A confidential FBI informant was found guilty Monday on three criminal counts in connection with an early morning confrontation he had in a Minnetrista home in January.
Andrew Darst, 30, who is said to have played an important role in an undercover investigation of anarchist protesters at the Republican National Convention, was found guilty of third-degree damage to property, a gross misdemeanor, and two counts of assault in the fifth degree, which are misdemeanors. He was found not guilty of two counts of first- and second-degree burglary, both felonies. He will be sentenced on May 18.
Darst was an undercover FBI informant who infiltrated the Welcoming Committee, an anarchist group that was planning protests and disruptions on the streets in September outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
The information he gathered is said to be an important part of the case being developed against eight defendants who call themselves the RNC 8. They face conspiracy-to-commit-riot charges in Ramsey County District Court. The Hennepin County charges against Darst involved an unrelated incident on Jan. 11.
Joseph Daly, a law professor at Hamline University, said Darst's conviction might hurt the prosecution somewhat if he testifies in the RNC 8 case.
"The defense will say in closing, 'You can't believe a word this person is saying. He's a violent person. He's a criminal,'" said Daly. In anticipation of this, he said, the prosecution will tell the jury at the opening of the trial: "You're going to hear testimony from informants. Like all informants, they are not squeaky clean people."
Hennepin County District Judge Dan Mabley issued the verdict in a six-page report and then briefly summarized his decision during a short court hearing Monday. Darst declined to comment after the decision.
Darst's attorney, Patrick Flanagan, said, "He's disappointed, but at this point he is doing what's requested of him, which is to cooperate with probation and set up a presentence investigation interview."
Darst waived his right to a trial, including a jury trial, and agreed to have Mabley issue a decision. Mabley was given stipulated facts in the case, including police reports and an affidavit by Darst.
Darst was arrested for breaking down a door and entering a house in Minnetrista and assaulting two men around 2 a.m. Jan. 11. He told police he "wasn't comfortable with the people his wife was with there." According to police reports, his wife was drunk and Darst struck two men inside the house.
Self-defense claim rejected
Mabley wrote in his decision that Darst "acted as the initial aggressor by entering the house and striking" the two men. He said that Darst "caused damage to the door, window, dog dish and wall at the residence" and estimated the cost at more than $500.
He rejected Darst's claim of self-defense, saying that he could have retreated, and that his wife told him to stop and leave, "demonstrating that she was never under the threat of imminent bodily harm."
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney John Halla said after Monday's hearing that he'll ask that Darst be sentenced to 180 days in jail.
Flanagan said that if Halla seeks such a sentence, he'll ask for much less time and propose "a better way to address the conduct."
Michael Colich, a prominent Minneapolis criminal defense attorney, said Darst would be labeled a "snitch" if he goes to jail and might be potentially at risk, so his attorney will likely strongly argue for an alternative to jail such as home detention and community service.
What will the judge do?
"I know that Judge Mabley believes that punishment is an important part of any sentence," said Colich.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382