By Mara H. Gottfried
Posted: 03/22/2011 12:01:00 AM CDT
It sounded serious: a man with a gun in a St. Paul parking ramp.
Officers approached with guns drawn Saturday.
"As soon as I saw them I went, 'Oh God,' " said Cameron Mihock, an 18-year-old Minneapolis Community and Technical College student. "This was the moment our teacher had warned us about, and we had forgotten."
He and three others were in the parking ramp to film a student production for a class. Mihock said he had a paintball gun; someone called police, thinking it was the real thing.
Mihock said he explained what they were doing, and police confirmed his story.
"While it appears that no crime was committed, the students' poor decisions put themselves and our officers in a dangerous situation," said St. Paul police officer John Keating, a department spokesman. "We are fortunate that this ended as it did."
Mihock, who is a first-year student in cinema production and aspires to be a director and screenwriter, said he was sorry for the misunderstanding. Their film production instructor had told students to be careful because of past "mix-ups" during filmings, he said.
"We felt bad," Milhock said. "We didn't mean to cause any trouble."
Police were called at 12:55 p.m. Saturday to 1295 Bandana Blvd., which is the Atrium Office Building. Ely Butler was returning from lunch to a class he was taking at the Kaplan Professional Schools in the building when he saw a man with what appeared to be a briefcase in one hand and a semiautomatic in another in the parking ramp to the east of the building.
"I half watched and tried to figure out what he was doing," he said. "I thought he was acting a bit nuts." The man "looked very agitated," was flipping the gun around, twice aimed into the parking ramp and start running, Butler said.
"I thought, 'Why second guess it?' " and he called 911.
What was happening was Milhock was an actor in the short film that involved a robbery. On Saturday, he was in the parking ramp with the paintball gun and was practicing, "getting into character."
"I was putting it in front of me," he said. "Sometimes I put it down, I put it back up, I tucked it into my pants. It must have looked like I was some crazy guy flailing around with a firearm."
Mihock was wearing sunglasses and a black hooded sweat shirt. "I was dressed quite well for the part," he said. "I looked menacing."
Several people passed by outside on the ground level, but no one said anything, Mihock said. He was there with the director, the cinematographer and an actress.
Mihock saw several police officers approaching, guns drawn. He was in the car with the actress, and his two classmates were outside the car.
Mihock said he heard police say, "Get out of the car! Put your hands on your head." He immediately put the paintball gun on the dashboard, got out of the car and told them it was not a real gun.
Police patted Mihock down. He said officers told him what they feared about the call: "They were expecting to get into a potential shooting with someone. They were really professional and intense."
MCTC has a student-responsibilities form that students enrolled in cinema division classes must sign, said Dawn Skelly, the college spokeswoman. It says students who participate in "simulated events and situations that replicate illegal or dangerous activities ... must do so in a responsible, safe and legal manner," following student code of conduct, city ordinance and state and federal laws.
Instructors can look at discipline when there are violations of the form, Skelly said, adding that she couldn't say what might happen in this case.
In 2005, St. Paul police had a similar run-in with students working on a film. Officers were called to Dayton's Bluff about a possible shooting and found a parked car with what looked like brain matter and blood on the front seat, dashboard and windows.
In an attempt to find witnesses, officers began knocking on doors. Inside one home, they found the car's owner. He told them he and his friends — students who were getting a production company off the ground — had used the car while filming a low-budget horror movie. He proved his story by letting officers watch the scene.
A company later bought the distribution rights to the film, "Summer School," and it's available on Netflix, Amazon and elsewhere, said Mike Nelson, one of the then-students who directed it.
Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262.
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