Saint-Paul man gets 7 years in prison and four years on probation for shooting 23-year-old woman outside Lamplighter Lounge in 2020
A Saint-Paul man who pleaded guilty to shooting a 23-year-old woman outside a nightclub in 2020 was sentenced to 134 months on Tuesday.
James Jones Fields, 36, will serve seven years in prison and around four years on probation. He was credited with 373 days of time served.
This was not the outcome the family, who sought the harshest sentence possible, had hoped for, nor what Ramsey County District Court Judge Paul Yang said he wanted.
However, Yang said the case lacked solid evidence because no one in the crowd outside the Lamplighter Lounge on June 13, 2020, had come forward to testify that Fields was indeed the shooter who killed Nia Black when he shot his car.
“As much as I want to give you the maximum prison sentence I can, I have to do it within the limits of the law,” Yang told Fields. “I will honor the plea deal you made. You are going to serve your sentence. But I hope you will never forget Nia Black.
THE HEART OF A MOTHER
Fields, dressed in a blue jumpsuit and a Covid mask, sat with his head bowed as Nia’s mother, LaTanya Black, sobbed as she recounted in court how her daughter’s death had impacted her.
“Imagine you get a phone call and there is a group of young girls screaming on the other line. I say ‘Where is Nia?’ And all they’re saying is they’re trying to revive her, ”LaTanya Black said. “My baby died on the phone with me… The next time I saw my baby she was on the table, eyes closed, body cold and stiff, with a bullet hole in the right side of her head.
LaTanya Black said that since Nia’s death she had been hospitalized because she was unable to eat properly or sleep.
“My soul died the day my baby was murdered,” she said.
The middle child of three, Nia was “the glue that held the family bond together,” LaTanya Black said.
She was a “girly-girl” who loved music and people. She was a graduate cosmetologist from the Aveda Institute and had her own business as a professional makeup artist. She had dreamed of opening her own beauty school.
The courtroom was packed with Fields’ family, Black’s family, and supporters of the group that LaTanya Black has created called “Mothers Against Community Gun Violence,” which supports other mothers of homicide victims and seeks to raise awareness of gun violence.
UNHAPPY FAMILY OF SENTENCE
Only one other family member spoke. She had harsh words for the judge.
“I am disgusted by the plea deal given to a minimum sentence for this criminal,” said Patrena Amos, Nia’s aunt and LaTanya’s sister. “It wasn’t James’ first, second or even third shot. He terrorized the community with his gang activity… There is no justice for those injured by his gun violence.
Fields stood up and spoke briefly.
“I never knew her. I never intended to hurt him, “he said.” It was a mistake. It shouldn’t have happened. To my family, I’m sorry.
FIELDS CANNOT ABANDON GANG LIFESTYLE
An examination of the history of Fields is the story of a man in conflict.
In 2013, the Pioneer Press wrote about his being honored by the St. Paul Police Department for removing an injured man from a wrecked car. Fields spoke about his difficult upbringing and being a founding member of the St. Paul’s East Side Boys gang.
He then said he left the gang after a 2008 shootout that killed an innocent girl. He participated in the Youth in Transition program and the Stop Armed Gang Activity program which encouraged other young men to leave the gang lifestyle. He got his GED, his driver’s license and a job.
Just two years later, he pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon after shooting a 44-year-old man who had been labeled a snitch by the gang because he had testified against Fields’ brother. during a murder trial. The shooting took place outside the Lamplighter Lounge, the same location where he then shot Nia Black. Fields was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 36 and 39 months.
In 2020, he was released from prison and on June 13, he visited The Lamplighter Lounge nightclub on Larpenteur Avenue and Rice Street in Saint-Paul.
BAD PLACE, BAD TIME
Nia “Brooklyn” Black, 23, hadn’t planned on going out that night, but was in a dressing gown doing laundry at her home in Coon Rapids. She ended up changing her plans and met three friends who decided to go to Lamplighter.
The bar was at full capacity when they arrived and was no longer accepting customers. A large group of people were gathered in the parking lot.
In the parking lot, Black had a verbal, then physical, altercation with another woman. The brawl turned into a generalized brawl and the people inside the bar spilled out into the parking lot.
Black and his friends tried to leave, getting back into the Ford Escape they arrived in. As they were leaving, shots were fired. One of them smashed the Escape window and hit Black in the head, killing her.
Her friend started driving faster to get to the hospital and was stopped by a Ramsey County Sheriff’s Assistant who found Black dead in the passenger seat.
The prosecution relied on several videos captured during the incident. Lamplighter had 16 surveillance cameras inside and outside his business, and several telephone videos were taken by passers-by.
Police put the videos together, showing Fields was inside the club as Nia Black got into a fight with the woman. He left the club, ran to his car to retrieve his gun, and started shooting the Escape as it drove off. He didn’t know Black, and he didn’t know what it was either.
“He injected himself into this situation,” said Elizabeth Lamin, state attorney. “He wanted to be around, wanted to be where the action was … Mr. Fields has to live with the horrible thing he did.”
He was originally charged with five counts of second degree murder, one count of third degree murder, three counts of second degree assault, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm and one count of first degree manslaughter.
He pleaded guilty on July 2 to first degree manslaughter. According to the plea agreement, all other charges were dropped.
Fields’ attorney, Katherine J. Claffey, said Fields took responsibility for his actions and never intended to kill anyone.
Fields was taken from the courtroom on Tuesday by Ramsey County MPs to begin serving his sentence.