Allen Scarsella took the witness stand in his own defense late Friday to explain why he went to a Black Lives Matter protest in November 2015 and, after a scuffle broke out, ultimately shot five people.
His testimony was cut short, however, by the end of a day that saw his friend and co-defendant Nathan Gustavsson testify for several hours, arguing that Scarsella shot in self-defense. But his testimony also opened him up to what was often blistering questioning from the prosecution. It also revealed a text Gustavsson wrote referring to the protest shooting and saying, "We're all guilty in this."
Gustavsson said in an interview afterward that his decision to testify came after his attorney, family and friends all told him not to. But he said he asked himself if he could live with himself if Scarsella was convicted and he did nothing. The answer was no.
"I can live with myself having done everything I could to help an innocent man," he said.
Scarsella, 24, is charged with felony riot and first-degree assault. Gustavsson, 22, along with Daniel Macey, 27, of Pine City and Joseph Backman, 28, of Eagan, stand charged with second-degree riot and aiding an offender.
Gustavsson's testimony began Thursday, when he told a jury why he, Scarsella and two others went to the Fourth Precinct in north Minneapolis on Nov. 23, 2015, where protesters had set up encampment following the death of Jamar Clark, who was unarmed when he was killed by Minneapolis police officers.
Under questioning by Scarsella's attorney, Peter Martin, Gustavsson said they wanted to live-stream the protest similar to what Scarsella and another man, Julio Suarez, did a few nights earlier. In those videos, Scarsella and Suarez wore masks to the protests, saying they wanted to do "reverse cultural enriching" and "make the fire rise."
Gustavsson said he wanted to sit by one of the fires, talk with people there and listen to music. But when the four arrived, with each person covering his face, he said they quickly realized the encampment had changed since Scarsella had gone. They couldn't blend into the crowd as Scarsella and Suarez had done. The video had changed the camp.
Still, he later testified that they began to take video.
"We were running a commentary for the video, as if we were journalists," he said.
They stood by a fence at the corner of Plymouth and Morgan when one man arrived, then two others, and in about a minute were surrounded by protesters wanting to know what they were doing there. He said the crowd pushed them up against a fence, then herded them around a corner.
Gustavsson said he was sucker-punched and fell to the ground, breaking his nose and a tooth. Scarsella picked him up and they continued to walk north up Morgan Avenue. A small group of about six to seven protesters broke off.
"One of them was saying, 'I'm going to beat your ass,' " Gustavsson said.
As the group got closer to Scarsella and Gustavsson, one of them pulled a knife while only a few feet away, Gustavsson testified.
"Mr. Scarsella drew his weapon and shot the man," Gustavsson said. Soon after, Gustavsson said Scarsella looked at him and shouted, "Run!"
He said Scarsella's response to pull his gun and fire "was up there with some of the quickest I've ever seen."
Earlier in the trial, shooting victims testified that they ran after Gustavsson and Scarsella after hearing them shout racial obscenities. Gustavsson denied that. He said he only heard Scarsella repeatedly say, "please let us leave."
On cross-examination, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Judith Hawley brought up texts that Gustavsson sent to Scarsella before the shooting, saying, "I know how to make big news or get them to disperse," and "I could rile so much [expletive] up."
Gustavsson acknowledged sending the texts.
She showed a picture that he had on his phone of a rifle pointed at a crude caricature drawn on a piece of cardboard of a black man.
"Do you think that's funny, Mr. Gustavsson?" Hawley asked.
"At the time I may have," he responded.
Before going to the protest on Nov. 23, he sent a text to someone saying the protesters were "[Racial slur] rioting in Minneapolis over a dead [racial slur]."
When asked about using the slur, Gustavsson replied, "I don't believe using a word reflects my true opinion at all."
Hawley challenged him on why he went to the protest, and why the four men didn't take off their masks. Gustavsson said they wore masks because they were cold, but also to conceal his identity for the video.
"I have opinions on equality and freedom," Gustavsson said.
"These opinions are that you distrust the motives of the people at the protest?" Hawley asked.
"I believe they're mistaken," Gustavsson replied.
She asked if Gustavsson actually saw a knife. But under questioning he said he didn't actually see a blade, but a shiny metallic object.
Then she introduced a text message where Gustavsson responded to someone asking if he would turn himself in to save himself.
"We're all guilty in this. I don't think I can save myself either way," Gustavsson replied.
Gustavsson's testimony resumed one day after former Burnsville police officer Brett Levin resigned after admitting on the witness stand that he exchanged racist texts with Scarsella, who he had known since high school.
Scarsella is expected to resume his testimony on Monday morning.