St. Paul man charged in assault outside State Fair that left victim brain damaged
Two groups of men allegedly traded a homophobic slur outside the State Fair this summer before a St. Paul man punched another man in the head, leaving his victim critically injured and suffering from brain damage, according to charges.
Gunner D. McClellan, 21, was charged Thursday in Ramsey County District Court with one count of felony first-degree assault for allegedly attacking Michael Donnelly on Sept. 1. Donnelly, of Little Canada, was 48 at the time.
“[Donnelly] must wear a protective helmet whenever he is not in bed to protect his brain as the portions of his skull that were removed have not yet been replaced,” according to the charge. “[Donnelly] requires near constant care and has not been able to return to work.”
The criminal complaint alleges that two women who know McClellan and his friend, and who witnessed portions of the confrontation, told police that the two men used a homophobic slur and another deragtory term against Donnelly and his friends. They also said their acquaintances followed Donnelly’s group into an alley.
One of Donnelly’s friends who was present told police that someone in their group also used the same slur against McClellan’s group. It’s unclear who started the verbal altercation.
In an interview with police, McClellan’s friend denied saying anything to Donnelly’s group and alleged that the other group used the homophic slur against him and McClellan. The friend also said Donnelly’s group approached them, prompting him and McClellan to follow them.
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said Friday that the incident was not classified as a hate crime because neither Donnelly nor his two friends who were present identify as LGBTQ.
“It’s one of the factors that’s considered,” Linders said of the victims’ identities. “It doesn’t appear that the motivation had anything to do with the sexual orientation of the victims.”
According to the criminal complaint: Donnelly and his two friends had spent the evening at the State Fair and Donnelly was going to drive his friends home. The group exited at the Como and Snelling avenues exit. They were walking through the neighborhoods when they passed a group of people gathered on a porch and lawn.
People from the house started yelling at Donnelly’s group, and one person threatened physical harm.
The two groups exchanged words, and Donnelly’s group continued walking. McClellan and his male friend allegedly followed and harassed them.
Donnelly’s group told the two men to stop following, and that they were not going to fight.
McClellan’s friend punched one of Donnelly’s friends about six times. A second friend of Donnelly’s intervened. At that point, McClellan allegedly punched Donnelly once in the face, sending him to the ground “like a ton of bricks,” the complaint said.
McClellan fled while his friend stayed behind, “egging on” Donnelly’s two friends to fight.
Police were called to the scene, and found Donnelly about 12:30 a.m. lying on his back at the end of an alley on Albert Street between Como and Breda avenues.
Donnelly’s nose and mouth were bloody. He regained consciousness at the scene, but was transported to the hospital in critical condition suffering from bleeding and swelling in his brain.
Part of Donnelly’s skull was removed to alleviate the pressure from the swelling, and an incision later became infected, resulting in another hospitalization.
Donnelly’s friend who was also attacked suffered a black eye, an abrasion to the forehead and a bump above his left temple. He told police that a woman had followed the two alleged attackers and tried to convince them to leave Donnelly’s group alone.
“Let’s just fight for fun,” one of the alleged attackers said.
Three women who were at the same house as McClellan and his friend went to police to report what they had observed. People at the house had been drinking, and at least some had also just come from the State Fair.
One woman told police that either McClellan or his friend yelled to Donnelly’s group, “You guys need to get over here right now!”
Another woman told police that McClellan and his friend yelled a homophobic slur at Donnelly’s group, who all appeared to be in their 40s. She said she told her acquaintances to stop, and followed them as they continued to antagonize Donnelly’s group.
The woman said she tried to stop the alleged attackers, and that the victim’s group said they would not fight.
A third woman told police that McClellan and his friend used a homophobic slur against Donnelly’s group and followed them.
“Hey, calm down — we’re just walking by,” Donnelly’s group said to the alleged suspects, according to the third woman.
The third woman left the house in the same car with McClellan after the attack, and said he allegedly asked another passenger, “You saw [Donnelly] move, right?”
She “said McClellan seemed freaked out by what had happened that evening,” according to the complaint.
She also told police that McClellan and the other suspect had picked fights with people since they were 15.
McClellan’s male friend who is implicated as the second attacker told police McClellan was “ ‘pretty jacked up and then like all mad and stuff’ ” after the two groups initially exchanged words.
McClellan told police that someone in Donnelly’s group had called his friends a bad name (not the homophobic slur), the complaint said. He allegedly said that’s when he and his friend confronted Donnelly’s group.
“McClellan said he and [his friend] were fired up and he said he kicked a blue recycling can near the alley,” the charge said.
McClellan told an investigator that someone in Donnelly’s group ran at and grabbed McClellan’s friend, prompting a fight.
McClellan also alleged that another man in Donnelly’s group swung at him, causing him to step back and throw a punch.
“McClellan immediately yelled to [his friend] that they had to go,” the complaint said. “McClellan said he wanted to get out of there because he and [his friend] were outnumbered and he didn’t want to end up on the ground.”
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib