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An angler sips coffee as he fishes on the St. Louis River at the Spirit Lake Marina near Duluth, Minn.

Clint Austin, Associated Press

Duluth hate crime charge unfounded

  • Article by: EDITORIAL
  • Duluth News Tribune
  • June 6, 2012 - 10:27 AM

With outrage-filled tweets and Facebook posts flying, with an emotional march and rally hastily organized and held, and with some in the community screaming, "hate crime!" St. Louis County authorities can be credited for taking their time in determining charges in the wake of a fight at a graduation party involving Proctor High School students.

In the end, after 10 days of interviews and investigations, the Twin Ports community can breathe a sigh of relief: No hate crime was committed, according to the determination of investigators.

A 21-year-old at the party, Max Pelofske, had said he was thumped in the head by a beer can, then surrounded, punched and kicked, all because he was gay. However, not even his friends corroborated that version of events. Pelofske participated in the fracas, witnesses told investigators instead, and he now finds himself charged with fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct.

"The people in the best position to hear and witness what happened . did not corroborate what Mr. Pelofske was initially reporting," Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nathaniel Stumme, who charged the case after an investigation by the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office, told the Duluth News Tribune's Mark Stodghill late yesterday. "These are people we would presume to be his friends, who would be at least neutral if not supporting him. They were not supporting his allegations."

As reassuring as it is to learn our community wasn't marred with the stigma of a hate crime, the overwhelming temptation to just dismiss what happened, to just brush it off now and forget about it, ought to find resistance.

A drinking party involving underage high school students was still held in an unsecured, unmonitored place, a gravel pit. How many of those young people were drinking before driving away? At least one, according to the charges.

That such parties are held every year around graduation time is only more alarming. How long before the combination of young people, beer, end-of-school-year energy and out-of-the-way places results in tragedy?

It didn't this time. Most of the seven young adults charged Tuesday were hit with only misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges.

But misdemeanor doesn't have to mean minor or unimportant. Even if a more-alarming charge of a bias crime didn't materialize, this incident remains ripe with community concerns.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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