Josh Skluzacek & Callan Gray
Updated: August 13, 2020 10:13 PM
Created: August 13, 2020 01:36 PM
Thursday, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office announced it has filed charges in connection to a June 10 incident that damaged the Christopher Columbus statue outside the Minnesota Capitol.
According to the attorney's office, 56-year-old Michael Anthony Forcia, of New Brighton, is charged with one count of first-degree damage to property.
The attorney's office added that charges against other participants in the protest that led to the statue being damaged could still be filed, but stated it's clear Forcia was the primary organizer, leader and executor of the incident. The office added that Forcia acknowledged at the time that he'd likely be held accountable for his actions.
"Given the impact of this action on residents across our state and the divisive reactions it has engendered, we believe administering justice in this case requires an extraordinary step - the active engagement and participation of our community," said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. "We are working on developing a restorative process to give voice to those divergent opinions and bring people who hold them together to determine how best we hold Mr. Forcia accountable while healing our community from the harm that was caused. By employing restorative principles in a way that unites rather than divides us, we have a greater opportunity to achieve true justice for our community, to respond more meaningfully and in due time, rather than waiting more than a year for an adversarial trial that would not provide adequate closure for our community and likely create additional division. The pursuit of justice should always seek to unite a community rather than divide it."
A criminal complaint states that the Minnesota State Patrol was told on the morning of June 10 that Forcia had organized an event on social media for 5 p.m. that night with the clear purpose of removing the statue.
Troopers arrived at the site by 4 p.m. and saw two people by the statue, one of whom was Forcia. At that time, Forcia allegedly said they would "pull the statue down."
Authorities informed Forcia about Minnesota laws that outline the process for properly and legally removing a statue but Forcia said they'd been through many processes before and were "taking it down today."
A large crowd had gathered shortly before 5 p.m. and by 5:01 p.m. the statue had been pulled down, the complaint states.
The complaint adds that Forcia later told authorities he wanted to removed the statue to teach others about racism but declined to name others involved in the protest.
Legislative leaders slammed the state patrol for not doing enough to protect the statue.
According to the complaint, the estimated cost to repair damage to the statue is $154,553.
If convicted, Forcia could face a maximum penalty of five years in jail, a $10,000 fine or both.
“He’s having to balance the fear of what that means and the ramifications of what that means, with the passion that he feels for this issue,” said Jack Rice, his attorney. “From the perspective of the Native American community, this was a slaver. This was somebody who represents the front end of 500 years of genocide.”
Rice told us he’s disappointed by the felony charge but believes a restorative process will be beneficial.
“There’s a historic piece to this, there's an adversarial piece that goes back generations, hundreds of years and so that's part of what a restorative justice model could address,” he said.
“This is not about erasing history and for some people, they feel that way. We need to hear why that is, I need to hear, Mike needs to hear why that is because only if we understand and listen to one another maybe we can actually do something different.”
Rice said in a normal trial, each side fights to argue their point with very little listening involved.
“Nobody actually sits down and talks about what it means, why they feel how they feel,” said Rice.
Republic State Senator David Osmek doesn't believe it's the right approach.
“Initially I thought it was very soft on crime, and then I realized it was Charmin extra soft on crime,” he said. “The thing about restorative justice is the person actually has remorse, there's no remorse.”
He believes there should be jail time required and restitution paid.
“It’s about a piece of property that was damaged intentionally with malice and forethought and they need to be held accountable for damage to public property, it's as simple as that,” he said. “What you need to have is a county attorney who is going to actually prosecute and hold accountable what needs to be held accountable. It’s not about a statue, it's not about Christopher Columbus, we can debate that.”
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked if he would want to be part of the restorative process if it moves forward.
“I don’t know if I want to be part of process that is so absolutely inappropriate,” said Sen. Osmek.
Forcia will appear in court on September 4.
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