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Charges: Arden Hills bar owner hid gun after his ‘best friend’ shot man, who later died

Twin Cities Pioneer Press logo Twin Cities Pioneer Press 4/16/2022 Nick Ferraro

After a man was shot in an Arden Hills bar last month, the bar owner hid the triggerman’s gun and also lied to investigators when he claimed a video surveillance system did not capture the shooting, prosecutors allege.

James Henrey Welsch (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office) © Provided by Twin Cities Pioneer Press James Henrey Welsch (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

James Henrey Welsch, 46, of Vadnais Heights, was charged Thursday in Ramsey County District Court with felony aiding an offender by being an accomplice after the fact in connection with the March 25 shooting at Welsch’s Big Ten Tavern that 11 days later claimed the life of 36-year-old Dustin Kukowski of Mounds View.

Welsch owns the bar and is a friend of alleged gunman Eric Baker, according to the criminal complaint. Baker, 45, of Forest Lake, was charged with second-degree murder without intent on April 5, the same day Kukowski died while hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his chest. Up until then, Baker had been charged with first-degree assault resulting in great bodily harm and two counts of felony possession of a firearm by an ineligible person.

Welsch was arrested Thursday and made an initial court appearance on Friday. He was released from the Ramsey County jail after posting a $100,000 bond.

Meanwhile, Baker, who has nine prior felony convictions, was released from the Ramsey County jail on Monday after posting an $800,000 bond.

SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES CALLED TO BAR

Ramsey County sheriff’s office deputies were called to the bar at 4703 U.S. Highway 10 around 12:30 a.m. and saw a patron holding napkins to Kukowski’s chest. A deputy who took over first aid saw that he had a gunshot wound that was gushing blood when pressure was removed, according to the complaint.

Eric Eugene Baker (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office) © Provided by Twin Cities Pioneer Press Eric Eugene Baker (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

Deputies spoke to a bar patron who said he saw Baker and another man fighting, then the man fall to the floor. Deputies recovered a 9mm casing from the bar, and later arrested Baker at a Roseville hotel. He declined to provide a statement to authorities.

Welsch told deputies that he had heard something at the bar, went upstairs and saw Kukowski on the floor. Welsch said the bar had a bus event to a Wild hockey game that night, but that he had left after learning his mother had died. He said he returned to the bar around 10 p.m. and was downstairs when the shooting happened. Welsch said Baker may have been in the bar that night.

Welsch was evasive when asked about Baker and denied having a phone number for him, according to the complaint.

Deputies discovered images on Baker’s Facebook page from the Wild game that show Welsch with Baker. Welsch then admitted he had a phone number for Eric Baker, and gave it to deputies.

Welsch agreed to let deputies look at the bar’s surveillance system in the basement. The equipment did not appear to be powered up, and Welsch said he was in the middle of construction projects and that he had not used his camera system for a while, according to the complaint.

Later that day, an investigator took a call from someone who wanted to remain anonymous and said that Welsch and Baker are “best friends” and that the bar’s surveillance video system worked, the complaint read.

INVESTIGATORS SPEAK TO BARTENDER

Investigators later spoke to a bartender who was working the night Kukowski was shot and initially denied seeing anything. She admitted to grabbing the gun off the bartop and said she did so to make sure no one else would be shot. She said she brought it the kitchen and showed Welsch where she had put it. Welsch picked up the gun and took it downstairs, she said, according to the complaint.

On March 29, Welsch called an investigator and said he saw the end of a gun under trash bins at the bar. The investigator recovered a Glock 9mm handgun where Welsch said he saw it. The handgun did not have a magazine.

In an interview later that day, Welsch said he did not recall much from the night of the shooting because he was drunk. He again denied his surveillance system was working, according to the complaint.

VIDEO RECORDER

Investigators told Welsch that they knew he had taken possession of the gun that night. Welsch then admitted he grabbed the gun from a kitchen counter, unloaded it and concealed it in the basement rafters, the complaint said. He said he didn’t know where the gun’s magazine went.

An investigator searched Welsch’s phone and saw a screen capture of video footage from the bar during a timeframe in which Welsch claimed the system was not working.

Investigators opened the bar’s digital video recorder and discovered that the hard drive had been disconnected from its contact site. Investigators cloned Welsch’s network video recorder and found video up until around 12:57 a.m. on March 25.

The shooting was captured on Welsch’s video surveillance system, the complaint said. The gun’s magazine has not been found.

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