Minnetonka police are investigating whether a series of vandalism and harassment incidents targeting a predominantly black church in town are the work of one man, who they said was filmed smearing feces on the church and flashing what appeared to be a white-power hand signal.
Police say the incidents targeted Destiny Hill Church, at 13207 Lake Street Extension, date back to the spring of 2018, when a neighbor "dumped garbage and furniture on the church's property," according to a search warrant affidavit filed this week.
"Since that time there has been ongoing instances of vandalism at the church that [the neighbor] is suspected of committing," a search warrant affidavit said.
The man was arrested Tuesday but released pending charges after his 36-hour jail hold expired.
The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects before they are charged.
In recent months, the incidents have become more common, forcing church officials to install more security cameras and erect "no trespassing" signs around the property, police said.
In a June 3 episode, a man resembling the suspect was recorded walking up to the church, flashing his middle finger at a camera, and placing a sticky note on the front door, which read "YOU ARE TRESPASSING," according to the affidavit. Before walking off, the man is seen forming his hand into an upside-down "OK" sign, a symbol used by white supremacists, police said.
On its website, the church, formerly known as Mzizi and Destiny fellowship, says it was started by a group of international students and immigrants, with a mission of spreading the gospel to "people from all walks of life, races, cultures and ages." Most of its congregation are of African descent, the affidavit said.
City of Minnetonka spokeswoman Kari Spreeman said that the city's mayor and its police chief had reached out to the church "to express their solidarity and support."
"We absolutely condemn any acts that would make anyone in our city unsafe or unwelcome," she said.
She added that the county attorney's office would make the final determination of whether the incidents were hate-motivated, at a time when such crimes have surged across the state in recent years. According to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension data, hate crimes reported in Minnesota increased more than 22% between 2016 and 2017, the last year for which reliable data are available.
Police were again called to the church on June 8 after the suspect apparently smeared feces on door handles on the church's north and west entrances, the affidavit said. On more than one occasion, the 34-year-old man is also suspected of stealing or damaging signs on church property, police said.
After his arrest, a warrant was obtained to search the man's home, where they found a jacket and a sweatshirt that matched descriptions of the suspect from the surveillance footage, police said. The man was booked into the Hennepin County jail on suspicion of harassment/stalking but later released.
An e-mail to the church's pastor went unreturned.