was charged in juvenile court, but Cass County Attorney Earl Maus has filed a petition to have the teen certified to be tried as an adult. Maus said Friday that he also is considering presenting the case to a grand jury for consideration of first-degree murder charges.
"It was a good day," said Tuleah Palmer, a Cass Lake resident and executive director of the Leech Lake Boys and Girls Clubs. "It is a relief. More so, it shows our kids it's not OK to just be killed off. You're not disposable. Everybody matters."
Littlewolf's killing was one of four on the Leech Lake Reservation in the span of seven weeks last fall, a extraordinary run of violence that prompted tribal chairman George Goggleye to say in November that he was "declaring war on the thugs" responsible. It also moved tribal, city and community leaders to meet to look for answers.
As of Wednesday, arrests had been made in all the cases but Littlewolf's. That changed Thursday night, when a tip provided earlier in the week led to the four arrests.
"It's been a long time coming," said Goggleye, who broke news of the arrests to community members at his annual State of the Band address Friday. "The tragedies that we have had to endure ... weighed heavily upon our people."
According to the criminal complaint:
Littlewolf was beaten sometime after 11 p.m. Nov. 5 after several people had gathered to hang out and drink at Fineday's residence. After Littlewolf was spotted outside stumbling and falling into a tent, Fineday ordered Lohnes, Blackfeather and Ogema to attack Littlewolf, who had recently left their gang for another.
As the three began punching and kicking Littlewolf, Fineday told several witnesses to leave the area. Before the witnesses left, they heard Fineday order a gang member to get a razor to remove Littlewolf's tattoos.
The complaint also stated that Ogema later told police that he helped beat Littlewolf and remove the tattoos. He also said he tried to burn them off with a small torch resembling a cigarette lighter.
Under orders from Fineday, Ogema and a colleague later dragged Littlewolf to a vacant lot nearby. Littlewolf eventually left the area under his own power but later was found unconscious on the street corner.