Targeted for cell phones, robbery victims beaten in downtown Minneapolis crime spree

*WARNING: Some may find the violence in this video graphic* A series of violent downtown Minneapolis robberies target victims with cell phones.

Minneapolis Police have broken up a loosely-organized violent downtown crime ring that focused on getting cell phones from drunk people and then beating the victims.

During a three-day sweep a couple of weeks ago, cops arrested 16 people, one as young as 13. The assailants punched, kicked and even rode over one man with a bike.

Most of these robberies and assaults happened along Hennepin, 1st, and 2nd Avenues, between 3rd and 6th Streets, and mostly after 10 p.m. 

In one of the cases, a man was looking at his cell phone at 5th and Hennepin at 4 a.m. Another man started up a conversation and within seconds, the victim was surrounded by six others and brutally beaten. They left him unconscious on the sidewalk.

A few days earlier and a few blocks away, people were playing a dice game at Target Field plaza when they swiped a man's cell phone. The victim was stripped, punched and kicked in the head. He was defenseless as the suspects jumped on him, threw potted plants on him and rode over him with a bike.

"FINESSING"

Robbery is up 46% in downtown Minneapolis from last year. In a three-week period in August, there were 47 robberies, and the prize each time was a smart phone.

Bill Peterson is the new inspector downtown and told FOX 9 that the groups of males - and sometimes females - were targeting drunk people. Sometimes they asked for a cigarette, to use a phone or, in at least one case, picked the pockets of an unsuspecting downtowner. 

There’s a name for the coordinated mugging. 

"The groups we talk to call it, 'finessing.' They're finessing the victim, they’re trying to figure out victim's stability intoxication,” said Sgt. Darcy Klund, who leads the downtown Community Response Team.

CELLS FOR CASH

Police believe many of the phones are ending up at self-service kiosks, which people can use to trade in old phones for cash. One of the more common is called ECO ATM, and there are more than 40 kiosks in Minnesota.

People can get up to a couple hundred dollars for a newer smart phone. The machines require a photo ID, and it's matched against a surveillance photo of the seller.  

The company would not provide detailed numbers, but ECO ATM's spokesperson, Chase Freeman, said out of 22 million cell phones it’s purchased nationwide in the last decade, less than one percent were stolen. 

"The misconception is that it happens a lot, but it really doesn’t," Freeman told FOX 9.  "We are happy to work with law enforcement because we don’t want anyone stealing devices."

COORDINATED EFFORTS TO SHUT DOWN CRIME  

During a three-day intensive robbery suppression effort a couple weeks ago, Minneapolis Police and Hennepin County deputies identified and arrested 16 suspects in the two attacks. The adults were charged with assault, but nearly half the suspects were juveniles.