Saint Paul, MN

The 1970 Ambush of St. Paul Police Officer James Sackett

Matt Reicher

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St. Paul Police Officer James Sackett (1970)St. Paul Police Department

On May 21, 1970, twenty-seven-year-old St. Paul Patrolman James Sackett, only on the job eighteen months, returned to work after enjoying a short paternal leave after the birth of his fourth child. Sackett's professional life was the fulfillment of his lifelong ambitions. Shortly after midnight, Sackett was murdered while responding to a call for help for a pregnant woman.

According to his mother, Sackett had wanted to be a police officer ever since he was a child, and on September 3, 1968, he was able to fulfill his childhood dream. He lived his life for others. Even after joining the police force, Officer Sackett took sociology classes to better understand the people he'd come into contact with every day. He and his wife Jeanette welcomed their fourth child just two weeks prior, leaving him with the two boys and two girls he’d always wanted.

A woman named 'Brown,’ later identified as Connie Trimble, called St. Paul Police Headquarters just before midnight on the 22nd, frantically telling dispatcher John Kinderman that her pregnant sister was in labor. Her contractions were two minutes apart. Sadly, the whole thing was a lie. Trimble placed the call in order to set up an ambush on a random police officer.

Stretcher cars are typically used in those situations, but one wasn't available due to the midnight shift change, so two nearby patrolmen responded. Sackett and his partner, Glen Kothe, arrived at 859 Hague Avenue to provide assistance. The two unsuspecting men had driven into a pre-arranged trap.

Upon their arrival, Sackett proceeded to the front door and knocked. When no one answered, Kothe walked around the house to see if he could reach someone at the back door. Nineteen-year-old Richard Egge and his cousin fourteen-year-old Ernesto Lopez were inside watching TV when they heard noises coming from the front of the house. To them, it sounded like someone was trying to get through the front screen door.

Hearing noise at the front door, especially at this late hour, alarmed the boys. The homeowners used the porch as an additional storage space, and the door had been wired shut. Everyone who visited the house used the back door to go in and out. Egge walked out to the porch to find out what was going on. At 12:10 am, the moment he got close enough to see outside, a single shot rang out and struck Sackett. He crumpled to the ground.

Seconds later, Officer Kothe came running around the house and, seeing his partner on the ground, went to his squad car to radio for help. With help on the way, Kothe got out of the vehicle to offer aid and assess the chaotic situation. He noticed Egge on the porch. Thinking the boy had shot his fallen partner, the frantic officer fired two shots at the nineteen-year-old. Egge ran inside and called the police to let them know what happened and make sure they understood he had nothing to do with it.

Sergeant Dan Bostrom was the first to respond to the call of an officer down. There were no arrests that night, and no one found a weapon. A pregnant woman — not in labor at the time — lived at the house when the shooting occurred but wasn’t responsible for the call. The residents of 859 Hague Avenue were not part of the crime.

Patrolman Sackett was buried three days later at Fort Snelling Cemetery.

During preliminary investigations, police learned Sackett was probably the unfortunate victim of someone intent on shooting a police officer that night. The shooting had come from a rooftop sniper stationed just over one-hundred feet away at 882 Hague Avenue. Neighbors reported seeing one to three people running through the neighborhood after the shooting. Police believed the brazen act was a political statement to call out anger with law enforcement, government, and the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Police made several arrests but released everyone charged.

In 1972 Connie Trimble was arrested and charged with making the false emergency phone call from a nearby phone booth which resulted in Sackett’s death. She was acquitted of the charges against her but served time for contempt of court. Trimble never named her accomplices. Despite the widespread outrage at the officer’s senseless death, those responsible were never found, and eventually, the case went cold.

Years went by, and Sackett’s widow Jeanette refused to let local police forget about her husband. She reminded them at every opportunity that Sackett’s killer had not been discovered. In 1994, nearly twenty-five years later, local news reporter Tom Hauser located Trimble in Denver, Colorado. She agreed to a videotaped interview and confessed to her role. Trimble named her former boyfriend, Ron Reed, as the person who told her to make the phone call. This incredible break in the case reopened the investigation.

After another ten years of investigation by the St. Paul Cold Case Unit, Ronald Reed and his accomplice Larry Clark were arrested. Reed was convicted of first-degree murder for firing the shot that killed Sackett. He is serving a life sentence. Clark, convicted of the same charge, was granted a re-trial in 2009 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. He was released in 2010. Both men were involved with a local group of young militants at the time of the death and wanted to establish a Black Panthers chapter in St. Paul.

On May 22, 2020, to honor their fallen comrade on the fiftieth anniversary of his passing, a parade of local police squads drove by the home of Jeanette Sackett with lights and sirens blaring. At the end of the procession, St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell presented her with fifty blue roses — one for each year she’d spent without her first husband.

Sources

  • “50 Years Later, Assassinated St. Paul Officer Jim Sackett Remains a Hero.” KSTP. Last modified May 21, 2020. https://kstp.com/politics/50-years-later-assassinated-st-paul-officer-jim-sackett-remains-a-hero/5737612/.
  • “FindLaw’s Supreme Court of Minnesota Case and Opinions.” Findlaw. Accessed July 6, 2021. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/mn-supreme-court/1249542.html.
  • Goetzman, Amy. “William Swanson Revisits the Killing of St. Paul Patrolman James Sackett.” MinnPost. Last modified September 25, 2012. https://www.minnpost.com/books/2012/09/william-swanson-revisits-killing-st-paul-patrolman-james-sackett/.
  • “Police Officer James T. Sackett, Sr.” The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP). Accessed July 6, 2021. https://www.odmp.org/officer/11682-police-officer-james-t-sackett-sr.
  • “Ruben Rosario: James Sackett’s Widow Says Reed’s Worst Act Was ‘taking My Children’s Father’.” Twin Cities. Last modified November 9, 2015. https://www.twincities.com/2012/11/01/ruben-rosario-james-sacketts-widow-says-reeds-worst-act-was-taking-my-childrens-father/.
  • “Saint Paul Police Historical Society — Honor Roll.” Saint Paul Police Historical Society — Home. Accessed July 6, 2021. https://www.spphs.com/honor_roll/sackett.php.
  • Swanson, William. Black, White, Blue: The Assassination of Patrolman Sackett. Minnesota Historical Society, 2012.

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