Prosecutors portrayed Nathan Gustavsson as a racist looking for trouble when they accused him and three other men in the Nov. 23 shooting of a group of protesters at a Black Lives Matter encampment in Minneapolis.
In a Hennepin County courtroom Wednesday morning, Gustavsson's attorney, Robert Jones, described the 21-year-old as a victim that night, assaulted by several people as he snacked on Mexican food across the street from the ongoing protests near a North Side police precinct building. So much inaccurate information about his client has been disseminated in the media, Jones said, that he filed for a change of trial venue. Gustavsson is charged with second-degree riot while armed.
"Even several people who were shot said Nathan didn't have anything to with it," Jones said. "The truth will come out eventually."
A few hours later in the same courtroom, the attorney for Allen "Lance" Scarsella, 23, the only defendant accused of pulling the trigger on the five protesters, said that "everybody seems to have something to say" about the incident and that Scarsella is anxious for his day in court. In a hearing that addressed a variety of legal issues, District Judge Hilary Lindell Caligiuri agreed to lower the bail for Gustavsson from $250,000 to $100,000. Jones argued that if Gustavsson were convicted of his charge of inciting a riot, he would most likely receive probation and not jail time.
"I understand for public safety concerns why the judge would have set a higher bail," Jones said. "But what we know now, Nathan didn't plan or take any steps to harm anybody at the protest."
The shootings of the five black protesters, who survived, heightened an already-tense racial atmosphere at the precinct encampment. The protest followed the Nov. 15 death of Jamar Clark, an unarmed 24-year-old black man fatally shot by police during a struggle. Officials have repeatedly denied allegations that Clark was handcuffed when he was killed.
Gustavsson, of Hermantown, a student in the gunsmithing and firearms technology program at Pine Technical and Community College, had his glasses broken, his nose bloodied and a tooth nearly knocked out by protesters, his attorney said. Jones reminded the judge that Gustavsson turned himself in to police after the incident.
As she had argued at previous hearings, prosecutor Judith Hawley said that Gustavsson was "deeply involved" in the Nov. 23 shooting of the protesters and that he took "some concerted action to stir things up."
Gustavsson's family members, who attended the hearing, said afterward that they would still struggle to raise money for bail. With a bail bondsman, the family would have to raise $10,000.
"The kid has been through hell," said a relative who declined to be named.
The family wouldn't speculate about Gustavsson's relationship with Scarsella, of Lakeville. They also weren't sure how well he knew Daniel Macey, 26, of Pine City and Joseph M. Backman, 27, of Eagan, both also charged in November with second-degree riot while armed.
In his motion for a change of venue for Gustavsson, Jones wrote that the massive amount of publicity around the Twin Cities will make it very difficult to achieve a fair and impartial trial in Hennepin County. He was concerned that a great deal has been made of the assertions that Gustavsson was a white supremacist.
Scarsella, who was charged with first-degree assault, remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail. His hearing Wednesday was only a few minutes long. His attorney, Peter Martin, unsuccessfully attempted to prevent a warrantless DNA sample request by Hawley. She said it was necessary to compare DNA on a firearm, ammunition and discharged cartridges.
"There is a lot of evidence we need to go through and get to the truth," Martin said. "I can only speculate that Mr. Scarsella is confident in his innocence."