Second-degree murder charges filed in New Brighton shooting


Neal Curtis Zumberge

The home on the 2500 block of Knollwood Drive near Eastman Drive in New Brighton was the scene of a shooting on May 5 that killed one man and injured a woman. The victims were allegedly embroiled in a dispute with their neighbor across the street, Neal Zumberge, 57, about feeding wild deer that would occasionally cross his backyard to reach a feeder in the victims' yard. (Linda E. Andersen/Bulletin)

From outside the house, gunshot holes can be seen in the aluminum front storm door and siding. Shattered glass covers the front step, and lights leading up the sidewalk to the door were strewn about near the area where police found Todd Stevens, 46. Interior photos reveal myriad bullet holes. (Linda E. Andersen/Bulletin)

Plastic deer and lawn ornaments decorated the victims' property. The victims allegedly had a deer feeder in their yard, and the animals passed through Zumberge's backyard from a wooded area near the Rice Creek Trail walking path. (Linda E. Andersen/Bulletin)

Knollwood Drive neighbors had feud over deer feeding

"Zumberge was a time bomb, just waiting for a fuse. He's sick."

--Bob Comer, assistant block captain

A dispute between New Brighton homeowners turned deadly the evening of May 5 after a man reportedly shot two of his neighbors, killing one.

Around 8:30 p.m., police were called to the 2500 block of Knollwood Drive near Silver Lake Road and County Road H on reports that two people had been shot by a neighbor. Upon arrival, officers discovered a man and a woman had been shot.

According to the criminal complaint, the man was found "down on the front steps," having suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body. He was pronounced dead on the scene. A report from the Ramsey County medical examiner says the cause of death was "exsanguination," or bleeding out, as well as cerebral lacerations from shotgun wounds.

The complaint states that the woman, who was inside the house, had suffered two gunshot wounds to her abdomen. Authorities said she was was transported to the Hennepin County Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.

The woman identified the shooter as Neal Curtis Zumberge, 57, and police called him out of his house across the street, the complaint states.

Police said the woman who was shot had an active restraining order against Zumberge.

Authorities have identified the male victim as Todd Gordon Stevens, 46, and the woman is Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, 48.

The Ramsey County attorney's office has charged Zumberge with one count of second-degree murder, which has a maximum sentence of 40 years, and one count of second-degree attempted murder, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years.

In a statement, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi called the shooting "senseless and tragic," adding that the investigation is currently ongoing.

Zumberge is currently being held at the Ramsey County jail with bail set at $1.5 million.

Son's arrest leads to showdown

According to the criminal complaint filed May 7, an exchange leading to Zumberge's son's arrest is what sparked the shooting, not the ongoing dispute about deer.

Damerow-Cleven told police she saw Jacob Zumberge, 23, at the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant on Silver Lake Road in New Brighton May 5 before the shooting occurred, and the two got into a heated discussion.

She said Jacob, who was wanted by the Spring Lake Park Police Department for a previous run-in with the couple at the Kraus-Hartig VFW Post 6587, accused her and Stevens of causing his father to contract Lyme disease because they feed deer, which can carry the disease, and the animals pass through their yard. He also allegedly threatened to burn down their house.

Damerow-Cleven called police, and Jacob was arrested at about 6 p.m. that day. He has been charged in Anoka County with two counts of making terroristic threats and one count of fifth-degree assault.

Then she drove home and as she walked up to her home on Knollwood Drive, Zumberge's wife, Paula, confronted her, saying, "You f-ing bitch, you put my son in jail," according to the complaint.

Stevens heard the confrontation and came outside. Then, Zumberge allegedly appeared with a shotgun and began shooting "several rounds" at them.

Stevens fell to the ground, and Damerow-Cleven was able to enter the house and call the police as shots continued to come into the house.

The woman told investigators she could hear Zumberge's wife yelling, "Shoot, shoot, keep shooting," as he was dispatching rounds into the home.

No charges have been filed against Paula Zumberge.

Neal Zumberge told agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that he and Stevens had a "tumultuous" relationship that dated back 15 years, according to the complaint.

He also admitted that he had left his basement through an egress window and had shot Stevens with a 12-guage shotgun, which was loaded with buckshot. He allegedly claimed that he did not mean to shoot the woman.

Agents executed a search warrant at the Zumberge home and found a semi-automatic shotgun matching Neal Zumberge's description of the gun he used to shoot Stevens.

Flashpoint: feeding deer

Zumberge and the victims were reportedly involved in an ongoing dispute over the feeding of deer.

An article in the Dec. 19, 2012, edition of the Bulletin sheds some light on the situation, when at the time Zumberge admitted to writing and distributing an anti-deer letter calling an anonymous neighbor "Mr. Corn" and describing the types of diseases deer can carry.

That neighbor was Stevens, who told the Bulletin that he bought corn to feed to the deer and enjoyed watching wildlife. He said at the time that a feeder in his yard had been torn down and destroyed. He claimed dead birds and squirrels had been killed by a pellet gun and left in his yard, and a pair of deer legs had been found by his back door.

The situation appeared to have escalated the morning of Nov. 28, 2012, when people in the neighborhood woke up to the sight of a dead doe and fawn in the Stevens' yard. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources investigated the matter, but was unable to determine the cause of the animals' deaths.

Zumberge's statements in 2012

At that time, Zumberge said he wasn't to blame. He told the Bulletin, "I don't even own a gun," and said that his dog, Rowdy, sometimes pulled dead animals, or parts of dead animals, out of the nearby woods.

He told the Bulletin that he had taken measures to attempt to keep the herd of deer from running through his yard on their way to Stevens' feeder by blocking their paths, but these measures had been unsuccessful.

For their part, Stevens and his girlfriend expressed alarm about the discovery of dead animals in their yard and were concerned about gunfire.

Suspect was a 'time bomb'

Bob Comer, the assistant block captain of the Knollwood Drive and Valley View Lane neighborhood and a retired private detective, described Zumberge as "a time bomb, just waiting for a fuse."

"He's sick," he added during an interview on May 6, and mentioned that Zumberge "hated" the surveillance cameras Stevens, a life-long resident of the neighborhood, had installed in November 2012, just after Zumberge distributed the letter.

The cameras "were always pointed at [Zumberge]," Comer said.

Stevens, Comer added, "was a hunter; liked guns; was outspoken. He wasn't shy about his opinions, but was extremely friendly.

"Todd didn't want trouble."

However, a neighbor who was friends with Zumberge, paints a different picture.

"Neal and I walked our dogs together everyday. We were friends," Pat Harvey said. "What happened was a terrible thing for both families."

Harvey recalled a recent incident in which a deer had gotten stuck on the fence on the Zumberge property near Rice Creek Trail and was "seriously injured."

"Neal cut it down and called police who arrived and dispatched the animal. Calling the police is what you are supposed to do," she said.

Zumberge has a former misdemeanor second-degree assault conviction from 1987. Court records show he was sentenced to serve six months in the Hennepin County Workhouse. He was discharged from probation in 1991.

Records also show that Zumberge was arrested in 2013 on reports of harassment.

The Dec. 19, 2012, Bulletin article, "A mystery on Knollwood Drive" can be found at: www.lillienews.com/content/mystery-knollwood-drive#.U2j6s_ldVE1.

Denny Lynard contributed to this report.
Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.

 

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