Wesley Martin sat quietly in a packed Hennepin County courtroom Tuesday, rarely taking his gaze off the man accused of shooting him and four other black protesters near the encampment at Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct police headquarters last week.
Allen Scarsella and his three co-defendants made their first court appearance Tuesday on charges of assault and aiding a riot. Each had little to say, but it was clear the attorneys for Nathan Gustavsson, Daniel Macey and Joseph Backman were trying to dissociate their clients from Scarsella, who is accused of shooting five protesters Nov. 23. The judge set bail for the men between $250,000 and $500,000, and ordered them not to contact one another or the shooting victims.
The court proceedings came on the same day protesters staged demonstrations at City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center. They reiterated their demand that authorities release videos of the Nov. 15 police shooting of Jamar Clark and called for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to bypass a grand jury in weighing the decision to charge the officers.
Backman’s newlywed wife and father sat in the courtroom, leaving as soon as his appearance was over. Alex DeMarco, Backman’s attorney, said his client, a software developer who graduated with a political science degree from Iowa State University, wasn’t present with the others at the shooting.
But prosecutor Judith Hawley argued that Backman drove Scarsella to the precinct that night and coordinated live streaming of the incident.
Backman and Macey later posted bail and were released from jail.
Attorney Ryan Garry, who represents Macey, raised concerns about the many phones and computers that need to be examined.
After the 1½-hour hearing, Martin described what happened the night of the shooting: Protesters confronted several suspicious men in masks and asked them to leave. They were moved a block away from the precinct when the protesters heard “the N word” from one of the men, Martin said.
“I was shot in the leg and my buddy was shot in the stomach and is still in the hospital,” Martin, 18, said. “These guys should definitely be charged with more serious crimes.”
Freeman has said the shootings were racially motivated and the defendants may face federal hate crime charges.
Elsewhere Tuesday, 23 protesters arrested when an earlier demonstration spilled onto Interstate 94 had their day in court. Most will have charges for unlawful assembly dropped after a year and some community service, while the others either pleaded guilty or had their cases continued.
Throughout the day, a few dozen protesters maintained a presence on and around the steps of the rotunda at Minneapolis City Hall. The demonstrations began with clergy members from around the city singing and chanting, joined by some demonstrators who have been spending time outside the Fourth Precinct.
They called for officials to release video from the scene of Clark’s death. The Rev. DeWayne Davis of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church said religious leaders “have a responsibility to pursue justice” and push leaders to make changes.
Pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name ministries said clergy members’ involvement helps “amplify” the role of nonviolent activism in the demonstrations. He dismissed concerns raised by Mayor Betsy Hodges and other North Side community leaders about safety issues from fires and road blockages at the Fourth Precinct, but said he worries about the safety of residents who interact with police.
Grand jury questions
Other religious leaders, who were not at City Hall, questioned the ongoing protests.
The Rev. David Keaton of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church said he, the Rev. Jerry McAfee and many other faith leaders in north Minneapolis are meeting Wednesday evening for “worship and dialogue” at his church.
“Our goal is to unify our community as much as possible,” he said. “This has become a disgrace.”
As downtown workers began their Tuesday evening commute, more than 150 protesters gathered outside Hennepin County Government Center to push for an independent prosecutor.
Lena K. Gardner of Black Lives Matter, with a microphone in her hand and a megaphone slung over her shoulder, said it was exactly this kind of continued public pressure that led to a white Chicago police officer being charged with murder in the shooting of a black teenager and the firing of the police chief.
“That wouldn’t have happened without protests,” she said.
Freeman responded Tuesday to continued calls that he bypass the use of a grand jury for possible charges against the two officers and consider filing charges himself.
The use of the grand jury throughout Minnesota and across the United States, Freeman said, is based on the fact that the grand jury consists of 23 randomly selected citizens who independently consider whether the facts of the case satisfy the legal standards to indict police officers. The legal standards are the same whether charges are considered by a special prosecutor, a grand jury or by an individual prosecutor, he said.
The legal standard to charge a police officer is very high based on state statutes and U.S. Supreme Court cases, he added.
Staff writers Paul Walsh and Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.