Metro Weekly

Man Who Menaced Gay Bar with Gun Sentenced to 5 Years

Conell Walter Harris, who pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges, also faces state charges related to incident at 19 Bar in Minneapolis.

Conell Walter Harris – Photo: Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office

A 29-year-old Minneapolis man has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison for an incident in which he threatened to shoot up the oldest continuously operating gay bar in Minneapolis last year.

According to court documents, on Nov. 28, 2022, Minneapolis police officers were called to respond to a disturbance at the historic 19 Bar, in downtown Minneapolis.

When officers arrived on the scene, several people pointed to a man — later identified as Conell Walter Harris — and accused him of pulling out a gun after being told to leave the bar.

Harris resisted arrest and tried to reach into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. After detaining him, police recovered a stolen .45 caliber Glock model 30 pistol from Harris’s pocket.

Upon interviewing other bar patrons, police determined that Harris had entered the gay bar and began “acting strangely.” When an employee asked him to show his ID, he became upset, allegedly saying, “I ain’t going nowhere.”

The bartender asked Harris to leave, but he refused and pulled out a gun, threatening to shoot up the bar. According to court documents, Harris reportedly told employees, “What watch the fuck you’re saying,” and “I’m going to fuck you up.”

A customer got in between Harris and the bartender and tried to de-escalate the situation. Harris allegedly used profanities and shouted, “I’ll fucking kill your d**e ass” at the bartender before leaving the building. Someone called the police to complain, and by the time officers arrived on the scene, Harris had returned to the bar and was playing pool.

In April, Harris pleaded guilty to one felony count of illegally possessing a firearm. Prosecutors had asked for a five-year sentence, arguing that Harris has four prior felony convictions, including two involving possessing a firearm.

“This incident could have resulted in serious injury to Mr. Harris or bystanders,” prosecutors argued in a court filing.

As noted by LGBTQ Nation, Harris’s attorney argued that Harris only be sentenced to three years in prison, claiming that the 29-year-old had a difficult childhood, was shot when he was 16, and faced psychological challenges, including drug addiction, throughout his life.

Harris’s attorney argued that Harris was “confused and upset” when the bar wouldn’t accept a picture on his phone as a form of ID, and, when he tried to explain himself, was told to leave. The attorney also argued that Harris didn’t point the gun at anyone in particular and believed he was “acting in self-defense” because an employee had touched him when asking him to leave.

On August 8, Harris was sentenced by Senior Judge David S. Doty to 57 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. In addition to the federal firearms charge, he also faces state charges stemming from the incident, including making threats of violence with reckless disregard of risk.

Harris’s threat to shoot up 19 Bar, which has been in operation since 1957, making it one of the country’s oldest continuously operating gay bars, came amid a backdrop of increased threats against LGBTQ nightlife spaces. 

A month prior to the incident at 19 Bar, a mass shooter had killed five patrons and injured 18 others at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The shooter, Anderson Lee Aldrich, now 23, was sentenced to life in prison

The same month that Harris was arrested, a man in Georgia was arrested for allegedly making threats of gun violence on social media against two gay bars in Atlanta. The suspect in that case, Chase Staub, was arrested and charged with terroristic threats and acts and disorderly conduct, although he was released on bond.

The following month, police in West Hollywood, California, received a report that a patron of The Abbey, a well-known gay bar, had been spotted by one of the bar’s security guards attempting to hand a gun off to another patron. The suspect did not make any verbal threats against the bar or staff, and no arrest was made in the incident. 

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