Citing video evidence and conflicting accounts from police, prosecutors have dismissed felony charges against a cousin of Philando Castile’s who participated in a sometimes-violent protest on a St. Paul interstate soon after Castile was shot and killed last summer by a police officer.
The riot charges against Louis B. Hunter, 38, of St. Louis Park, alleged that he threw large rocks and construction debris at police and was later seen carrying a piece of wood during the protest on Interstate 94 that lasted more than four hours on July 9. Castile was shot three days earlier in Falcon Heights by officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was recently acquitted of manslaughter and other counts.
Carver County Attorney Mark Metz, whose office took the case because of potential conflict-of-interest concerns in Ramsey County, explained in a statement Wednesday what led to the two second-degree riot counts being dropped:
• Extensive review of 60 hours of various videos that captured the protest showed Hunter agitated and cursing police, but not “brandishing a weapon, holding a board, or throwing any objects.”
• Pointing out that the ability of officers to accurately recall events “can be diminished” when they are “thrust into a high-stress situation and their personal safety is threatened,” “inconsistencies existed” that hindered the prosecution’s ability to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of the conflicting recollections involved what Hunter was wearing.
• Hunter acknowledged being there, but has always denied throwing any objects. He also had on clothing that was “marked” by green dye that police fired to implicate those throwing objects. However, Hunter said he said he was marked “for no reason” and left as soon as the dye got on him.
In a posting Wednesday on the “Support Louis Hunter” Facebook page, Hunter said, “I want to say thanks to my family for sticking with me. Thanks to my lawyer, Tim Phillips. … It was a rough road, but I told you we had this.”
Metz’s statement emphasized that dismissing the charges “is not a pronouncement of Mr. Hunter’s innocence. It is only a pronouncement that the prosecutor has insufficient evidence” to win a conviction.
The county attorney also made sure to praise the officers who “responded to this chaotic scene for acting “with remarkable restraint and professionalism in the face of unjustified and violent provocations.”
During the night protest, about 300 people entered the freeway at Lexington Avenue and marched eastward, blocking traffic in both directions while some threw rocks, cement chunks and other items at law enforcement.
Scores of police officers in riot gear used smoke bombs, and eventually tear gas and pepper spray, to disperse the crowd. Police eventually closed the freeway for nearly five hours between downtown St. Paul and Hwy. 280.
Authorities said at least 16 officers were injured. As a result, 46 people were charged with third-degree riot, along with misdemeanor public nuisance and unlawful assembly. Most of the others charged have had their cases dismissed, but a few have misdemeanor charges against them pending.