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Slain New Brighton, Minn., man argued with neighbor about feeding deer, police say

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. -- Jim Kroschel answered a call from an alarmed Todd Stevens on Monday night. Stevens, his friend and co-worker, was anxious because a neighbor with whom he had been feuding for years, Neal Zumberge, was screaming at him from ...

Glass shards from a blown-out window litter the front step of a home
Glass shards from a blown-out window litter the front step of a home on the 2500 block of Knollwood Drive in New Brighton on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Neal Zumberge, 57, was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the shooting, which broke out about 8:30 p.m. Monday, police said. Todd Stevens died at the scene. (Pioneer Press: Nick Ferraro)

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. -- Jim Kroschel answered a call from an alarmed Todd Stevens on Monday night.

Stevens, his friend and co-worker, was anxious because a neighbor with whom he had been feuding for years, Neal Zumberge, was screaming at him from his house across the street. Zumberge was mad that his son had been arrested that night and was blaming Stevens, Kroschel said.

“I told him whatever you do, just stay in the house and to call the police if they come out outside,” Kroschel said Tuesday.

But when Stevens’ longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, arrived at their New Brighton home about 20 minutes later, he went to the door. Moments later, Zumberge, 57, allegedly fired a shotgun, hitting both Stevens and Damerow-Cleven.

Stevens, 46, died at the scene. Damerow-Cleven, 48, was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minnesapolis, where she was being treated for injuries that weren’t life-threatening.


Zumberge called police to turn himself in shortly after the shooting, which occurred about 8:30 p.m. at 2521 Knollwood Drive. Zumberge was arrested at his home on suspicion of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.

The shooting was the latest development in a years-long standoff between the neighbors over feeding deer, New Brighton Police Chief Bob Jacobson said.

The victims fed deer in their yard, and Zumberge reportedly didn’t like it, Jacobson said.

“This is certainly not something you’d expect in the neighborhood or between neighbors,” he said. “There is nothing that should rise to this level of violence.”

Kroschel said Damerow-Cleven told him Zumberge was hiding in a wooded area of his yard when he fired from across the street. Police confirmed Zumberge likely shot from his own property.

The feud led to several police calls to both homes over the years, as well as reports of bizarre behavior, Jacobson said.

Damerow-Cleven obtained a restraining order against Zumberge in April 2013 after reportedly finding deer parts, dead squirrels and two dead deer on her and Stevens’ property, according to a petition filed in Ramsey County District Court. Zumberge also threatened to beat up Damerow-Cleven, the petition said.

Under the restraining order, Zumberge could not contact Damerow-Cleven or enter her property until June 2015. Zumberge has violated that at least once, Jacobson said.


The chief confirmed that deer carcasses had been found in the victims’ yard but said police were never able to determine how they got there.

About the same time, an anonymous letter was circulated in the neighborhood warning residents of the dangers of attracting deer by feeding them, according to the court petition. The author claimed he and his dog both had tick-borne Lyme disease and that it was not uncommon for him to see “more than 10 deer flushing through (his) yard on their way to (the deer feeder).”

Jacobson declined to comment on Zumberge’s health condition. He said he didn’t believe police were able to confirm who circulated the letters.

On Tuesday, the siding and front door of the victims’ house appeared to be riddled with shotgun pellets. Glass and dried blood were visible at the bottom of the stairs.

Stevens installed security cameras on the house after finding the deer carcasses, said Kroschel, who worked with Stevens at US Foods in Plymouth. The cameras point at Zumberge’s house directly across the street.

“This feud has been going on for a few years about little things,” said Kroschel of Maplewood.

But the dispute boiled over last week after Stevens and one of Zumberge’s sons got into a confrontation at the Kraus-Hartig VFW Post 6587 in Spring Lake Park, Kroschel said.

The bar’s manager, Mitch Tibbetts, said the bartender that night told him that the two men briefly scuffled after an argument.


Less than two hours before the shooting, Zumberge’s son, 23-year-old Jacob Zumberge, was arrested at a New Brighton bar at the request of Spring Lake Park police, the city’s police chief said.

The young man, who lived with his father and mother, was booked into Anoka County Jail on suspicion of felony terroristic threats and misdemeanor fifth-degree assault.

He had not been charged. Spring Lake Park police did not return calls for comment on the case.

On Tuesday morning, Zumberge’s other son, Nick Zumberge, answered the door to his father’s home, where the 26-year-old also lives. He blamed Stevens and Damerow-Cleven for the shooting.

“They just didn’t know when to stop … and fed the fire all day long,” he said.

Jacobson said New Brighton’s city attorney was reviewing police reports and was expected to release the information Wednesday.

He said police were investigating whether the arrest of Zumberge’s son’s played a role in the shooting.

“We’re going in a lot of different directions right now. … We’re still not exactly sure what precipitated the violence,” Jacobson said.


Damerow-Cleven had been in a relationship with Stevens for more than two decades, according to her ex-husband, Joe Cleven, who lives in Pasadena, Texas, along with his and Damerow-Cleven’s adult son.

He had never met Stevens but said his son viewed him as a stepfather and said he was a “good guy.”

“All my son was telling me was that (Stevens and Damerow-Cleven) liked to go out there and feed the deer and that neighbor didn’t like it,” Cleven said. “It’s a damn animal; it’s like a dog in your yard. … It doesn’t make sense.”

Jacobson said charges were expected to be filed against Stevens on Wednesday.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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